Duck And Rice, Soho: All Shine But No Soul
Londonist Rating: ★★☆☆☆
After well over a year of anticipation and delays, Duck And Rice finally launched in Soho late last month — and it’s a rather interesting place.
Occupying the former Endurance pub on Berwick Street, it serves Oriental snacks such as prawn toast and spring rolls alongside a vast array of beers on the ground floor and operates as a chop suey restaurant upstairs. You can also get Spanish Iberico ham, aged parmesan chunks and sliders. Well, why not?
If there wasn’t some impressive pedigree behind the place it would be all too easy to disregard it as a peculiar gimmick, but there is. This is the latest project from Alan Yau, who founded both the Wagamama and Busaba Eathai chains as well as high-end restaurant group Hakkasan and dim sum and tea parlour Yauatcha, which is just next door. These have all since been sold on, but Yau — who is clearly partial to Soho — still runs noodle bar Cha Cha Moon on Ganton Street, Italian bakery Princi on Wardour Street, and recently-opened Turkish pizza place Babaji Pide on Shaftesbury Avenue. It’s fair to say he has previous.
A lot has changed in Soho since Yau launched his first restaurant there, and indeed in the time between this latest venture’s origination and its opening.
On our way there we pass a burly drag queen doing a piece to camera outside what was Madame Jojo’s for something associated with the Save Soho campaign. We stop briefly to express our support for the cause before feeling rather sheepish about our destination: a glossy new launch from an international businessman which has taken over a once pretty iconic boozer.
Being charged £5.30 for our first pint does nothing to assuage our guilt, though it is a richly flavoured unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell that the pub imports weekly from the Czech Republic and stores proudly in a shiny golden tank by its entrance. Perhaps we’ll let them off?
Shiny is a key theme, from the wooden floors to the brass tables and elaborate wall tiles which mimic the patterned blue and white crockery beloved of Chinese restaurants. Then there’s the glossy bar, pretty light fixtures and a decorative spiral staircase; so far, so slick. More jarring are a couple of TV screens which are showing some form of muted sports commentary. They’re presumably intended as a homage to British boozers, but we’d say the effect is more airport lounge.
Still, the Beer Snacks are good. Prawn toast is an epic version of the takeaway classic, featuring whole meaty king prawns smooshed into fried bread. Given how good they are we overlook the steep £6.50 price tag, but can’t do the same when it comes to chilli and shallot roasted cashew nuts. They’re fiery and addictive, but are a cash-in too far at £4.50 a plate — we’ve now dropped £9.80 on a beer and some nuts.
A trio of D+R sliders (£11.50) from the Pub Food section of the menu at least offer more by way of sustenance. They come in the form of puffy steamed buns filled with delicately tea-smoked pulled pork. Aside from a glut of rather limp leaves, we can’t really fault them — but we’d rather go round the corner to Bao (or numerous places in Chinatown) and eat similar but superior versions there.
We could be persuaded to return to Duck And Rice at some point for some prawn toast and a speciality beer, but it wouldn’t surprise us if we never do. Likewise we’re interested to try the upstairs dining room at some point, but probably not interested enough to pay £10.30 for Chinese seasonal vegetables or £10.50 for salt and pepper squid.
It’s a shame, as we wanted to like Duck And Rice a lot. The concept is no bad fit for Soho — it’s bold, unusual and alternative — and Yau has clearly poured a lot of time and money into crafting a place designed to suit and be respectful of its former pub building. The problem is that behind all the shine we just couldn’t find any soul.
Duck And Rice is at 90 Berwick Street, W1F 0QB
Read more New Restaurant Reviews
Last Updated 05 May 2015