“The Beijing Duck House, Mr. Han’s crowning glory, opened its doors in 1985, the product of over a decade of hard work and determination. Mr. Han combined the strong flavors and rich seasonings of Northern Chinese cuisine to make the Duck House a hot spot for famous actors, politicians, and even presidents, all of whom credited the signature Peking duck as the best they’d ever tasted.”
This month, we release the paperback edition of Lillian Li’s delectable debut, Number One Chinese Restaurant. The novel is set in the Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, a restaurant owned by the fraught Han family. But behind their professional smiles, the staff are battling with lifelong alliances, debts, friendships and romances that have been simmering beneath the surface for decades of service. So, let us introduce you…
“So fuck his father’s legacy. Fuck his mother’s too. Jimmy’s new restaurant would not have such cheap illusions. Or clumsy, broken booths. Or incompetent waiters. His new restaurant would be as polished as the silver chopsticks he’d already bulk-ordered.”
Jimmy co-owns the Beijing Duck House with his brother Johnny, but has plans to open a rival high-end fusion hotspot. With a drinking problem and a serious case of sibling rivalry, Jimmy’s hard management style at the restaurant isn’t always in his control…
“It was effortless, the way Uncle Pang granted wishes you didn’t know you had, gluing you to him while you were busy fawning over a pair of baby’s earrings.”
With his missing finger and fruity cigarettes, Uncle Pang pulls many of the strings holding the Beijing Duck House and its staff upright. Rich and manipulative, Pang’s control is both the foundations the restaurant stands on, and the dynamite ready to explode it. As he says himself, “Friendship is simply what happens when there’s too much debt to be repaid.”
“He was a good man but not strong. He liked drinking and candy and gambling. In a single plastic sleeve in his wallet, he kept a picture of his wife and a jumble of lucky-number slips.”
Aged by his decades of service, Ah-Jack is the mischievously minded waiter who is part of the Duck House furniture. With a wife in ill health and a soft spot in Manager Nan’s heart, he is a mainstay at the restaurant.
“She hated waste, napping, and overeating. At home, she reused the same bowl and utensils for every meal, washing the set once, right before bed.”
Once a waitress with Ah-Jack, Nan is now manager at the Beijing Duck House. She can calm the most riled customer, sedate any child or disgruntled old man, and balance the tempers of the staff around her. However, her tenderness for Ah-Jack and hiring of her son, Pat, begins to cause rifts in the smooth running of the restaurant…
“Pat sauntered out of the kitchen’s side entrance and into the front hallway. The top of his apron was undone, falling to reveal a chest that was at once too broad and too thin.”
Pat has grown up in the restaurant and is now on the cusp of adulthood. But sneaking around with Annie, the boss’s daughter, and his shady deals with Uncle Pang mean that Pat’s safety inside the walls of the Duck House is starting to waver.
“Every day at a Chinese restaurant was bring-your-kid-to-work day.”
Towering in her heels for 10 hours a day, Annie is Johnny’s daughter and waitress at the Beijing Duck House. But with a father more concerned with the family name than his actual family, there’s no watchful eye to stop Annie getting into trouble.
“Johnny had no idea what it actually took to run a restaurant. His insistence on the restaurant’s dignity had always interfered with his brother Jimmy’s own designs for the Duck House.”
From promoting Nan, to hiring Ah-Jack, Johnny has always let his emotions get the better of him as co-owner of the Duck House. Jimmy resents his brother for this, and their sibling rivalry that has been bubbling under the surface is threatening to become something much darker…
So, now you’ve made the acquaintance of the staff, why not find out more about the Number One Chinese Restaurant? Place your order here.