There is a lot of new exciting places to eat in London and one of the most anticipated has recently opened in Soho – Duck & Rice. Described on its website as being:
Alan Yau’s homage to the ‘holy’ [sic] British drinking establishment – the pub.
Why the anticipation? Well as indicated above, it has been opened by Alan Yau (Wagamama, Hakkasan, Yauatcha) so the track record is there – but does London really need to get excited about another ‘funky’ chinese eatery?
Not one to miss out on a chance to
judge review the place (and to see what is inside that new building) – we went to see if we could answer this question.
Before we get to the actual dining experience, let’s start with its website and booking process. When you land on the homepage you may be mistaken for thinking you were entering a world of craft beers and chinese karaoke – where everything there is for you to ‘imbibe‘ (hipster for ‘drink’). You will have to scroll or click about a bit to find the reservation section – but at least you will be familiar with the beer and bar snack collection in the meantime.
You can book online for lunch – but need to call for a dinner reservation. Having made the call – we can report that the booking experience was friendly and professional. So if you were born after 1990 and naturally hate talking on the phone – it is not a traumatic experience.
Arriving at the restaurant is simple enough – its on Berwick Street in Soho – very close to Yauatchas. I was happy to see the renovated space being located here. Poor Berwick Street – it just doesn’t seem to have pretty face of Dean St – but at least you feel like you are in old school Soho when you arrive.
A quick guide to the place – the bar / pub area is downstairs, the restaurant is upstairs (via a iron railing spiral staircase). It is not 100% obvious, but there is a friendly bouncer who will direct any lost faces.
What we ate – the Duck & Rice menu
So onto the food. Ok, we have one small confession. We did need to look at the receipt to remember exactly what we ordered. This is not because the food is bad – quite the contrary – we had a general sense of it being great and delicious. It was just that we were waiting on a fellow dining guest so drank (heavily) from their reasonable range of wines. The sitting is only for 2 hours and as our guest was texting saying they were going to be later and later, the friendly wait staff approached and suggested ordering – this was greatly appreciated and considerate of him – he was well on his way to earning his compulsory service charge.
Just one other quick thing about the wait staff. They are numerous and it is not clear who will serve you as they mill about the tables and as the place is a little cramped, be assertive in flagging one down. You may think they are approaching you but in fact they are bee lining to a table near you. <insert embarrassed / ignored face here>
For 2 people we ordered:
- 1 prawn cracker bowl – £2
- 2 scallop with black bean – £18
- 1 salt and pepper squid – £10.50
- 1 Sichuan vegetable dumpling – £4
- 1 Crispy aromatic duck £22
This was plenty and as mentioned above, delicious. We could have possibly not gone with the scallops (they came in serving of 1 – and at £9 each – it was not the most economical option) but the dumplings were amazing. We shared the duck pancakes for our ‘main’ and they didn’t disappoint. All in all, we were well fed and the food was up to Yau’s standard.
We didn’t stay after our allotted time to check out the downstairs ‘pub’. Craft beers weren’t on our agenda and it did have a bit of a city boy after work bar feel which didn’t match our personalities that night.
What we liked about it
- Delicious food – everything we ordered seemed to be extra spicy which was a nice change
- You can make a booking! We were able to secure a first sitting 2 days beforehand
- The wait staff were very knowledgeable about the food and were able to give us fair warning when we had ordered enough (you do want to try most things)
- Even though there is a 2 hour sitting time – the pub on the ground floor is available for post dinner drinking
- Fun modern building and great interiors
What wasn’t so great
- Is it just us or has Soho become a bit of a city boy hang-out? The vibe just didn’t seem ‘very Soho’ if you know what we mean. Not the restaurant’s fault – but still.
- £2 for a bowl of prawn crackers. I mean…
- We felt we had eaten all of this before – but I suspect we weren’t adventurous enough
Would we be back?
Yes – but it wouldn’t be our first choice.