An English pub serving dumplings. The prospect alone had us sold, impatiently waiting these last few months (if not year) for the latest venture by Alan Yau – the creative genius who previously brought us Wagamama, Busaba, Hakkasan, Yauatcha and Princi.
A distinctive structure in the heart of Soho, the Duck and Rice greets you as you walk in with four copper tanks holding fresh unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell, imported straight from the Czech Republic. Chinese influences shine through in the aesthetics and are particularly felt in details such as the tiles designed by the Istanbul-based group Autoban. However, there are elements characteristic of Britain’s beloved Victorian pubs here, with the long wooden bar counter and a lively atmosphere perfect for post work drinks. The crowd is cosmopolitan, well-balanced between City suits and Soho edge. The music suits the mood with a quirky “duckbox” belting out crowd-sourced tunes in the background (chosen via your smartphone).
This is primarily a drinking establishment but one far removed from your neighbourhood local. The focus is on serving premium lagers, ales and ciders on tap, individually chosen by brewery – choices range from US-ale to a Scot lager – in addition to a wide selection of bottled beers. The wine list is equally extensive, with 36 options available by the glass (including in a rather novel 70ml version) courtesy of a bespoke dispenser that Yau has had made. The bar snacks on offer are mostly fried, making for the perfect accompaniment. The sesame prawn toast has been causing quite a stir among foodies on social media, while we found that the crispy spring rolls really hit the spot too.
A tipple later, we made our way up a cast-iron spiral staircase to the restaurant. The dining space is large but cosy, with striking stained glass windows through which you can see out onto Berwick Street market below. The menu is extensive and keeping up with the ethos of the place, centred around the concept of Chinese comfort food. Signature dishes include the Cantonese roast duck of course, but also the ten heavenly kings of dim sum.
Disappointingly though, vegetarian options are limited. We ordered the spicy vegetarian dumplings (our waitress was right in cautioning that they really would be extremely spicy), steamed tender aubergine with mui choi (preserved mustard greens) and the black pepper glass noodles. Substantive dishes which strive for a wholesome feel. But to be honest, we were underwhelmed for the most part – we found them to be missing the Yau factor.
As Yau loyalists from his early days, perhaps we set the bar quite high. But it’s hard to expect nothing less than near-perfection, especially after bearing witness to the veggie wonders he’s pulled off in the past – I am yet to find vegetarian dim sum that can, at the very least, parallel the selection at Hakkasan London.
While my culinary experience did not leave me excited, I expect that I will still revisit Duck and Rice, drawn back by its distinctive concept, well-thought out selection of drinks and laid-back yet chic ambience. A vibrant social hub, in that sense the Duck and Rice feels like quite a Soho institution already.
Have you been there yet? If so, please do share your experience in the comments below as I’d be really interested to know how it stacked up against your expectations, especially with their signature dishes.
The Duck and Rice, 90 Berwick Street London W1F 0QB