Going Gastro: The Duchy Arms Gets A Right Royal Refurb
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
There’s an old website knocking around for Kennington pub The Duchy Arms which lists the drinks it stocks — Fosters, WKD and Smirnoff Ice are among the highlights — and links to a menu offering ham, egg and chips for £3.95 and either chicken nuggets and chips or a ploughman’s for twenty pence less.
For better or worse, those days are well and truly gone. In its recently relaunched form The Duchy Arms is a smart gastropub with royal connections, and wine and ale have ousted alcopops.
The revamp has been led by Visen Anenden, who’s a local resident as well as a chef with a pretty impressive CV. He worked under Michel Roux Jnr at Mayfair’s Michelin two-starred Le Gavroche, and has most recently held the position of head chef for Prince Charles. The pub is built on land owned by the prince’s Duchy Estate — hence its name — and so the set-up all feels rather appropriate. Add regal burgundy banquettes, grand gold-framed paintings, chandelier-style lighting and chunky wooden furniture and there’s an unmistakable air of aristocracy about the place.
The menu spews the usual lines about using seasonal ingredients sourced from small producers, and somewhat irritatingly prefixes every other ingredient with a proper noun to prove it. But here’s the thing — we reckon we can actually taste it.
Cornish crab and Hampshire cockle risotto (£7.25) is a rich starter strong in shellfish flavour. It’s made to stand-out by the pearl-like scattering of juicy cockles which explode on impact, splattering our senses with seaside.
The chef’s Michelin background is shown in a dish of pork belly (£14), and not just because of the artful presentation. It’s the combination of crunchy crackling and soft, tender meat — a notoriously tricky pairing to achieve — along with a creamy, subtly zingy mustard sauce, a slab of black pudding and bitter-sweet braised chicory which makes it a winner.
A beef and oxtail pie (£14) takes the crown. The meat — which comes from royal Highgrove — is pleasingly tender and well-flavoured, presented in hearty chunks rather than Nursery-style mini bites. Given its plush origins, it feels appropriate that it’s paired with truffled mash, though we reckon the budgets of the Windsors might stretch to shavings of the real thing rather than lashings of — still very pleasant — truffle-infused oil. Pie pedants be warned, though — this is a dish topped with a pastry lid rather than a fully-formed affair.
A pud billed as a warm chocolate cake (£5.50) could be better described as a fondant, and is a pretty perfect gooey-centred one at that. It’s high-end restaurant standard, but comes served drenched in extra sauce in a way that a restaurant version never would — and is all the better for it.
A very enjoyable French house red (Carignan) comes in at £20 a bottle, a sloe gin and tonic (£6) is a simple but successful aperitif, and fluffy proper pub chips (£3) are also worth a mention and an order — either as a side or a snack.
Let’s leave food fit for a prince to one side for a moment. The pub’s refurb has been a rather sensitive one, with a decadent central bar separating the dining area from a characterful drinking space. Meanwhile staff exude a chirpiness and fondness for banter that’s very much pub rather than restaurant.
The Duchy may have gone gastro, dumped the chicken nuggets and upped its prices accordingly, but it’s still every inch a local. And you can easily ignore the Charles connection if that makes it more palatable.
The Duchy Arms is at 63 Sancroft Street, SE11 5UG.
Last Updated 10 March 2015