Dining: David’s up, up and a Wei!

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson
WELCOME to Mr Wei’s. That’s the lovely greeting at the top of the menus handed out at the new restaurant now occupying the Civic space that was for many, many years a Canberra classic institution –The Hermitage.

Now it’s modern Asian and the signature dish is Beijing roast duck. Cooking up a storm in the kitchen is owner chef David Wei, who used to work at Kingston Foreshore’s Wild Duck. The physical structure of the restaurant is the same and the ultra-suede covered chairs as comfy as ever. The mood is still lovely – not sterile, but not noisy.

Let’s dig into the food. Entrées start at $12.50 and top off at $16.50. Vegetarians and gluten-free diners are well taken care of. While we went straight for mains (it was lunch and we didn’t want to overeat), I’ll be back for the lotus root and pork parcels or the secretly marinated chicken.

Unlike many Asian places, Mr Wei’s doesn’t have page after page after page of mains. Instead, it offers a small, but tantalising list of dishes. Sure, the expected lemongrass chicken is there ($22.50), but so too are dishes that cry “pick me, pick me”. Like the beef cheek, slowly cooked for three hours in Thai massaman spice paste (more secret ingredients) and coconut milk. It’s served with roast sweet potato and taro root and is a great dish to savour while the weather is still a bit nippy.

Another dish that commanded attention was the Szechuan-inspired strips of pork backstrap, stir fried with earthy wood ear mushrooms and sweet, crunchy bamboo shoots in spicy chilli yu xiang sauce. You can mop up the sauce with fried Chinese bread or soft, fluffy steamed rice ($22.50). I opted for the taro-flavoured crispy duck, cooked in a master stock and deep fried with mashed taro root and tempera. It was meant to be crispy but didn’t quite hit the mark for me on that score. Still, the flavours were wonderful, including the honey ginger-infused balsamic vinegar ($28.50).

But it’s the signature Beijing roast duck that I want to try and the menu tells you it’s important to do so: “According to a Chinese saying, no visit to Beijing is complete if you miss seeing the Great Wall or dining on roast duck”.

Mr Wei’s is next to the Canberra Theatre Centre and offers pre-theatre bar area seating snacks, which is a nice touch, ranging from $7.50 to $11.50. Many banquet options are available, another nice touch if a group is attending the theatre, or for a lunch or dinner crowd. Prices range from $25.50 per person to $49.90 per person at lunch (for a sumptuous roast duck banquet). Coffee and tea included.

Mr Wei’s, 170 London Circuit, Civic. Call 6230 0857. Open Monday to Saturday; lunch: 11.30am-2.30pm; dinner: 5.30pm-10.30pm.

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Wendy Johnson
Wendy Johnson: Food reviewer for Canberra CityNews magazine since 2004, covering stories for true foodies to digest.

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