What the Duck? Dry Aged Duck Culinary Creativity at La Madonna
Creativity and finesse take many forms, and in the case of the signature Dry Aged Duck on the menu at luxe dining and drinking enclave ‘La Madonna’, it’s in a style that’s most delectable. Reaching cult-like status in just a few short months, the seductive dish has fast become both a drawcard and fortuitous find for diners and visitors heading to Melbourne CBD.
For those new to La Madonna – the recently opened Melbourne day-to-night diner – is flipping the script on the typical hotel restaurant and bar. Swathed across the entire third floor of the just minted Next Hotel Melbourne, the journey taken from street level, into a lift and then up a golden lit staircase rewards with a discovery of not only a sultry lounge and bar meets restaurant, but two chefs presenting classic dishes with a playful flair.
An unlikely duo, Sicilian blooded chef Danny Natoli and Hong Kong street-food supremo chef Adrian Li are effortlessly blending Umami-rich Italian and Chinese flavours across spontaneous ever-changing menus. Seasons best produce is the hero and their distinctly separate culinary heritage is at the heart – an approach that’s already confidently at home within the dynamic food and wine fabric of Melbourne city.
A Beijing meets Milano meets Melbourne signature dish
As it is with most innovation, the Peking style dry aged duck at La Madonna was born from both a challenge and a problem. Faced with problematic circumstances of a long lockdown in Victoria during 2020, Chef Li turned away from streaming channels and social media, and instead dedicated spare time towards a new skill: that of dry ageing duck. For the uninitiated, Dry Ageing is a traditional method of hanging meat in controlled conditions to tenderise the flesh and enhance umami flavours.
“I wanted to learn [to make] Peking duck over Covid,” says Li. “And I [did], after 80-something ducks.” The dry-aged iteration here isn’t traditional, though; it’s glazed with Campari, rice-malt syrup and coriander seed, hung, and then roasted so the skin turns glassy and crisp. It’s served by the whole or half with seasonal sides such as brussels sprouts in brown butter with hazelnuts. – Quote extracted from Broadsheet article by JO RITTEY
The ducks are then hung in a four-metre-high glass cabinet overlooking the dining room as they dry-age beyond the usual week out to an extended 14 – 18 days.
Some 80 ducks later and Li had mastered the art, ready for the dish that had taken shape in his mind for future diners at La Madonna, once opened. For the culinary curious, there is no waste here, with duck well utilised at the venue Li and Natoli already shared. It is a no-waste sensibility that they’ve brought with them to La Madonna.
Great produce is at the heart of Peking style dry-aged duck
Before coming to the kitchen, the ducks themselves are carefully sourced from Victorian producers who raise beautiful, pastured duck outdoors on the lush hills of Gippsland.
The quality and seasonality of produce coming into the kitchen is not just a creative force but a necessity – and it shows in the flavour on the plate. Over many years, Natoli and Li have fostered relationships and suppliers across Victoria and further afield as a two way street, where producers and suppliers are also letting them know what is great tasting and new.