Chinese food- the British staple. Ten pints in the local followed by a chicken chow mein and some bright red gloopy meat dish. Food we’ve all grown up on. We’re rarely sober when eat Chinese. We might start sober, but by the end of the meal we all have a tinfoil box of leftovers tucked under one arm, are grabbing a handful of mints from the bowl by the door, and shaking hands with the owner- Kevin- who we are of course on first name terms with, and promising to see him at the same time next week and asking if he can keep our special table free. We’ll all swear that we have the best Golden Dragon or Pekking Palace, that serves the best Number 23 in the country, but we all know it’s the same flavourless crap wherever we go.
Well now we can kill two ducks with one stone. Alan Yau, the creator of Hakkasan and Yautcha, has opened Duck & Rice in Soho. Ignore all the pretentious bollocks it will throw at you about it being a modern public house, this is a boozer (albeit it a £5.40 a pint boozer) that doubles up as a classic British-Chinese restaurant. The bottom end of Berwick Street (with the exception of Polpetto) had previously only been for a certain type of dining, not one you too proudly write a review on. Thankfully there’s more reasons to go now. Duck & Rice has taken over from a grotty pub called the Endurance, which I passed daily without ever having the urge to go in. It was the type of place that would serve you a lukewarm glass of piss and still charge you Soho prices. I’ve read other reviews where people whinge about this old Soho classic closing down, and protest that it’s another sign of how Soho and London and the whole fucking world is losing its true identity. These are the no doubt the same people who bombard you with out socialist flyers about rent prices as soon as you get off the overground anywhere East. Well thankfully Duck & Rice has priced them out the market.
The restaurant has an imposing glass and metal frontage- something a restauranteur can only do if he has absolute confidence in his style and money in the bank- both of which Alan Yau no doubt has in abundance. Inside, once you get past the awkwardly placed huge Pilsner Urquell copper tanks, the bar area is lavishly done out, with shiny metal surfaces and walls that resemble Chinese teapots. It’s the most deliberately constructed restaurant I have been to in a long time, the price of which they are seemingly clawing back with the elevated food prices.
The menu is crowded, just like every other Chinese menu in the country, and has most of the greatest hits on there- including its very own aptly named ‘Number 23’. From the dim sum we tried the char siu bao (£4.50), Shu Mai (£6.50) and Har Gau (£6) which were all fine, but didn’t have a touch of their own to make them stand out. The Sesame Toast £6.50) did, and was a world away from the greasy flavourless triangles that are usually served up. A whole prawn served on a crispy piece of toast finally made me understand exactly what the appeal is with this dish.
Salt & Pepper Squid (£10.50) was a little dry and unremarkable for the price. It worked well with the beer but could have done with a fiery dipping sauce. Shredded Pork Crispy Noodles (£10.50) could have been crispier and were heavily salted (lets hope it wasn’t MSG). Mains were the real strong dishes here, first the House Duck (£24 for a half) did the house name proud. We were told that it would be left to rest for fifteen minutes so that the meat is served lukewarm. It meant the juices had flowed back through the duck, making it more tender and flavoursome.
A whole Crab with curry sauce was the standout dish of the night. A huge plate of legs and flesh covered in a deeply coloured thick curry sauce. If you’re on a date, ordering this is essentially cock blocking yourself- I still smelt of curry on Monday morning. The sauce was too strong for the delicate flavour of the crab meat, but this is only a minor complaint for what was a fantastic dish to get stuck into.
Apart from a few of the mains, there weren’t any dishes that you wouldn’t find at your local Chinese. They were more refined here, but not enough so that you will remember it as the best chow mein or ho fun you’ve ever eaten. When you’re paying £60 a head the food should be better, but it didn’t really bother me, as it played second fiddle to the atmosphere and overall feel of the restaurant. It’s not a place to go if you want great Chinese food- Yauatcha next door is far more suited to that. Instead come here in a group with the intention of getting drunk and having a good night, without having to wander down the street for your Chinese feast afterwards, and you’ll leave a happy punter.
90 Berwick St, London W1F 0QB