There’s no duck soup on the menu at Ducksoup, and the owners are silent on whether it was the 1927 Laurel & Hardy film that inspired them (or the 1933 Marx Brothers one). But the name isn’t important: there’s little in the way of signage outside this sliver of a space to let you know you’ve arrived, and the hand-scrawled menus are similarly anonymous.
In this sense – and many more – it’s in the same mould as several other on-trend restaurants in the area. There are no bookings taken in the evening, diners can sit at a long bar and be served by the chef behind it; there are bare walls and bare lightbulbs and barely any decoration to speak of.
It might sound thrown together, but there has doubtless been a lot of thought gone into making it look so artfully nonchalant. It’s inspired by the recent vogue in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but it works just as well in Soho.
Ducksoup was opened by chef Julian Biggs, along with Clare Lattin and Rory McCoy, who at various points all worked with Mark Hix – and this pedigree is clear. Showy, precise kitchen technique is not the point, although it sits subtly in the background – food here is about very good ingredients, presented thoughtfully, served to share.
From the ‘bar menu’ we ordered a simple dish of girolle mushrooms with a few slices of triple-cream Brillat-Savarin cheese and a plate of chewy, garlicky saucisson sec; chef-owner Julian was busy behind the bar slicing a cured leg of pork and dishing up bowls of ‘tomatoes with bread’ – actually the thick Italian soup/stew of pappa al pomodoro.
To drink there’s Vedett Belgian lager on draught, or by the bottle is Fucking Hell pilsner from Germany – worth ordering just to see it on your bill. The wine list is written on a white-tiled wall beside the bar, and has a ‘natural’ focus – ie wines made with minimal pesticide and sulphur intervention – and all are available by the glass, with interesting examples including the grassy Binner Alsatian blend we had, or the bottle-fermented rosé de sable from the Loire.
Dishes ‘from the kitchen’ arrived soon after. Fritto misto was an attractive plateful of perfectly fried artichoke, baby squid, langoustine, grey mullet and scallop with a blob of saffron mayo, and roast quail with burnt lemon, harissa and crème fraîche was a great combination that added spark to the earthy game. Other compositions included onions with ricotta and bitter leaves, and ceps with lardo (thin-sliced back fat) and parmesan.
There's a complicated booking policy in place at Ducksoup: you can reserve tables any time for the basement or the six-cover grotto at the back, but only from Wednesday to Friday. The restaurant is already nearly as popular as the likes of Spuntino and Bocca di Lupo, which means you will quite likely have to wait for a table. The owners tell us though that the downstairs area, with its larger tables, will soon be pressed into use (initially on Thursdays and Fridays only).