Modern Cantonese cuisine in a Brixton shipping container.
Shocking as it may sound, being welcomed with a performance fit for the Queen of Sheba (whilst wearing a baseball cap and tracksuit bottoms) by an eccentric, off-duty actor-come-waiter was NOT the most exciting thing that happened inside the Brixton shipping container currently inhabited by Duck Duck Goose, the evening I elected to try it. And though I appreciate a quintessentially London experience more than your average joe, the afore-mentioned waiter was in fact upstaged by a glistening breast of Cantonese BBQ duck. But I digress, for much theatre occurred at my 3' x 3' formica table before the arrival of the main act, and it must be discussed...
For those not in 'the know', Duck Duck Goose is the newest resident of Pop Brixton, founded by chef Oli Brown. Oli previously worked for the renowned Rowley's Steak House, coincidentally alongside Will Bowlby (co-founder of the immensely successful Kricket, which left its residency at Pop Brixton this year for a permanent bricks and mortar site in Soho). Its safe to say Oli knows a thing or two about how to cook a beautiful piece of meat, but there is so much more to his genius - and he is using it to completely reinvent Cantonese cuisine as we know it. Up until now, Cantonese food in London has very much remained within the vibrant streets connecting Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, at the hit-or-miss restaurants of Chinatown. (The Hippodrome is not the only place you might take a gamble in China Town - the last time I dined there I let the waiter choose my meal and was consequently served a bowl of congealed pork fat with coarse hairs floating through it...) But Oli has taken all the best bits (namely BBQ meat and prawn toast) and presented them in a simplistic, small plates format - which, as we know, is the height of culinary fashion right now.
I had attempted to visit Duck Duck Goose thrice (for various reasons it never quite worked out) before I eventually did. Each time, Oli would be sitting on a bench outside his shipping container sometimes working on his laptop, and ALWAYS looking exhausted. Ahh - the sign of a true chef. And when I finally ate at his restaurant, my suspicions were confirmed that his sweat, blood (and probably tears) had gone into the creating of it. But Oli, if you're reading - it was SO worth it.
Once seated by my prima-donna waiter, I ordered a craft beer (they offer a niche little selection) while I 'perused' a menu that I had already studied online 14 times. I chose the Prawn Toast, followed by a mixed platter of BBQ Duck Breast and Pig Neck, and I made sure to play out the facade of asking questions before making my final decision, so that the waiter was unaware of how much I had been fan-girling online prior to the meal. Who am I kidding - he was an actor. I'll bet he saw right through me.
While I relentlessly photographed every inch of the shipping container, the Prawn Toast arrived. It was divine - and just plain exciting to eat. Oli has completely reinvented this once-bog-standard takeaway appetiser with a generous dollop of home-made prawn mousse and two other ingredients (which I had to look up): Kewpie mayonnaise and bonito flakes. The former being Japan's answer to the nation's favourite condiment, and the latter wafer thin, smokey strips of dried fish. The dish was an explosion of flavour and colour - salty, smokey, tangy, with beautiful hues of pink. It was a little tricky to eat with my allocated utensils (chopsticks and a small spoon) but I improvised. By that I mean I used my fingers, and licked them clean with utter satisfaction (my mother's attempts at teaching me table manners were clearly futile).
Next up, a giant metal platter was brought to the table (with a song and dance from my favourite waiter). I struggle to find words that will do justice to what was on that plate. Sweet, succulent pieces of meat, barbecued and glazed with meticulous care, and served with home-made pickles, plum sauce and mustard. The marriage of flavour was once again a delight to the tastebuds, and the tenderness of the meat was absolutely spot-on. I devoured the lot, and at approx. £30 it was the perfect amount at a refreshing price.
I was triumphant having FINALLY dined here - more so because it exceeded every one of my exceedingly high expectations. The hype for this place is real.