Saturday, 30 May 2015

Drunken Duck - Gastro Pub re-imagined?

I'd normally get really excited about a restaurant opening, walking by the construction and keeping an eye out on its progress. I don't really have the same level of excitement in Hong Kong, it's not possible; there are so many new restaurant openings in HK that I'd be walking around in a perpetual state of excitement.  But, for some reason, the Drunken Duck was one new restaurant that we'd been keeping tabs on, with a view to checking it out ASAP.

The latest in a number of British style Gastro Pubs that have opened in the last twelve months in HK, the Drunken Duck is the most recent creation of the Enoteca group. who also run a couple of Enoteca restaurants, as well as Iberico & Co in Soho.  

David Tamlyn, who was the head chef of Iberico & Co has moved over to the new venture.  David is one of the multitude of chefs who trained under culinary legend Marco Pierre White then went on to work in a number of well known Michelin Starred restaurants such as Pied-a-Terre and The Square.  David then took a bit of a change of direction to run Michelin rated Gastro Pubs The Bridge and the Salt House, before moving to hot and steamy Honkers.

With pretty high expectations, we braved a wet and stormy Sunday evening to wander along to the Drunken Duck (without reservation, of course) and found ourselves seated at a table right in front of the kitchen.  Like a lot of English style gastro pubs, the Drunken Duck has quite a warm and welcoming feel to it, and it was a lovely refuge from the stormy weather outside.  You could tell that the restaurant was still brand new, it had that new building smell and feel about it, everything was still shiny and new.

The minimalist interior, which is quite funky, was designed by Kinney Chan, who has used exposed  concrete columns and piping to create a comfortable yet modern pub feel about it.  The dining was split with a couple of areas separated by a share style bench with high chairs, which was where we found ourselves sitting. Menus were hanging on hooks screwed into the concrete columns and before too long, we were checking out the menu, contemplating the composition of our Sunday meal.

It's unusual to go to a restaurant nowadays that doesn't have the ubiquitous small and large plates on offer, and the Drunken Duck had run with the crowd in that respect.  There were a couple of other options though, 'titbits' was a term I hadn't heard in a while (and we presumed they meant 'tidbits') and there was a section set aside for the Drunken Duck's specialty 'Our Duck'.  The menu was quite extensive, with contemporary twists on gastro pub fare, but unusually, there was not a lot on the menu that really appealed to me, with a lot of spicy options.  We managed to cobble together enough options for dinner though, and waited for our meal to arrive.

Served at the same time was a 'rude boy' pilsner, one of SC's favourite styles of beer and the black truffle tossed chips with duck dripping- a really good combination.  The rough cut chips came in a enamel cup and had heaps of Maldon sea salt and black truffle sprinkled on top.  The chips still had heaps of the potato skin on and were golden, crunchy and pretty darn nice.  What elevated the chips to legendary status was the small jar of duck fat that was used like a dipping sauce - yum!  It combined two of SC's three favourite foods in the world, truffle and duck fat (the last being bacon).

Up next was eight hour slow roasted and grilled octopus with chorizo, soy beans, olive oil, garlic and coriander.  It was my turn to have some of my favourite ingredients together, chorizo and octopus!  It was a rustic looking dish, served in it's cast iron frying pan and I have to say, the octopus was sensational.  Soft octopus tentacles with a slight char on the outside indicated that the dish had been cooked to perfection.  I loved the octopus, but thought the rest of the dish was a little out of balance, heavy on the beans and with chorizo chopped so small, that it got lost tin the more powerful bean flavour (not something you'd normally hear).

It was at this point that things went seriously downhill.  There are few dishes that can show off the skill of a chef like a well cooked scotch egg and we were hoping for a lovely scotch egg with a soft and runny yolk in the centre.  Unfortunately, the soft centred 'thai thai' scotch egg with Mae Ploy sweet chilli sauce was anything but (soft centred that is).  Straight up we could see that the egg was not right, with the yolk being quite solid, but what was also clear was that the filling underneath the golden crust was incredibly dry.  It was so dry in fact, not even the lovely sweet chilli sauce could make it go down easy, it was just so dry.  So much so, it shouldn't have made it out of the kitchen.

Dry and over cooked ingredients would be the blight of the remaining dishes as well, with the grilled confit of pork belly with hosin 'slick', apple sauce and crispy skin being extremely tough and hard to eat.  This time there was no lovely sauce to help the protein down, with the hosin 'slick' and the apple sauce being quite dry as well.  The one component of the dish that was enjoyable was the crispy pork crackling, which was delicious.

Our final course, which was the Drunken Duck's signature dish of 'plump US duck marinated in 5 spices, then steamed, dried, sozzled in tasting tao and fire roasted in the duck oven', was also very much on the dry side.  Duck, when prepared well is one of the culinary world's true delights and with so much wonderful duck dishes in Hong Kong, we did have high expectations from a restaurant with a name such as the Drunken Duck!  Unfortunately, the duck was dry, really dry, as were the pancakes that were served alongside.  We normally expect ultra thin pancakes that allow the duck to shine, but these were really thick and also dry.  We ended up leaving quite a bit of the duck, which was unfortunate.

Being so close to the kitchen had allowed us to watch the preparation of the duck, which was cooked with a beer can inserted, which normally helps keep duck super moist.  So, it was even more disappointing when we were served with ultra dry duck.

We decided that we'd skip dessert, not really wanting to try our luck and have another disappointment.  Was it a mistake, could the Drunken Duck have pulled one back with a delicious dessert?  Well, I'll never know because none of the half dozen options on the menu really appealed enough for me to try.

The Drunken Duck is located right in the heart of expat and tourist territory in Soho and is probably targeted towards transient customers that will come in once, maybe twice and probably move onto another destination or back home.  Our experience at the DD was pretty similar to quite a few of our Soho meals, which are hit and miss (mostly miss) and should serve as a lesson for us.  I guess though, Soho is our local area, so we tend to hit the area when we don't feeling like travelling.

On a positive note, the staff were really friendly and the service was excellent.  It's possible that we visited a little early in the life of the Drunken Duck and it will find it's feet, I certainly hope so. But for me, with so many other restaurants to check out in Hong Kong, it's pretty unlikely we will be back.

That Octopus was sensational but it went downhill after that
Unusually quite for a Sunday night in Soho
Usually good advice, not sure what happened though?

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