Believe the buzz. Ducksoup – and I’m not talking about the 1933 Marx Brothers film – is the shizzle. Or at least, it was when I lunched there last week - packed tightly into my rickety wooden chair on the tiny, jewel box ground floor of Soho’s latest small plates restaurant. As I dashed inside, out of the freakish heat, I noticed that the faded ‘Zilli’ logo was still visible on the restaurant’s sun curtain (I know there’s another word for that – help me out please, someone?), but this is a far cry from the vegetarian celeb cheffery of its predecessor. On the bar - which takes up the majority of the small room – was a handsome looking ham, and some Tête de Moine, and behind it stood the unshaven Julian Biggs (below) – the former executive chef from Hix restaurants, who has struck out on his own with ex Hix Oyster & Chop restaurant manager Rory McCoy to open this place.
Wines, many of them natural (I spotted the divine Alsation biodynamic grower Binner’s Les Saveurs Alsace 2009) are written up on the blackboard, and there’s a very pretty copper stand temptingly filled with chilling fizz. We were in a hurry, and this was a working lunch, so we just went for tap water – which was gracefully brought in a little ceramic jug.
The biro-scrawled menus are adorable, but cutest of all is the restaurant’s ‘bring your own vinyl‘ policy, whereby you can put your own records on the little player that sits on a shelf near the corner. We lunched to the nostalgic harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel, and I couldn’t help fantasising about what might happen if I disrupted the cool vibe by busting out my Wings (“only the band the Beatles could’ve been”) EP…
Ducksoup is one of those places that is good value, but not cheap. Small plates are £7 and bigger, main-sized portions are double that at £14, which makes sense. You’re paying for quality produce here, and, thanks to the accomplished cooking, you can really taste it. It’s very much in the St John/Terroirs school of not putting more than three or four ingredients on each plate – with vibrant flavour combinations and everything impeccably fresh. Despite being a former Hix boy, Biggs is very much looking to the Med here – there’s a lot of olive oil, herbs and regional cheeses. We shared the toast with lardo, girolles and parmesan – which was fresh, juicy and moreish:
Then came the plump, tender lamb cutlets, grilled until the fat had caramelised and crisped – but still moist and juicy and simply dressed with fresh torn marjoram and a delicious slick of fruity olive oil.
Our third and final dish was the star dish, and had me chewing on the bones, trying desperately to get the most minute scrap from the carcass – it was that good. One perfect golden little quail, nicely seasoned and served with brilliant simplicity, accompanied by just half a burnt lemon and a bowl of crème fraiche which was marbled with saffron-coloured harissa. Harissa goes so bloody well with quail! And the crème fraiche gave a piquant, indulgent edge to the dish. I just wish we’d ordered the big one.
Our bill came to to £28 for two, which isn’t bad – but we didn’t have wine or dessert. Go to Ducksoup I’d say, go and eat all you can while you can still get a table.
41 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4PY