Restaurant reviews with Straight Up London
Don’t duck out of the challenge at experimental Cantonese
Most innovation in food is through trial and error, refashioning the same techniques and ingredients – try out a new recipe, and if it works, just keep doing it.
That’s the big advantage of places like KERB, which opened a new Saturday market in Peckham this summer, and Pop Brixton. The running costs are lower, so you can take some risks with an idea and see if punters like it.
Duck Duck Goose, in one of Pop Brixton’s renovated shipping containers, is inspired by the Cantonese food you might find in a cheap and cheerful Hong Kong place – roast meats and spring rolls, without the sweet, sticky sauces that dominate most Cantonese food in Britain.
When you’re offering something as delicious as Chinese roasted meats, breaking with the formula is risky. Perhaps because it tries to do a few things at once, with a menu that feels uneven, Duck Duck Goose enjoys mixed success.
Pork and black bean spring rolls (£2.25 for two) came with slivers of pickled fennel on top, whose acidity would balance the black bean nicely if the roll was better seasoned.
The duck spring roll alongside a pile of frozen foie gras shavings wasn’t bad, but a weird way to use foie gras and not a great buy at £4 for a miniature dish.
The “revisited” prawn toast (£6.50 for two pieces), however, was superb. Two crunchy slices, topped with an inch-thick layer of minced prawn and herbs, deep fried and finished with bonito flakes and what seemed like Japanese kewpie mayonnaise making it satisfyingly savoury.
Next were Viola aubergines and San Marzano tomatoes, stir fried in fish sauce, chilli and ginger. This was on the expensive side at £8 but explosive with the punchy but elegant flavours that make good Chinese food so special, and in particular that ensures aubergine has bite and flavour.
The pork belly was, sadly, not as crispy or as flavoursome as it ought to be at £8.50. But the roast duck (£12 for a quarter) was close to perfect. The skin crackled with every bite, revealing a layer of rich, silky fat and juicy duck meat underneath.
Soy poached chicken (£15 for half a chicken) can hardly live up to that, but Duck Duck Goose’s was moist, shot through with clean flavours of soy and ginger, and came in a generous portion. As an end of meal palate-cleanser, it worked well. Less impressive was the duck fat fried rice (£8): too one-dimensional. I wish I’d tried the steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onion (£15 for a whole one) that our neighbours had.
Not everything works at Duck Duck Goose, and it sometimes feels as if they should stick to the classics. But those are the failures of a restaurant that’s experimenting. When those experiments work out, you’ll be happy you were there to enjoy them.
Popcorn sour among the rare beers to shake your palate
Brixton has three of London’s best tap rooms in the London Beer Lab on Nursery Road (just behind the High Street), the Brixton Brewery on Brixton Station Road, and newly-opened Ghost Whale on Atlantic Road.
The first two brew their own beers, which means you’re getting fresh and often brand new kinds of beer. London Beer Lab’s 3 Fruit Marmalade Saison beer is fresh, bitter and comes with a hint of oranges, while darker stouts are also often on the menu. Prices tend to be very reasonable, too: many are £4 a pint, which for a craft beer is a bargain. One thing you might miss is ambience – this is a brewery first and foremost, not a pub.
Ghost Whale is slightly different. It’s a can shop, the sort of which is popping up across the UK to fill the spaces left behind by the closure of high-street staples like BHS and Woolworths, also with beers on tap that you can drink in the garden out back.
Along with things like the Sour Cherry Candy Popcorn Sour – a Swedish sour that might even appeal to beer-haters – are strong, punchy beers like the 8% Double Milkshake IPA, which really does taste like milkshake. Or you can pay a £1 corkage and try one of the 150+ cans, many of which are so rare and obscure that even a beer purist won’t have seen them before. Be sure to check opening times as, unlike pubs, these tap rooms keep irregular hours. SB
London Beer Lab, Arch 41 Railway Arches, Nursery Road, SW9 8BP
Brixton Brewery Limited, Arch 547, Brixton Station Rd, SW9 8PF
Ghost Whale, 70 Atlantic Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8PX