Firstly – what a bang-on name! Being only open for a month this London hotspot has been on my radar since I first heard mutterings of the fantastic food being plated with minimum fuss. And upon further investigation I found the website to be sparse – with only a dodgy photograph of the day’s handwritten menu via a Tumblr link – the same menu which each day must be handwritten eight times to be used for service.
Surprisingly, there is no duck soup on the menu. And I made a few laps of Dean Street looking for the actual place, finally finding a black sign on dark paint – hardly shouting your new arrival in the centre of Soho. Ducksoup is what I love about London – it is way more on trend than the rest of the world, customers have no problem with the no booking policy, and a relatively tiny amount of space is given mostly over to the bar running the entire way through the centre of the restaurant.
As you might have noticed in a recent review of our Polpo crawl through Soho, London is in the throws of a Lower East Side-inspired revival at the moment and again hits all the marks. The guys in the kitchen have great pedigree working with a superstar chef in London – Mark Hix. He is famous for focusing on the basics of great steak and even better seafood. (You might not know, but we have another of his chefs currently stationed in Melbourne and he is looking to open something along the same lines in the very near future – we will be all over things once an opening date is announced – until then it is very hush hush.)
Those lucky enough to have traversed Italy and Spain, but come back to roost in Australia, all seem to find the same issue with the tapas and share plates served down under often complaining of dishes being given a modern Australian makeover and lacking in soul. The food at Ducksoup is exactly the opposite of that and exactly as you would expect from a backstreet trattoria in Italy. Showy, precise kitchen technique is not the point; food here is about very good ingredients, which are presented thoughtfully, served to share amongst friends.
They had two draft beers on offer and I ordered one of each to try. Each had its own twist as it wasn’t just a straight beer – one had an addition of bitters added to it and the other had a dash of Campari – one sweet and one dry – so very Italian and it worked brilliantly.
We started off with the bar menu and ordered the Pork Terrine with Pickled Gherkins ($6.25) which was unrefined but full of flavour, and showed that if the texture and taste is good then bread is not always needed.
For less than the cost of a soft drink we got a small bowl of Chipirones ($4.25), deep-fried squid the way you would have it in Pescara. Beautifully fresh and popped in the mouth it is a great idea for a cheap bar snack.
Since her last visit to Hix Oyster and Chop House in Smithfields Meat Market, where WordMonkey first encountered razor clams, she has been going on about this under-rated shellfish. There they were served grilled with breadcrumbs, here we had Razor Clams, Sea Purslane, Salsify ($9.30). When cooked the clams become firm, but if cooked for too long will become chewy. Not the case here and plenty enough to share between four of us.
We moved onto the kitchen menu and a dish I ordered as much to enjoy as to show my brother and his partner something they had never tried – Mushrooms and Squid Ink Risotto ($9.30). I knew they would be concerned with the colour of the dish, but if they could look past it then they would be in for a surprise with a tasty plate of food comprising no meat or seafood, which they would usually expect from a risottos. Smiles all round.
I am not a cheese buff but I can tell you that the mountain of Buffalo Mozzarella, Cavolo Nero, Fennel and Chili was second to none. The firm and milky balls were – again – what you would expect to get straight from a farm.
The Beef Tagliata was shaved rare beef topped with rocket and parmesan cheese, seasoned with a dash of salt, pepper and olive oil. Simplicity shining through.
We grabbed the menus again and decided on two dishes from the kitchen menu’s larger plates (all around ~$18.50). We were all in agreement that no matter what, we wanted to see what the chefs could do with Lamb Cutlets, Lemon and Salt. The freshly grilled smell and tenderness of that first mouthful sent shivers down our spine.
Grilled Scallops with Guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks) were served in their huge shells. Salty, meaty and tender, fresh and full of flavour, there was no fault to be found.
Where the team did stumble was in the dessert. It may have just been our choice of dish but either way it was a clanger. The Rhubarb and Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake was semi-deconstructed in a small glass but the flavours just didn’t seem to gel at all. A minor mis-step in the overall scheme of the meal, but a mis-step nonetheless.
The food was fantastic, the company much enjoyed and the retro tunes kept rocking from the record player all night, which amounted to one of the best meals so far during our London trip. Note to others – customers are encouraged to bring their own vinyl to spin while they dine (why hasn’t Melbourne thought of doing this?). Ducksoup is almost as popular as Spuntino (reviewed here) and with good reason. So you might have to wait for a table – simply allow the lively street life to keep you entertained. There is even a bench outside for keen punters to perch on and watch the world go by.
41 Dean Street, Soho
Ph. 0207 287 599