Friday, 7 April 2017
Duck Duck Goose, Brixton
Beware of irony. That's my advice for restaurateurs. Your white-hot idea for a 70s dinner party popup with Babycham to start, or searing "take" on corned beef hash and apple crumble school dinners may have you and your friends splitting their sides, but that joke will never translate to the plate. Food is never funny - surprising and delightful, at its best, yes - but never funny. The only fun anyone's ever going to get from "funny" food is reading about the whole car crash afterwards. And for that, I'll point you towards Marina O'Loughlin's evisceration of Gregg Wallace's catastrophic nostalgia-fest Gregg's Table (RIP), where it turned out that - shockingly - paying restaurant prices for boiled beef and carrots or "canned" fruit salad with Carnation is rather more hilarious in concept than in reality. Beware of irony.
Duck Duck Goose just about avoids the worst pitfalls of the "ironic restaurant" thanks to much of the menu being at least somewhat edible, but the worrying spectre of someone's smirking "take" on high street Cantonese hangs over much of proceedings. I worry, for example, about a dish described as "prawn toast revisited". If I was going to give the DDG guys the benefit of the doubt, I'd say they had simply taken a staple of deep-fried takeaway starters and attempted to upgrade it with proper fresh seafood and cheffy presentation. Fair enough. But then why do I get the impression the dish is more parody than tribute - greasy and thick, with a clumsy tamarind and mayonnaise dressing and mound of annoying unseasoned frisée lettuce dumped on top? I'd almost prefer the time-honoured original.
A trio of condiments further confused matters. A homemade (presumably) "take" (there's that word again) on plum sauce was fine - sweet with a certain tartness - yet hardly much of an improvement over anything out of a bottle. Pickles were little more than cubes of mystery veg in chilli-spiked syrup - again slightly too sweet for my tastes. And miso mustard was fine, but, well, not very Chinese.
All of which would have been fine if the main event - the Duck Duck (no Goose, which is Saturdays only) - had enough to recommend it. Unfortunately (for DDG), good Cantonese roast duck is not a rarity in London, and so a good number of people sitting down to this under-rendered pile of Donald, with its grey flesh and chewy skin, will be thinking about the superlative examples at places such as Gold Mine in Bayswater, where furthermore the bill (no pun intended) will be half the price. Cubes of pork belly alternated between "dry" and "OK", as did char siu, and soaked in the sweet soy dressing it was all faintly enjoyable, but the disparity between the ungainly technique and presentation and the eye-watering price point (£31) was jarring.
As if that wasn't enough, eating someone's ironic idea of Chinese food at Duck Duck Goose also involves suffering under some of the most excruciatingly affected "service" I've ever encountered. Our waiter had the weirdest manner, cracking strange self-conscious jokes with every dish brought, offering dreadful puns and grinning through awkward buffoonery between times, that it became something approaching mild torture. We ended up dreading every encounter, shrinking further into our chairs as yet another embarrassing-uncle-at-a-wedding witticism was offered, so much that the evening ended up an exercise in avoiding any interaction at all. Perhaps we would have stayed for dessert if the idea of ordering it wasn't so terrifying. But then again, perhaps not.
Because even without the gurning service, I don't think I would ever be in danger of going back to Duck Duck Goose. It's not that any of the food was terrible, it's just that it doesn't seem to answer any questions that Londoners could conceivably be asking. If you want duck done well on a budget, there's Gold Mine or Four Seasons or Royal China or a number of other spots in town. If you want Chinese-flavoured street food then get yourself to Kerb and try Sheng High or one of the little noodle stalls in Chinatown. If you do really want to pay over the odds for reimagined, knowing "takes" on traditional Cantonese fare then... well, then there's Duck Duck Goose. But I can't for the life of me imagine why you would.