A night at the opera or a bit of a Zeppo?
Gauthier and Arbutus are two of my favourite restaurants in Soho, but they’re not only a bit pricey but also rather formal – Gauthier especially so. Polpetto is just as enjoyable and more affordable and that little gem is now joined by Duck Soup, a small, quirky restaurant on Dean Street serving up simple Modern European dishes with a hint of Italy about them.
The bare, stripped back décor and bustling, if cramped, ambience at Duck Soup is similar to that of Polpetto. The friendly, informative service isn’t quite as polished though – initially quick and efficient, it started to bog down once the small space started filling up. Getting my dessert and settling the bill took far long than it should’ve done. Duck Soup was only a few weeks old at the time of my weekday lunchtime visit, so hopefully these service niggles will be ironed out.
The no frills décor only serves to focus attention on the menu which changes frequently and, on my visit, was handwritten on note paper which was quite charming. Although you can order your meal in three courses, the wide selection of small plates is well suited for sharing, although the cramped seating doesn’t lend itself to dining with lots of friends unless you book the private dining room.
My latest dining companion, Henpecked, beat me to the chopped hanger steak served in a style similar to steak tartar – i.e. raw. It was an enviable choice as it’s the best raw beef dish I’ve sampled in London to date. The tender strips of beef were a tad stringy and had a slight chewiness to them, but this didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the delightfully salty tang and the bold, but not overpowering flavour of capers. I would be more than happy to eat this dish just by itself all day, but it’s served with chunks of fluffy sourdough bread if you want carbs with your protein. Great stuff.
I was far from disappointed with my own starter. Wilted kale and buffalo mozzarella might sound like an odd pairing, but the salty, firm kale, drizzled in fruity olive oil, contrasted nicely with the soft, silky, taut, creamy bulb of mozzarella. Kale is a lovely vegetable and really deserves to be eaten more widely.
Henpecked followed his meat with a large helping of bitter leaves topped with chunks of deliciously fatty, salty lardo and slightly chewy sourdough croutons. Both of these toppings only served to highlight the bitterness of the salad leaves. It’s a simple dish, but none the worse for it.
I had a more substantial main course in the form of calves liver served with cep mushrooms, snails and polenta. I never liked eating liver when I was growing up, but I might’ve had a happier time if all liver tasted like Duck Soup’s rendition. Instead of the coarse, dense chunks of liver I was served as a child, the calves liver here was fluffy and light with a gentle offaly flavour. This went well with the earthy richness of the snails (which I could stomach since they weren’t served in-shell which would’ve put me off) and the silky cep mushrooms. The creamy polenta was also light and fluffy, although it lacked some of the grit I’ve come to associate with polenta, but this didn’t detract from an excellent main course.
Unfortunately Duck Soup’s efforts at dessert weren’t quite as faultless. Henpecked was unimpressed with his bland chocolate mousse topped with walnuts and crème fraiche. It was all too whispy and insubstantial, even for a mousse.
My helping of pecorino cheese was sharp and bold with a slight nutty flavour accentuated by the toasted walnuts. It’s no match for a mature comté, but it’s a fine cheese in its own right.
I washed it all down with Sicilian lemonade which is made from Sicilian lemons fittingly enough. The crisp, sharp taste wasn’t as cloying as other lemonades I’ve had. Refreshing.
Despite the cramped seating and some issues with the service, the generally excellent food, reasonable prices and informal atmosphere make Duck Soup my new Soho favourite.
Name: Duck Soup
Address: 41 Dean Street, London, W1D 4PY
Phone: 020 7287 4599
Opening Hours: seven days a week noon-15.00 and 18.00-23.00.
Reservations: highly recommended – only taken at lunchtimes and for groups of six or more at dinner time.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £20-30 approx.
Updated 23/11/2012 – adjusted formatting slightly