Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer


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Duck & Rice

90 Berwick St, W1F 0QB
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
020 3327 7888
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website; map

“Across two meals I try some very good things, many of them taking banal Chinese takeaway standards and turning them into serious conversation pieces. The prawn sesame toast is the best I have ever tried, the butch minced prawn heaped so pillowlike on to the toast you don’t know whether to eat it or have a nap on it. ” Jay Rayner, The Guardian

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Duck & Rice, the latest venture from Alan Yau (founder of Wagamma) is, ostensibly, a pub with a chop suey restaurant upstairs.  The menu takes traditional Chinese takeaway dishes and generally improves upon them, all washed down with some decent beers.  Yau came to Britain at 11 from Hong Kong when his parents set up a Chinese takeaway, then in 1986, with his father’s help, he raised £50,000 to open a Chinese takeaway in Peterborough, and reportedly made the investment back in only six months.  He set up the first Wagamma in 1992, the chain grew rapidly before Yau was the victim of a hostile takeover by some nasty venture capitalists.  Yau’s creativity also extends to fine dining restaurants, and he sold a majority stake in the Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Yauatcha to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority for a cool £30.5 million in 2008.

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Photo: Mark Hillary

Duck & Rice is on the site of the former Endurance pub, an unimpressive 1960s building – architects Archer Humphryes have done an amazing renovation job, taking the structure right back to its concrete frame, then rebuilding and re-cladding it.  The impressive new facade (which I have attempted to sketch above) is apparently based on an abstraction of a pub window.  The interior is equally striking – it was designed by Seyhan Ozdemir and Sefer Caglar of the Istanbul-based design studio Autoban, with nods to Chinese ceramics and massive copper beer tanks dispensing Czech Pilsner. The extensive menu is pricier than a typical high street Chinese restaurant, but it is not extortionate, with chow mein dishes at £8-13.5, dim sum £4.2-8.2 and reinventions of classic takeaway dishes averaging at around £15.  Despite its claims to be a craft beer pub the beer list is fairly commercial with the aforementioned unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell from Czech Republic front and centre (apparently delivered weekly – I’m not sure the beer is good enough to merit all that effort) and the soapy, ubiquitous London Pride on tap; Alloa’s Harvieston lager is as independent as the draft choice gets (I couldn’t spot any London craft beers on the menu).

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To start, we couldn’t miss the sesame prawn toast (£6.5) which Jay Rayner described as “the best I have ever tried” – the prawns were meaty, slightly sweet and perfectly cooked, the toast was nicely crispy and not too greasy……the competition isn’t fierce in my case but I agree with Mr Rayner.  We followed with a decent salt and pepper squid (£10.5) utilising good quality squid which melted in the mouth, the batter was a bit thick for me but I still really enjoyed the dish which was enhanced with a decent chilli kick.  Another Rayner recommendation was the crispy shredded beef (£9) – the beef was extremely crispy and almost shattered in the mouth, but I would have liked a bit of chew and moisture in the meat; the dish had been garnished with too much orange peel and the orange segments were incongruous.

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We also sampled another takeaway favourite, Kung Po chicken (£12) – this was probably a bit too authentic for my tastes: the chicken was laden with chilli skins and a hatful of Sichuan peppercorns which overpowered any other flavours and made my mouth numb.  The chicken used was mainly scraps of unidentifiable dark meat – a very disappointing dish.  To add a bit of greenery to our meal we chose stir fried gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with salted fish (£12.8) which I really enjoyed – the crisp greens worked nicely with the dusting of salty fish and hints of garlic.

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A dish of shredded pork crispy noodles (£10.5) was unremarkable – the pork scratchings were lacking in character and the dish had been padded out with beansprouts – it needed more noodles; the sauce reminded me of a Chinese style pot noodle powder.  Service was unimpressive – the besuited front of house were stand-offish and the waiting staff were relaxed to the point of not really caring, but the decor and setting pretty much made up for this.

Verdict: decent grub in a chic setting, expect to see a duck & rice outlet near you soon 7/10

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Beijing Dumpling

23 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BA
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
020 72876888
Beijing Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Beijing Dumpling is a Chinese restaurant on Silk Street in Chinatown – it specialises in siu long bao which are dumplings with soup inside them, so that when you bite into the dumpling hot rich soup bursts out.  All the dumplings are either boiled or steamed – there are no fried monstrosities here.  The restaurant is fronted by a large window in which little Chinese ladies make the dumplings by hand for the amusement of passers-by.  The interior is decked out like a sauna (a reference to steamed dumplings?!) with wood strips on all sides and wooden furnishings – it is pretty homely though, and a lot more congenial that the typical garishly furnished Chinatown restaurant.

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Beyond the dumplings, the menu is pretty bog standard Chinese, with noodles, hot and sour soup, chow mein and lots of fried things.  Before our dumplings we tackled a decent crispy fried duck – the meat was fresh and rich without any hints of cartilage or bone; the plum sauce was generic and probably came from a Chinese cash and carry, but the pancakes were beautifully light and taut.

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Then to the dumplings: we opted for spicy pork without soup (so they didn’t come sitting in soup but still had soup inside).  I really enjoyed these – the dumplings were firm and sticky, containing bursts of slightly vinegary pork stock and soft pork mince with just a hint of spice.  A couple of the dumplings did not have soup in them and it must have leaked out because the dumpling had been haphazardly made – but otherwise a very pleasing dish.

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Our final dish was a bit of a disaster – fried spicy aubergines which were coated with so much MSG that they gave me instant sweats, a mouth as dry as Will Self’s wit and a desire to glug four gallons of water.  A dish to avoid at all costs (or at least ask for the non-MSG version).  The service was pretty efficient and nicely topped off by a pontytailed maitre’d who, whilst being very friendly, was dressed like a triad and looked like he could easily snap you in two with a crafty karate chop.  I wish anyone that chooses to complain to him all the luck in the world….

Verdict: stick to the dumplings and don’t annoy the maitre’d.
Also see: Ginge lists everything, The Skinny Bib and thefoodpot.