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The Duck and Rice, Soho:
When I first worked in London there was a small Chinese cafe on the way from Leicester Square Tube to Lisle Street where our offices were based. It had a Chinese typewriter in the window – a mysterious device that came with ‘gears’ to allow the character sets to be changed. And, when the cafe was open, standing in the door was a diminutive and apparently ancient Chinese lady, dressed entirely in black.
Only duck and rice…only duck and rice
She’d mutter fiercely at anyone daring to try to go in who didn’t appear to be of Chinese origin.
It did indeed only serve duck and rice. The duck, hanging from hooks in the window and looking very similar to the one above from The Duck and Rice, was chopped up with a massive cleaver and piled onto mounds of steaming rice. There was tea. And there really was nothing more. But, for less than the cost of a big mac you could fill up on delicious, tender duck, with richly flavoured skin and so much depth you hardly needed the soy sauce we’d pour over the bowl.
The place I was invited to a few weeks ago, The Duck and Rice on Berwick Street, is an altogether more elegant affair, with stunning bespoke blue tiles and stained glass windows, warm fires and an ‘updated pub’ feel to it. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of a visit to check out the kitchen, learn about the unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell which is shipped over from the Czech Republic and then sits in state massive shiny copper tanks that greet you as you walk in and then to share a Chinese feast upstairs in the dining room. Perfect.
I do remember the place when it was operating as the Endurance pub and the kitchen was upstairs. The whole place was gutted and refitted by Alan Yau – and he was responsible for installing a superb kitchen taking up the entire basement.
Equipped with super powerful wok burners, we watched in awe as the head chef demonstrated how he could prepareda simple but elegant and delicious stir-fry dish of spicy paneer within minutes.
Back upstairs we were treated to a demonstration of how to vary the taste of a pint of lager depending on how you pour it.
Common sense dictates that a ‘frothy’ lager will be softer and more accessible but, I’d never actually thought to deliberate pour one that way. Personally, I still prefer my bubbles to come from grape rather than grain, but I do appreciate the fine nature of the Pilsner on offer at Duck and Rice.
The Chinese feast started with a whole selection of dim sum and some exceptionally fine sesame prawn toasts – the sort where you can see whole chunks of prawn, not just a pink goopy filling, and where every mouthful bursts with flavour.
I am not enough of an expert on Chinese food to be able to critique the selection properly – but sitting next to Luiz, the London Foodie, I was reassured that everything was indeed top quality and it wasn’t just my enthusiasm for these little stuffed dumplings taking over. I’d happily feast on just a tableful of har gau, char siu and scallop shumai. Though I’d quite like a little bao bun on the side, especially if like the ones at Duck and Rice it came filled with Jasmine tea smoked ribs).
A selection of main courses followed.
The signature ‘house’ Duck and Rice is a Cantonese style duck served over jasmine rice. Unlike its Peking cousin, used for the ever-popular Crispy Duck pancakes, Cantonese duck has a soft but richly flavoured skin and moist, tender flesh. Delicious.
I also enjoyed the Singapore noodles, not least because I’d seen them being made downstairs in the kitchen and the Kung Po Chicken. And, there was a curious dish of black pepper ‘mock chicken’ which I can wholeheartedly say I’d never have realised wasn’t the real thing unless I’d been told.
I seldom eat ribs – but there were drooling noises around the table at the plates which appeared. And, I really did enjoy the spicy paneer dish we’d see the chef demonstrating earlier downstairs.
Next time I go back to Duck and Rice (and there will be a next time), I’ll be booking one of those window seats with a view out over Berwick street. Perfect for people watching at any time of the day or night. I’m planning to order a little more selectively so that I can walk rather than stagger home.
But I suspect that will be a challenge. And, it’s not one I intend to worry about failing!
90 Berwick St, Soho, London W1F 0QB