Monday, 10 December 2018

The Duke of Richmond, Hackney

Though the Duke of Richmond weren't to know it, the success or failure of our entire evening at this handsome new(ish) gastropub in Hackney rested on one dish. Fairly or unfairly (alright then, unfairly, really), the moment I spotted "Cornish crab butty" on the bar menu I knew two things. One, that it had to be absolutely the very first thing I ordered and two, that if it didn't live up to my unreasonably high expecations then no matter how good anything else was I would probably end up sulking into my Old Fashioned.

So let's start with that crab butty. A very healthy amount of crab, heavy on the brown meat which is always a delight, is presented with a few sprigs of samphire inside a very impressive brioche-scone style bun which is gently sweet and firm without being chewy. But the real genius is the addition of some skin-on fries into the mix, which bulked it out into something far more substantial without, crucially, losing any of the impact of the crab. It was all very clever stuff, and that rarest of things - a genuinely new way of making a crab sandwich.

With that unofficial test out of the way, we were free to relax and enjoy the rest of our dinner, and by golly enjoy it we did. Birthday (not mine, this time) gatherings are always a good excuse to bed in and graze the furthest reaches of a restaurant menu, and with a good 8-10 of us occupying an, er, increasingly raucous corner of the Richmond over a period of about four hours, it's safe to say that between us we covered most of it. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we polished off almost as many bottles of wine as we did dishes per person, my recollection of a lot of what happened is a bit... patchy. Still, I'll do my best.

I remember the cheese well enough. A supremely classy selection from Neal's Yard, here we have (from the bottom, clockwise) Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire (as good as ever), Tymsboro goat's cheese (citrussy and salty), Gubbeen (another old favourite, a washed-rind Irish) and finally Sparkenhoe, a rare example of an unpasteurised blue. They came with a very generous amount of home made fennel seed crackers which were almost as much fun as the cheese itself, and something called "orchard jelly" which I didn't try. But it looked nice enough and I didn't hear anyone else complaining.

I felt like we got quite a lot of partridge[*see footnote] for £17; for some reason I remember these birds being on the small side but this one felt like about the size of a grouse, which meant there was plenty of it, with its deep red flesh and gently browned, salty skin, to go round. It went down very well. Also popular was a neat block of chestnut stuffing it came with, all nice and crunchy on the outside, and duck fat potatoes performed their own role admirably. If I was going to change anything it would be the sauce, which was a little bit thin and wine-y for my tastes, but this was a minor niggle.

I think this was the wild mushroom, celeriac and spinach pie, which if you ignore the whole pie/casserole debate for the moment (die-hard pie enthusiasts, pie-hards if you like, will try and tell you that a stew in a ceramic dish with a pastry lid is not a pie, but a casserole) definitely looked the part. I didn't get to try any of it, but I did steal a few very envious glances at the obscene amount of black truffle shaved over the truffle mash, and from what I can gather it was all very impressive stuff. It certainly didn't last long.

Now, I'll be the first to admit I've been a bit spoiled for steak in recent weeks; it's an unlucky restaurant indeed that becomes my first steak experience after back-to-back Etxebarri and Bar Nestor. So yes I'm afraid this Côte de Boeuf, generously proportioned and expertly cooked though it certainly was, just didn't have the texture or depth of flavour of the very best txuleton. Still, it easily fed three people with room to spare, so for £60 it was a pretty good deal. It came with more good fries and a nice herby bearnaise.

I have a vague memory of a sort of nice moussey dessert which must have been this involving "caramelized whisky oranges", which sounds so good I'm a bit annoyed I can't remember more about it. But I think that's all the detail you're going to get out of me on this meal. God knows how we managed to get through so much wine; clearly people from other tables were ordering bottles on our bill - that's the only explanation I can think of which doesn't paint us as some kind of state-school Bullingdon Club reprobates so that's the explanation I'm sticking with. I intend to launch a full enquiry to get to the bottom of the matter, like Trump did when he lost the popular vote.

Anyway, long story short is you don't need to spend anywhere near the £561.94 our table did at the Duke of Richmond to have a good time. It's a fantastic restaurant, led by a fantastic and intelligent kitchen (Tom Oldroyd now splits his time between here and his eponymous restaurant on Upper Street, which is also well worth a visit), and Hackney is very lucky indeed to have it. I'll almost certainly be back, and almost certainly will not drink as much and remember much more about the meal. Maybe. Possibly. I'll try, at least.


*On the subject of partridge, thank you very much to Eat Wild and the Wild Game company for a pack of frozen partridge breasts they kindly sent me home with after an event hosted by Nigel Haworth in October. Read more about the campaign here

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