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.
Breweries with an illustrious heritage often struggle to shake off the fusty, traditional image that grates with modern artistic design. In an effort to stay modern and relevant, any attempt at a violent rebrand is usually clumsy, and often ends up sacrificing what people liked about the brewery’s image in the first place. It’s refreshing then, to see the beautiful labels of the new canned version of Pilsner Urquell that should be arriving on these shores in the next couple of months.
As you can see from the image above, these aren’t just any labels. In a nod to the brewer’s rich history, Urquell are selling their new cans in four packs, with each can bearing a different, limited edition label, based on four different designs from the brewery’s archives (my favourites are the two on the left). It’s slightly reminiscent of the arty labels that Becks had commissioned a while back, yet in Pilsner’s case I think this really keeps true to the brewery’s history and branding without pandering to fashion.
They look really, really good, especially in the rather *craft* cardboard sleeve, and the beer inside tastes on a par with draught Pilsner Urquell in terms of freshness and mouthfeel. They should be hitting shelves in the UK in time for summer.
In more Pilsner packaging news, Urquell will be selling bottled Pilsner entirely in brown glass in the very near future (EDIT: likely to arrive in the UK next year), and there are plans for more of their Tankovna (brewery-fresh, unpasteurised pilsner tanks) to be installed in pubs both inside and outside of London. I’ll be discussing the Tankovna version of Pilsner in a future blogpost, but rest assured, it’s damn good stuff. Like the freshest pilsner you’ve ever tasted, with the smooth, quaffable mouthfeel of cask ale.