Newly opened Soho restaurant Ducksoup is the kind of place you only find in big international cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona or New York, in fact, to my mind, it’s kind of an amalgamation of the vibe of eating in all of these cities. The evening I visited it was dark, achingly hip and ramshackle by design, bustling, loud, and seemingly verging on chaotic but the service was actually very controlled. Packed out with all tables and all seats at the bar filled. It has a kind of frenetic buzz about the place, which is exactly the atmosphere many restaurants aspire to but few can necessarily conjure. Perched at the bar with ‘E’, lined up with four more food-loving pals, (Niamh, Sig, Ailbhe & Maunika) I took it all in, and instantly knew that I was going to enjoy this.
A handwritten menu appeared and there seemed to be only one copy of it being passed around the restaurant, from person to person, and table to table. Short and to the point, divided into daily specials, some smaller plates at £3.50 ‘From the bar’ and larger main dishes, priced at either £7 or £14 ‘From the Kitchen’ with the pudding and cheese options admirably concise (two of each) the menu hung together quite well. Which is amazing when you consider that it’s changing every single day, pays no allegiance to any particular countries cooking or style. It’s all over the shop, a mish-mash of classic French, Spanish, British, Middle Eastern, all of it gutsy, full flavoured, and punchy stuff. No pretension, no unnecessary faff, just good honest food.
If all of this wasn’t interesting enough, natural wines feature heavily on the wine list (scrawled onto the tiles behind the bar), which certainly makes for something different on the booze front.
Ordering a brace of smaller dishes to limber us up, and an accompanying bottle of an absolutely superb Spanish red natural wine ‘Flos de Pinoso’ which had an incredible fruity, almost effervescent raspberry like taste, we got started.
Small plates of decent bread and butter kept coming throughout with the rest of the food being placed in front of us as soon as it was ready.
Grilled aubergines with mint & chilli were good, charred and smoky with a decent kick.
A small bowl of salad leaves, pancetta and sourdough croutons were again, good, well made but nothing special.
Smoked Sprats, red onions and crème fraiche, I thought these were OK and I’m not a massive fan of eating small fish, head and all.
A simple artichoke and vinaigrette is always a treat, and this was nicely done.
Braised celery heart. I liked this a lot, it’s not something I’ve ever really tried before, it actually sounds a bit dull and unexciting, but this was a real surprise. Braised in chicken stock with white wine and scattered with crushed hazelnuts. Superb.
So a decent run through the bar menu, a lot of it actually prepared by a chef stationed behind the bar, apart from the braised celery heart, nothing particularly standout, but absolutely no bollocks dropped either, just good solid cooking and a great buzzing atmosphere drinking and catching up with friends.
I’d ordered a couple of the larger £7 plates, Casarecce, duck ragu and Parmesan (I had no idea what Casarecce was and asked, turns out it’s a narrow, twisted and rolled tube pasta shape, perfect for serving with a meat sauce). The duck ragu was beautiful, powerful and intense, packed full of flavour. Exactly what you’d demand from a slow cooked meat sauce. Perfect, I could have eaten another bowl of it actually but then my next dish arrived.
Leaping from Italy, to something with a more Middle Eastern vibe, chargrilled quail with pomegranate molasses and yoghurt was beautifully done, burnt, sticky and sweet. The accompanying chargrilled lemon slice was something of a revelation, still hot and when squeezed over the meat, the almost smoky citrus tang was amazing. Spot on. I picked and pulled at the tiny carcass until just a small mound of gleaming white bones remained as a memorial to its tastiness.
‘E’ meanwhile was frustrated by what proved to be a terrible choice. A whole crab with lemon and mayonnaise, whilst no doubt delicious is not the thing to order when perched on stall at a bar whilst being hemmed in on both side by other diners and jostled by passers by. Frustrated in her attempts to actually eat the thing due lack of manoeuvring room, her countenance all at once displayed sadness, irritableness and extreme hunger.
Taking a moment to consider this tragedy playing out before me, whilst idly patting my own rather full belly happily. I decided that a pudding would be just the ticket.
My crème caramel was actually very good. Simple, well made. Not the best I’ve ever had, but not that far off it. A nice end to the meal.
The only other taker for a pudding was Ailbhe, and her chocolate mousse was apparently good, but I thought £6 was pushing it a bit.
I liked Ducksoup a lot, it’s crowded, manic and a bit chaotic, but as a result, it’s also a lot of fun. The daily changing menu in terms of seasonality and interest is spot on. I love the idea of cooking whatever is available, fresh and great that day and in whatever style seems appropriate. It’s very honest, very ballsy and ultimately makes for very tasty grub. Although some of the dishes were a bit less impressive than others, all of it was of a good quality and some of it was absolutely fantastic. I guess, at the end of the day if you didn’t like what you had one day, go back the next day and it’ll all be different. Ducksoup is certainly offering an interesting alternative to the more formal dining options in the area and I salute them for it.
41 Dean Street
Telephone: 020 72874599