Undoubtedly, London has some of the finest and most authentic Chinese restaurants Europe has to offer, with the majority of Chinese restaurants congregating within the vicinity of Chinatown and Soho. With well over 20 restaurants on the main thoroughfare of Chinatown alone, how do you narrow down which eatery to dine in? Well we thought we would try Duck and Rice; a restaurant by renowned restaurateur Alan Yau which proudly boasts that it is the best Chinese restaurant in Soho. Well Alan, I'll be the judge of that.
The first thing you will notice about Duck and Rice is the decor. It is not your standard Chinese restaurant. It's an overwhelming mix of modern, traditional and industrial, with large copper tanks filled with beer greeting you upon entry. The downstairs area is very much a pub, serving an impressive menu of bottled beer, with the majority costing over £5; a pub menu is also available, with a big selection of small plates as well as main dishes. However, we were there for Sunday lunch, which took place upstairs in the restaurant section. After scaling a beautiful winding staircase, we took our seats in a cosy booth made for two, where you are sat side by side facing a lit fireplace. The tables and chairs are all made with dark wood and copper metal, and the walls are covered in blue and white tiles. I was in interior heaven. I am a huge fan of blue and white tiles, and this decor is a very traditional Chinese style, with the blue and white mimicking the porcelain tableware and vases that you will find in most Chinese homes. I loved the way that tradition
was being mixed in with the wood, copper and the use of the fireplace; it really transported you to a old fashioned Chinese eatery, while crossing over into gastropub territory.
The menu definitely takes inspiration from Cantonese dining, and Hong Kong dim sum lunches where you are given a pencil with the menu, and tick off the options that you want to order. They also offer a weekend brunch menu which is very much in the style of the dim sum menus back home, and there are more dim sum choices than during the week. Is everything on the menu authentic, and what you would find in the east? Nope, but I'd say they are quite close, with the exception of a few tongue in cheek phrases like 'chop suey' - a word that I have never come across in the 18 years of growing up in Hong Kong, and a word I still don't understand to this day. Other inauthentic choices include, chicken katsu curry rice (which actually sounds AMAZING) and Hakka paneer. Another pet peeve of mine is restaurants that serve dim sum in the evening, it's really a traditional lunch meal that is served until mid afternoon. It would be like having afternoon tea for dinner - it just doesn't feel right! But hey, I guess people just love dim sum, and it should be taken as a compliment that people want to eat it all day long. So what did we order? Six dishes of food - it may sound a lot, but they
are not the size of mains, so do ensure you have 2-3 dishes per person.
We ordered some curry beef puffs, which may not sound very Chinese, but actually is a bit of a cult Chinese bakery favourite. Made with a super flaky Chinese pastry, we were starting well. Next up was the char sui cheung fun, which is essentially roast bbq pork wrapped in a rice flour roll -a dim sum staple. Alongside was the char sui bao, which are steamed bbq pork buns, for those who haven't sampled these tasty delights. Both dishes were great and faultless, and what I would expect. But so far, I wouldn't say they were the best Soho had to offer. The five spice fried chicken arrived next, and while they were tasty, they were a borrowed concept from the Japanese fried chicken (karaage), with a hint of five spice seasoning. The main attraction followed, which was the boneless Cantonese style roast duck. It was good, and i'm glad they kept the tastes authentic, as to fail at their
name sake would be so disappointing. We ordered a quarter portion, which was perfect for the two of us. The presentation was a bit poor, as the quarter portion looked a little lost on a too large plate it arrived on - but hey, we wouldn't be plates of style if I didn't critique the plates! We also ordered a No. 23. What's that you say? Well that's also what we said. It turned out to be chicken chow mien, one of Matt's favourites, something i've never been a fan of, perhaps because they don't really do this in Hong Kong restaurants, and it's much more of a British invention like a chicken tikka masala. However, Matt obviously liked Duck and Rice's take on the noodle dish, as he devoured all in under 5 minutes.
So did I like Duck and Rice? Yes, it was good food, great decor and good service, but I don't think, it excelled in anything in particular, especially not enough to crown themselves as the best Chinese restaurant in Soho. Our waitress was lovely and helpful, but did pronounce a couple of the dishes wrong, like to the point it was given a new name. But no way can I hold that against her as imagine how often I mispronounce food in Indian restaurants, or even go about daily life in Dublin trying to say Gaelic words like Garda (the police) - I mean how is the 'a' at the end pronounced as an 'e'? Wow, I digress. To me, Duck and Rice should sell themselves on their way of incorporating some traditional Chinese fare, with a modern blend of Asian fusion, all set in a industrial building with a Chinese lady at the helm of decorating it. Oh and their toilets are beautiful. Like I mean I fell in love with the dark blue colours and old fashion design.
I would go back to Duck and Rice again for sure, but not in a hurry as it was 4- 5 quid more expensive than your average Chinese eatery in that area. It cost us £60 which included 2 soft drinks and service charge. The next time I go, I'll probably try going in the evening, as it has a really good buzz from the bar area downstairs, and the restaurant is know for their superlative choice in music. If you want to try it out yourself, do remember to book in advance, as it can get difficult to secure a reservation if you are booking a few days beforehand.
Duck and rice is nice… to eat. So I was excited to go to this place. Growing up, a Chinese takeaway was by far my favourite, so I was hoping to experience some great Chinese food in a good setting. The restaurant is centrally located in Berwick St, off Oxford St. It is over 2 floors, and is cosy without it being too squashed. We ate quite early as it can be hard to get bookings, so it was not full.
Lets get onto the important part… the food. It is a Dim Sum menu, where you order several things. The waitress talked about the plates of food being quite small, so I was scared there wouldn’t be enough, which makes me panic and probably over order. We started with beef curry puffs. They were very nice, but there were only 3 small ones. We moved onto to more traditional Chinese dishes such as cheung fun which was delightful and a big portion. Char siu bao… or in English a pork bun, again lovely!! We also went for a roasted quarter duck, over the crispy duck. This is because roasted duck is a traditional Chinese dish, unlike crispy duck which is made up by evil Westerners, according to my wife. She then got even more annoyed when the waitress asked her if she was ordering the right duck. I’m surprised she did not at that point get up and sing the Chinese national anthem. All jokes aside, the duck though was lovely, boneless, and cooked to perfection. We also had a No 23. What is No 23? Well I had no idea, it was a chicken chow mein. Why they couldn’t just call it
that, who knows! Aside from that we had a couple of other dishes, I cant really remember but I’m sure they were ok!
All in all I loved the food, it came to about 60 quid which I didn’t think was too bad. Obviously your local Chinese is going to be a lot cheaper, so this is what I call a “Special” occasion restaurant. I would though highly recommend it.
Steph Rating 3.5 stars
Matt Rating 4 stars
Price for 2 60 GBP (no alcoholic drinks, inclusive of tip )
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