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Ducksoup Review

Drew Smith waxes philosophical over a boho Soho afternoon

Written by . Published on January 5th 2012.

Ducksoup Review

THE lexicon of Dean Street is that the Groucho was so-called because Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital up the road above what is now Quo Vadis, and, of course, it was a neat play on the old joke that I-would-not-want-to-be-a-member-of-any-club-that-wanted-me-in-it. The newly opened Ducksoup, almost next door, takes the joke another step.

In the same way that the nearby Spuntino conceived the idea that restaurants could be punk, so Ducksoup is part of the zeitgeist of street food, albeit in this case a very evolved form, of deconstruction of the pomposity of restaurants.

Ducksoup is not quite a club, but it so small and has such a complicated booking or no-booking policy that it might as well be an in place for regulars like myself who appreciate the anti-restaurant thesis and like to eat at a bar, listen to old vinyl and treat it like, well, a club.

It did not appeal to the girl round the counter who wanted a Coca-Cola and was mortified to find that her hot new Soho venue was not an all-services, do-anything-for-you chain.

The vinyl policy is interesting in itself. This is positively the first restaurant I have heard Van Morrison’s Saint Dominic’s Preview and Howlin' Wolf – which poses the question with vinyl being of a certain vintage maybe the appeal is to us oldies. For me, slow-cooked melted ox cheek on wet polenta at £7 in a bowl, a glass of passable Italian red and Van Morrison is a cue to settle in for a Soho boho afternoon.


But let us not get distracted here because Ducksoup has other virtues – none of which might be termed to be in the decor where bulbs are still hanging from the proverbial shoestrings.

For all you girls on diets, all you who are wondering about the Dukan diet, the South Beach diet or any other kind nonsense diet – I especially like the pH Miracle Diet which apparently the author picked up straight from God – may I please point you to the bowl – things tend to come in bowls here, rather than plates – of little white beans, courgette, capers, parsley and curd for £14. That is what you should be eating – alkaline, a brilliant marriage of textures and flavours – healthy, delicious. It is a great dish on its own and probably only comes out of the combustion of a kitchen following the market – market cooking at its zenith. I rest my case. Well actually I could make the same point with the salad of romescu, peppers and capers at £3.50.

The kitchen at Ducksoup is so big there is hardly any room for customers, but in return you can get the same curd with roasted shallots (£3), a brandade on toast (£4), the polenta is also treated dry as cake and a base for pickled herring (£7) but it is not beyond being nutritionally decadent at the same time because there is also roast belly pork, lentils and green sauce (£14) or griddled scallops still in their shells and wrapped in lardo (£18), which looks disgustingly messy but there are not many better ways to treat scallops taste-wise.


In the same way that the nearby Spuntino conceived the idea that restaurants could be punk, so Ducksoup is part of the zeitgeist of street food, albeit in this case a very evolved form, of deconstruction of the pomposity of restaurants. If every village in this city had a Spuntino or a Ducksoup on the corner, then the nascent food revolution would have happened. Let me just intellectualise for a couple of paragraphs:

The idea of a restaurant over recent decades is taken from the theatre. We have a cast, a plot of dishes, a semblance of an idea. The kitchen plays to the same recipes each night, changing only when the seasons radically demand it.

In theory, this allows the kitchen to perfect its offerings, when in fact experience shows the reverse happens. Think of Italian restaurants for example, which almost always seem to get worse as they get older. The reason is simple. The kitchen starts to work by rote and other departments in the business – front of house, accountants etc – start to gain more sway. The actual food becomes less and less important.


For that reason, writers like myself tend to favour establishments with owner operators in the kitchen, but even the chef patron is not immune from the tendency, either through sheer laziness or distractions like TV and the lure of a second or third business. Think Jamie Oliver whom I admire as it happens, but don’t have to follow.

But food is always about context and there is a limit to the context that a decor can provide, even in an ethnic restaurant. The difference with Ducksoup is that the menu changes daily because it works with the produce available. Eureka. There may be a loss in terms of finessing some dishes, but the compensation is seasonality and topicality. We have...cooking.

And that is what really good restaurants do.

So after all those plaudits, I am going to give Ducksoup a really low rating because I don’t want anyone to get the impression that it is as yet somewhere that it is not, and in fairness it does not score highly because it is an anti-restaurant. The service is coping, the decor is cute but...and the marks it really scores on are really all cooking...I want it to be a 17, but that would destroy it...maybe next year.

On the other hand, three us ate our way through most of the menu including wines for less than £100 and you could, perhaps should, graze here for around £20 each.


Rating:          12/20
Breakdown:    2/5 service
                        3/5 atmosphere
                        7/10 food


41 Dean Street
London W1D 4PY



Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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