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May be the 'Best Tasting' Cantonese roast duck in the GTA?!

When it comes to Chinese B.B.Q outfits, there must be tens of dozens around town. Every one has a crispy, lacquered skin Cantonese style roast duck in their repertoire. Crispy skin is one thing, however, whether the rest of the duck actually taste great is another??!!

When I was young, through my foodie father, I was fortunate to meet a real Chinese B.B.Q master. With 30+ years experience under his belt, his retail B.B.Q shop in Hong Kong was legendary. The duck he prepared for our dinner was out-of-this-world. Its not the crispiness of the skin or the moistness of the meat that was memorable, it was the sauce and the perfectly seasoned marinated carcass that was totally mesmerizing and addictive! Whilst everyone were focusing on the skin, the drum sticks or the breast meat, I was munching on the utterly delicious back bones and carcass of the bird.

This evening, on my way home, I bought a Cantonese roast duck from a relatively new place called ' Cotton Tree B.B.Q Restaurant ' at the corner of Spadina and 16th Avenue in Richmond Hill. The first few bites left me speechless! The crispy skin and the perfectly balanced sweet and not too salty herbed spiced sauce and marinade brought back memories of that great duck I once tasted in Hong Kong years ago. Sure, fellow foodies have mentioned in past postings, the great birds from First Markham Place 'Peak Top', 'Sharksfin City' in Pacific Mall or the various 'Kam Heung' around Markham, Scarborough or Richmond Hill.. etc. However, IMHO, they all fell short when compares to this Cotton Tree bird. Next time, I'm going to check their timetable and buy a fresh, whole, uncut bird and eat it in the car, there and then with bare hands!! Utterly amazing and enjoyable!!

By the way, for those of you chowhounders with no cholesterol problem, I noticed also, they have skewers of honey roasted Duck Liver on display!! Great with a glass of icewine or Sauternes!

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  1. Great post. I want to drive there and buy one right now.

    1. I was just there this past weekend! (In the area, that is). Though my fave has been Peak Top, I really have to give this a try next time. I looove roast duck, especially with lai fun. Thanks for the reco, Charles!

      1. Hi Charles,

        I went to look for this BBQ place in 1 Spadina, at the corner of 16th and Spadina, in the same mall as Regal 16, and I could not find it. Is it beside the supermarket? Thx.

        6 Replies
        1. re: aliangwb

          Yes!!! They have a whole display window showing off their B.B.Q products!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            Wow Charles, that's quite a proclaimation! You do realize that we'll hold you personally responsible if the duck falls short! How's the roasted pig? Try the bbq pork? Details, more details, Charles!!! Ah heck, I'll just go tomorrow... Mind you, if I[m disappointed, wonton noodles are on you, Charles!!!

            1. re: dachopstix

              Details on roasted pork and b.b.q pork?! You buying??!! Ha!!

              Wonton noodles my treat?! Well, my chowfriend, I no longer want to waste my money on the mediocre Toronto version. If you happen to be in Hong Kong next March, may be I'll treat you to the real mccoy at Mak's on Wellington street!! Ha! Ha!!

              1. re: dachopstix

                Dropped by this morning ( around 11.30 ) to buy both versions of the 'pork'.

                Roasted pork was still piping hot! The skin was very crunchy and crispy. The meat chewy yet very tender. However, comparing to my favourite roasted pork place in the area ( the B.B.Q place inside the Richlane Plaza at Leslie north of 16th ), i did find the Cotton tree version a bit 'underseasoned' and bland. Overall still pretty decent especially to those foodies who are paying attention to their salt intake!

                As for the B.B.Q pork. IMO, as long as they are seasoned with the traditional marinade of 5 spice powder, chu hau sauce before cooking and finish off with molasses and honey, the outcome is pretty much the same everywhere. In Cotton Tree's case, the product was pretty tasty. Moist and tender, the piece I ordered has the desired 'burnt' edges and the appealing sweet taste of honey. I ordered the semi-fat and lean cut which tends to provide a better textural sensation. I would rate it fairly close to John's B.B.Q on Hwy#7. So far IMO, the best 'Char Sui' in the area but went downhill a bit recently due to 'overcooking'?!!

            2. re: aliangwb

              went to the mall today and cannot see the sign either. But we did not get out of the car. Now that we know it is beside the supermarket - will try again next week.

