I wonder what was going through Alan Yau’s mind when he decided to combine a Chinese restaurant with a pub. Not exactly a marriage made in heaven; the only connections I can think of are that beer is often served in one, and deep fried nibbles such as spring rolls and wontons can sometimes be found in the other. Sensible people wouldn’t put money on that kind of thing succeeding in London’s cut throat restaurant scene, but Mr Yau’s Duck and Rice doesn’t need the sensible people. A few years old now, it seems to be doing just fine.
Personally, I think the interpretation of ‘pub’ has been creative. It has many features synonymous with a pub: plenty of beers on tap, snacks to soak up those drinks, nooks and crannies to lean on… but this is much slicker, and sexier even, than any local boozer I’ve been to. But do I care? Not one bit, the atmosphere is swish and the smells wafting around are good… just get me some food to go with my beer, pronto.
What they didn’t use their creative licence on is the compilation of the menu; true to Chinese restaurant style, it is extensive but also helpfully segmented into categories like small chow and home comforts. I easily spotted all the dishes I wanted but then rather disappointingly remembered that we were ordering for two on a date night, not a family of five ready for a feast. Many of my guilty pleasures got culled in favour of my absolute favourites, a few dim sum and duck.
When my family go out for yum cha, we always order har gau and shumai in multiple portions and I was tempted to do so here too. Getting these dumplings right are harder than you might think – the wrapper needs to be sturdy enough to hold everything together but not thick and gluggy, the filling needs to be plentiful and flavoursome. All this to balance in one bite.
There was no mistaking the ‘har’ (meaning prawn) in the har gau – juicy, sweet and generous, but I was pleasantly surprised to find prawns in the shumai too. With the slices of scallop on top, this was undoubtedly a step above the usual pork variety I devour but that’s also dutifully reflected in the price. We had a portion of gyoza which were nice but far less memorable… we’ll be giving these a miss next time.
At Duck and Rice, you can have your duck one of two ways: crispy, shredded and served with pancakes, or deboned, Cantonese style, and bathed in a soy sauce. We chose the latter because I was in the mood for something luxurious and I think that kind of duck requires some masterful execution. However hard we might try, I’m not sure we could replicate the rich flavours, succulent meat and glossy skin. It’s a shame the skin wasn’t crispier, but as it is, I would still eat another half if I had the stomach space.
Deciding what dishes would accompany our duck was actually our toughest task. Rice seemed customary given the name of the restaurant but I think we had a risotto the night before so noodles were a better choice. Our waiter persuaded us to try the No.23, one of their signature dishes apparently. It must be the fact the title gives nothing away which lures people in because the dish itself is quite boring, a fairly standard stirfried noodles with egg and beansprouts.
I convinced a certain someone that the gai lan was necessary too as I was being virtuous, but frankly I wish I had succumbed to double meat and got the orange beef instead. I’ll admit the greens did add freshness to an otherwise rich and salty combination, however they were a touch cold and would never be worthy of their almost £10 price tag.
Chinese restaurants aren’t known for desserts; they usually produce a plate of cut fruit and send you on your way, but there was something that caught my eye – the black sesame dumplings. I imagined the mochi-type things I used to make with my mum which were steamed dumplings made from glutinous rice flour filled with nuts or red bean paste. We never used black sesame but when they arrived, I knew the concept was the same – happy days! When I sunk my spoon through the chewy outer, all those childhood memories kept flooding back. A certain someone can attest to my nostalgia as this led to a barrage of anecdotes about cooking with my mum!
The Duck and Rice is not your average pub, nor is it your run of the mill Chinese restaurant but I think it combines the best parts about both, and I just like it. There are restaurants round the corner in Chinatown that do all of these dishes; maybe better and definitely at a much more wallet-friendly price so this is not the most obvious choice when you feel like Chinese. But, if you want that more upmarket experience, this is the place to be.
Are you a fan of Chinese food? Where’s your favourite spot?
This was written in collaboration with CitizenMag – check out what they had to say about Duck and Rice here – but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!