Two of Yau’s restaurant concepts, Yauatcha and Hakkasan, have won Michelin stars and ranked amongst the top 50 restaurants in the world. Needless to say, expectations were high for the Duck & Rice, which sits on the site of the old Endurance on Berwick Street. I headed down to Soho to see if Yau’s interpretation of the British pub could live up to the hype.
The space: Four 500 litre tanks of imported Pilsner Urquell beer greet you as enter the pub. These tanks, the fourth installation of this kind to hit London, are refilled with fresh Pilsner every week, with Yau having touted the beer as the perfect pairing to food from the Duck and Rice’s kitchen.
Beyond the tanks, the lower floor of the Duck and Rice is packed by 7pm. Despite Yau’s foodie credentials understandably being a major focal point for guests, it’s full of content drinkers. A large portion of them are eating bar snacks and servings from the menu’s ‘small chow’ section, which includes dishes such as sesame prawn toast, pan-fried pork and Chinese leaf gyoza dumplings and salt and pepper squid.
Some customers stand, but the bar area doesn’t feel cramped and the atmosphere is lively but not rowdy. The toilets are unusually clean for a bar in this part of town.
Up a spiral staircase awaits the Duck and Rice’s 70-cover restaurant area, featuring a layout more suited for sit-down dining. The décor aptly reflects Yau’s ambitions for the site, with a mix of traditional Chinese art and minimalist black furniture. A second bar caters to diners on this floor, presumably streamlining the operation for the many smart/casually dressed front-of-house staff.
The food: The pub’s extensive menu, which features more than 60 dishes, is definitely on the pricey side for a pub, with the average dish costing somewhere around the £10-£13 mark (with a few notable exceptions – house special black pepper spider crab with crab roe and Chinese rice wine braised noodle comes in at £48, larger meat options tend to range from £24-£38). The care taken in preparation and presentation is clear - the majority of dishes are served on simple white plates and in ample portions. One thing’s for sure: you may leave marginally poorer than you were when you entered, but you definitely won’t leave hungry.
Standout dishes: Chilli Sichuan chicken; fried chicken bites virtually submerged in a sea of the chopped peppers, which have a unique numbing effect on the tongue (£16.50). Cantonese roast duck; Yau’s duck is responsibly sourced and cooked to perfection – succulent, tender and sensitively marinated (whole duck £38, half £24). Crispy shredded beef; a Chinese takeaway staple, Yau’s interpretation is served in tangy sauce with slices of fresh fruit (£9.00).
The drinks: Sharing cocktails include a Bloody Mary with Stolichnaya vodka, Bellini with peach, lemon and prosecco and sangria with rioja, rose, Courvoisier VS Cognac, Grand Marnier, cherry liqueur, apple, peach and orange.
Beer cocktails include the Beer Negroni, with Belsazar sweet vermouth, Campari and Harvesown Schihallion, the Tank Old Fashioned, with bourbon, beer sugar, orange bitters and Pilsner from the venue’s tanks and the Kriek Manhattan with Rittenhouse rye, vermouth, Angostura bitter and cherry beer foam.
The site also has an extensive beer menu, featuring a selection of pilsners, pale lagers, Belgian beets, wheat and fruit beer, ales, IPAs, stouts, porters and bombers as well as ciders.
The verdict: The Duck and Rice’s versatile food and drinks offer and vibrant atmosphere could make it a strong contender on the London scene, with the sheer variety of dishes and drinks making it likely that customers will return to try things they were far too full to try the first time. Service is friendly and efficient thanks to the large amount of staff and dual bar areas. Prices are high compared to many food-led pubs, but in line with London gastropubs of a similar profile. The Duck and Rice is a solid concept that lives up to expectations. Just be aware you will most likely end up waddling slowly home in satisfaction, eagerly anticipating the burgeoning food coma to come.