Updated: Jan 2, 2021
The slam of an ale against the wooden table, a few excited squeals from two friends who haven’t seen each other in…how long? The occasional clink of silverware and the savory duck fat bursting in your mouth and down the back of your throat. This is the atmosphere you should expect in one of my new favorite places in London, The Duck and Rice.
At around 6pm, London’s Soho is an area bursting with activity. Londoners and foreigners of no specific age range pack the streets, flooding out of office buildings, and into theatres, pubs and restaurants; too early for the nightclub scene, but never for a pint imbibed. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Soho has long been the center of London’s entertainment, sex and food industries, the trifecta of any breathing city. Sandwiched between oxford circus to the north and Chinatown to the south, the mix of culture and throbbing liberalism simultaneously conflicts with, and compliments the stiff, cold London air.
I begin my solo stumble through Soho with a craving for not solely alcohol, but food. Having arrived in London earlier that day, my last meal was airplane breakfast before I hit the ground running, covering 8.5 miles of walking while completing errands, kicking some tail, and taking some names while at it; typical road warrior stuff. I found myself , feet worn and palate primed standing before a threshold, marked by the golden words “CASK ALE IMBIBED”. With that being the only convincing I needed at this point I let myself into the packed joint, barely noticing the golden ducks which adorned the partially frosted glass door through which I entered. I was informed that the tables on the lower level were first-come-first-served, however the upper level was reserved for bookings only, unless I was willing to wait up to an hour for a spot to open up. “No thanks” and I quickly found a seat near the bar.
Within minutes a waiter made his way over to my seat to introduce himself and to offer some menu suggestions.
I ordered a Lilly’s Bee Sting and prawn crackers while needing more time to review the menus. The first thing that struck me as curious was the pub atmosphere, which was a complete contrast to the menu offerings. Items like, crispy duck roll and pork & prawn shumai, Hunan silver cod and … cask ales?
The prawn crackers and cider arrived. A little tense from my own doubts about the menu and atmosphere, this tension dissipated after I tasted my fist cracker. Perfectly crispy and seasoned with just enough additional flavor to complement but not overpower the intense prawn flavor. After observing the menu again, I wanted to try a bit of everything, but I had to settle for just two more items. For starters I didn’t want to appear gluttonous (yeah right) and for the other, I had a strict budget. In this spirit, I chose to try two items, that for the name of this place, it better get right.
The first was the Crispy Duck Roll dim sum. A deep fried take on the more traditional Peking duck preparation, shredded duck meat cucumbers and green onions are rolled into a thin pastry and fried until crispy and golden brown, served with [hoisin]. The flavors transporting me back to my first Peking duck experience in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, while the fried crunchy exterior reminding me of basically any pub grub in London. Washed down by gulps of Lilly’s this flavorful morsel was gone was sooner than I would’ve hoped.
The second and final item ordered was the restaurant’s namesake, Duck & Rice. The large bowl having more that its share of jasmine rice, elevating a glistening carving of Cantonese prepared roasted duck. Its leg propped almost inappropriately, as if propositioning me to indulge in the gluttony of culinary delight and of course, chopped cucumbers. Now, it’s worth noting, should you ever eat this dish, that in order to stick as close as possible to an authentic preparation, Cantonese style roasted duck is served with the meat at room temperature. Therefore, I don’t want any of you sending this dish back complaining that the duck is “cold.”
I can also now attest that this is perfectly acceptable, as from the first bite, the resistance one momentarily encounters with the crispy skin gives way to a burst of flavor as the almost liquefied duck fat reenergizes, coating the tongue with intense flavor. That feeling of umami takes over as you continue to chew the dish, the perfume of the jasmine rice radiating up the back of your throat, the intensity of these elements being relieved only by the cooling palate cleansing properties of succulent cucumber. For a namesake dish, this one did not disappoint.
Belly full and satisfied, I sadly had to part ways with this establishment, however it can probably count on a future visit, with friends, and perhaps armed with a reservation. The atmosphere just works and the menu is just too big for me to not return and try some more of their offerings. Oh and the best part (besides supporting their local community and being extremely LGBT friendly)… is they accept Apple Pay!
Food: Great, Surprising, Satisfying
Atmosphere: Pub Like in the lower section. Very social. Friendly Staff!
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