Every so often, the hospitality industry gives us a champion – a bright spark that lights up a room and makes everyone feel that little bit extra special just by being around them. Simon Lay – aka. Charles Bronson from the East – was such a man. His recent passing marks the end of an era for a beloved character in Melbourne’s hospitality scene.
Co-owner and creator of Simon’s Peiking Duck, Simon became known for offering one of the finest versions of the Imperial Beijing classic in Melbourne, first at Collingwood’s Old Kingdom and then at his namesake restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill. Good things are worth travelling for, and if you're not a local, this is surely one of them.
Make no mistake – when you visit Simon’s Peiking Duck, you’re here for Simon’s Peking Duck. There are, of course, plenty of other dishes on the menu, but it's his restaurant's namesake that's the show-grabber.
The banquet-style meal revolves around the hero dish, and it’s all-killer-no-filler from the moment you step in the door. Fans of the restaurant have fond memories of Simon’s room-filling presence and his magical ability to sniff out the tables with the best wine and charm them into sharing it with him. Resplendent in bow tie, diners chuckled at his borderline inappropriate humour while he slung his gossamer-thin handmade pancakes at guests throughout the meal.
Once the pancake was successfully caught by outstretched plate, Simon coached first-timers (and good-looking guests) on the how-tos of making the perfect duck pancake: a smear of hoisin, then a foundation of cucumber and spring onion, followed by a generous, glass-crisp piece of golden duck skin with just a sliver of aromatic meat beneath. The process takes a day or more to prepare and seconds to disappear.
Subsequent courses celebrate the rest of the duck – the tender meat, wok-tossed and smoky with bean shoots, or served shredded through a thick tangle of handmade noodles – but the meal always finishes with a cleansing broth made from the bones. After all, why waste a single part of such a delicious and noble bird?
“We will continue to run the restaurant with the spirit of Uncle,” says his friend and co-owner Joe Satyagraha. “It would be what he wants us to do: continue to celebrate.”
Tributes to Lay have also started pouring in on SBS Food's Facebook page.
Though in some ways it is the end of an era, Simon’s legacy lives on in what continues to be a thriving hub for those who love to eat Peking Duck, not that we ever need any excuse to make the pilgrimage to consume our body weight in duck pancakes. Here’s to you, Charles Bronson.
Lead image: Instagram - Thepositivelife8
This story was updated on Wednesday 11 April, 2018, 10:15pm AEST.
Tue - Fri 12:30pm - 3pm, 5-10pm; Sat - Sun 5-10pm
197B Middleborough Rd, Box Hill South VIC 3128