              1. re: caitlink

                It's to the right of the supermarket, the location has actually changed ownership countless of times. It has constantly been a canto bbq place in all previous incarnations though.

                I haven't been to the current version but my parents live around the corner so I should try it soon.

            3. Sounds good. Question: What do you mean by check their timetable?

              2 Replies
              1. re: haggisdragon

                'Check the time their ducks are ready from the oven /kitchen'!. Most restaurants have them ready around 11.30 am or earlier in time for lunch. Piping hot, freshly roasted duck directly from the kiln!! Yuummm!!
                The reason why I made this comment was that this detail also applies to KFC! I know the KFC in my area has their 'new batch' ready by 5.00pm, in time for the evening rush. If one can catch this freshly fried batch in time, the taste can be greatly accentuated due to zero time under the heating lamp! Extra crispy and moist!! There's KFC and there's really fresh KFC!!

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  Do you find then that lunch is the best time to get it then?

              2. How does it compare to the place at Midland/McNicoll inside the food court in the corner? The couple of time I had it there, it was pretty good and there's always a lineup for their ducks.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ragged25

                  Tried the Midland place a couple of times. OK, nothing to shout about! In fact I find ' Kam Heung' further south, inside the strip plaza at the corner of Finch and Midland better.

                  I recently tried the Cotton Tree version again. This time,15 minutes after they took them out of the kitcken kiln. Apparently, this is when the bird is at its prime, since like ' broiled steak or roast prime rib' , this 15 minutes 'rest time' allows the juice to re-constitute back into the bird. The result, bird is still hot, skin still crisp and the meat ultra juicy. Utterly amazing!!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    Is it the place right next to supermarket with the green signs? There's a BBQ display with the name of the restaurant does not say Cotton Tree, but rather chinese characters.

                2. Hello fellow chowhounders,

                  You won't believe it!! I drove to Cotton Tree this lunch time in the hope of getting some of their duck with rice but found ' THEY HAVE CHANGED HAND'!!!!! Now, the new restaurant is called JSC Chinese Restaurant!! Since I was there, might as well gave their duck a try. Sorry to say, the taste lacked the sophistication of the former Cotton Tree. I'll buy a whole duck to try the next time just to doubly make sure.
                  Sigh!!! Friday 13th effect??!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    Thanks for the update.
                    Too bad I didn't get a chance to try Cotton Tree.
                    Awaiting your new chowfind.

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      So disappointing. I recall seeing Regal 16 on our drive back home from Yang's this past Tuesday, so I know the plaza. I was hoping to get some duck, roast pork and bbq pork for Sunday dinner, when I read your post, and then I scrolled down ..... :(

                      Kam Heung was one of my late grandmother's favorites, but it's been awhile since I've been there.

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        I already took that plunge as I was thinking this was the restaurant originally described. It was nothing to really write home about. It definitely lacked the flavour that you described and the skin was not crispy at all. Relatively, it was not cheap either. Perhaps they are new and things could change, but until they do, I'll look for my duck elsewhere.

                      2. The BBQ duck from Tong Ha at Silver Star Blvd. is quite decent. I can even taste a hint of charcoal.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: smfan

                          Is this the one inside the food court? If so, yes, they are very good especially if you time it right! Just after 11.30 am after they rested the freshly roasted bird a bit!

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            Yes the one inside the food court. The roast pork is also good not salty or heavy with 5 spice. The skin is very crackling.

                            1. re: smfan

                              agreed... the BBQ duck is pretty good.
                              but the roast pork is just 'ok' ... not as tender as i like it and the skin is abit thick ... not the layered art piece with a thin crackling that you would find at Lei Garden in Hong Kong

                              1. re: plug

                                Nice of you, Plug, to bring back memories of Lei Garden's ' Roasted Ice Mountain 3 layer Pork Belly'! Yummmm!
                                However, IMHO, its kind of unfair to compare one of Hong Kong's best and Michelin star rated ( if not one the world's best ) to a humble Toronto food court product. Imagine the line-up if Tong Ha can replicate that??!!
                                Anyways, a photo of Lei Garden's gem to wet your appetite!!

                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  that 3 layer pork....oh man so good

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    Lol. Ok. That was a it unfair. They're still pretty good in the area. #1 for roast duck. #2 for roast pork.
                                    My favourite in that area for roast pork is ho ho bbq.