Just when we’re all getting used to the idea that China has a range of distinct cuisines—eight is the magic number, as with so many things in the country—along comes a restaurant that adds a ninth cuisine: Disney Chinese. The new Duck & Rice is like a Western fantasy of China, but it works.
The long menu hops in and out of bed with a bunch of culinary partners: Cantonese dim sum to Sichuan chili chicken; Fujian fried rice to Malaysian curry. It even embraces chop suey and wasabi prawn. It really is very naughty.
The Hong Kong-born restaurateur believes that one key to success is to divorce food from its origins, just as pizza is now more international than it is Italian. Here, he’s taking Chinese food out of China and making it accessible to anyone who’s tasted sweet-and-sour pork. The fortune cookies are missing, but I’m still feeling lucky.
Duck & Rice looks beautiful, though I don’t quite get the concept of the ground-floor bar, which is dominated by beer tanks. Yau says it’s an homage to the British pub. That’s a bit confusing, especially as the tanks contain unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell, which is delivered from the Czech Republic every day. Should you say cheers, na zdraví, or ganbei? After a couple of pints, you really won’t care. Even sober, I didn’t spot any signs pointing to the restaurant at the top of a spiral staircase.
The nearest thing to a greeter at night was a bouncer: possibly necessary for Soho but not the most welcoming of sights. You don’t know whether to say hello or open your bags to show you are not carrying any drugs—a measure that might thin out the population of a few restaurants and clubs in the neighborhood.
When you do find your way upstairs, the dining room is noisy. The menu is a welcome distraction. It’s as comprehensive as at my local takeaway, where many options end up tasting much the same. Here, each dish is individual, from the distinctively spiced chicken chop suey at £12.50 ($19.46) to the hot, hot, hot Sichuan chili chicken (£16.50) to the soothing Malaysian chicken curry (£14.50).
A starter snack features slivers of chili with warm cashew nuts and crispy shallots. It’s colorful and irresistible.
The superb sweet-and-sour pork (£9) is more sour than sweet and comes loaded with large chunks of pineapple. The crispy shredded beef (£9) has a citrus kick, though its sweetness made it one of my least favorite dishes. Indeed, a couple of other selections, including the big and juicy wasabi prawns, might benefit from being a bit less toothsome.
There’s fine dim sum, particularly the har gau, the cheung fun, and the venison puff. And the Cantonese roast duck (reared on a natural diet at family-owned Silver Hill Farm) features soft and savory flesh and intensely flavored skin.
The desserts are happily off the wall. I particularly liked the pickled cucumber, ginger, and Sichuan pepper soup with ginger ice cream. Mango, lime soup, and mint ice cream is a safer bet.
Yau is such a creative restaurateur he dares to fail. (One of his recent ventures, Naamyaa Café, was short-lived.) Duck & Rice is a winner. Bring on the sweet and sour.
Duck & Rice is at 90 Berwick St., Soho, W1F 0QB; +44-20-3327-7888 or theduckandrice.com.
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.
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