A new photo-blog series, taking in the most interesting bars and pubs in London and beyond.
Alan Yau (founder of the Wagamama chain and owner of several Michelin Star-awarded restaurants) is one the last people you might expect to get in the pub game. In what is seen as a dramatic departure, the OBE and restaurateur has given equal focus to beer as well as food at his latest venture – a ‘Chinese-influenced gastropub’ in Soho. The area has been worn down by its reputation into a bit of a parody of itself, but in doing so provides a number of unusual and striking venues, of which The Duck & Rice is undoubtedly one. I couldn’t quite place the theme of the decor, but I heard somebody say ‘Park Chinois’. There’s a very Hong-Kong-in-the-Empire kind of aesthetic: lavish colonial decor, striking marble, blues and pearl colours, art deco painted glass, reminiscent of a bar at the edge of the world and full of its riches. It seems decadent, but fairly relaxed.
The reason I was here of course, was the beer. Pilsner were sponsoring the press launch night, so their beer was flowing freely, but the bar also has an impressive variety of other cask, keg and a (rapidly growing) list of bottled beers from the leading lights of the beer industry. Still, the star on the bar was Tankovna Pilsner Urquell, freshly delivered from Pilsen. The stacked, copper 500 litre tanks greet you like a steampunk bouncer as you enter, and beer was on top-notch form: the almost cask-ale-like mouthfeel, nourishing breadiness and spiky bitterness all present and correct. Whilst upstairs is more restaurant-like, the focus here down in the bar area is just that, the bar, and food is focused on simple Chinese dishes and snacks to match with the beers. Light, crispy batter-coated delights melted sweetly with gulps of Pilsner, like they had known each other for ages. Suddenly, elegant Chinese food and pints of Czech Pilsner felt like the most normal thing in the world, as well as something quite special.
The Duck & Rice, 90 Berwick Street, London W1F 0QB.