The Endurance used to be one of my favourite pubs. It’s central, got a taxidermied bear, a jukebox and cheap drinks. It was a little ‘further off the beaten path’ in the early noughties when Berwick street was a slightly underdeveloped anomaly in Soho, and therefore much quieter than the John Snow. Every night that started at the Endurance was guaranteed to be a winner (mainly because they tend to end at the infamously so-terrible-that-it-was-fabulous Trash Palace, which sadly also no longer exist). Sadly, the Endurance was no more and has had a massive, unrecognisable facelift to become Alan Yau’s new(ish) venture, Duck and Rice.
It still makes me sad that my old crotchety soho pub has turned into a shiny Cantonese inspired gastro pub: it’s certainly no longer spotting a giant sign welcoming ex-hipsters turned crotchety-old-man-wannabies (crotchety-old-woman-wannabies?). However, eventually one had to bite the bullet and (re)visit the site, much like visiting that old uncle everyone forgot.
First impressions…it was shiny (and not in the good Firefly way). And loud. And way busier than it used to be. Since I was stuck visiting the worst GP ever, my friends were there 1/2 hour before me and had to move 6(!) times awaiting my grand entrance. Apparently, people in this pub are super unfriendly. However, we finally managed to bag some bar stools in a quiet corner facing out onto the street (which meant that we didn’t have to hob nob with the people in the middle of the pub). First order of business was obviously a discussion on how we felt Duck and Rice compared to the Endurance- at this point the vote was 2 nays to 1 ambivalence.
Since we decided to stay and be less negative, we moved on to the feeding and watering part of the evening. Being an old fashioned fiend, I gave the beer infused old fashioned a try, despite my general misgivings against beer based cocktails. To the surprise of everybody, the cocktail (despite taking a mere 30 seconds to make) smelt like a well concocted old fashioned, but the taste was all wrong. It’s my (as Grant would say) factpinion that whisky and beer (no matter how well crafted and made in tiny tiny batches) shouldn’t mix- it takes a genius (which usually is missing) to marry such strong distinctive flavours and alas, this particular beery/whisky concoction wasn’t a marriage made in heaven.
Unfortunately, despite our care to ask about what’s in the dishes (since one of us follows the no piggies, no shellfish lifestyle), the Hong Kong rolls, advertised by the bar person as ‘fish-based’ had prawns in it. It was this giant smorgasbord of stuff. Kinda tasty but, I just rather a smaller spring roll with a better crispy coating/soft stuffing ratio. The chicken satay was again tasty but nothing special (like any other satay at a local Thai restaurant). They also accidentally gave us some calamari (and as we weren’t entirely sure they heard what we ordered, what with the bar being so noisy and whatnot, we started eating it), it wasn’t icky but it was sitting on the dreaded chewy calamari fence.
Overall, was the visit a success? No, not really. The food was mediocre at best and the whole place felt like they were trying to reinvent the wheel and got a square. The thing that I liked most has nothing to do with the eating or drinking (I hate having to look for a toilet at a new pub so was happy that they didn’t move it). The ‘queue your song’ function on the website was an interesting concept but we were there for over 2 hours and our songs were never played, which meant that their website was essentially bogged down by 6 hideously long playlist and difficult to navigate.
I miss the Endurance. For me, the Duck and Rice signifies everything that is wrong with London: overgentrification, rude and entitled people, ‘creative’ cuisine that falls as flat as a failed souffle and then charging you an arm and a leg for the dubious pleasure of ‘the experience’. Visiting the Duck and Rice was a waste of time at best and risks a rude awakening to the sad mirror of reality at worst.
*I only visited the downstairs bar but my visit in no way inspired me to try the restaurant upstairs and I’m extremely glad that we didn’t splurge on actually eating a meal there.
Duck and Rice
90 Berwick Street, W1F 0QB