Monsieur Le Duck has moved on from its duckling days as a pop-up in Spitalfields and nested in a bricks and mortar site in Clerkenwell. It’s an ambitious move, going from something transient to occupying the building where Workshop Coffee used to be (though it seems Google Maps has yet to be updated judging by the Australian tourist who wandered in looking for an oat milk turmeric latte).
As with the original pop-up, the restaurant is all about showcasing duck. Expect duck burgers, magret de canard and croquettes a-plenty – so, if that’s not your thing, then insert the obvious Basil Fawlty quote here. A concept based on one main protein has worked for KFC and Nando’s, but does it translate to mid-range casual dining? Does it fit in ‘foodie’ Farringdon? Will duck… take off?
Starting with the good points, I received a very warm welcome on arrival one lunchtime and service was efficient and friendly throughout. That does have to be taken with a pinch of salt though (and salt featured a lot in the meal) as I was the only customer. Literally the only one, in an 80-cover restaurant. Where were the office workers? Does nobody have lunch in these parts? That did seem odd, and indeed worrying when its corner location should benefit from a tsunami of footfall.
Nevertheless, the backdrop of innocuous French soul funk music (mostly latter-day Daft Punk) created a pleasing atmosphere and the audacious whimsy of the ‘langueduck’ artwork provided amusement.
the cooking is competent but nothing is outstanding or particularly memorable
The drinks menu is all very on-trend with Beavertown beers, their own Monsieur Le Duck pale ale, and some fantastic cocktails (their ‘French Garden’ is a thing of beauty), though the wine list is both very short and frustratingly free of any vintage information.
As for the food, it can be difficult to judge when a restaurant’s repertoire begins and ends with the same core ingredient. Equally it means the kitchen doesn’t really have anywhere to hide. It’s both limiting and exposing. The best thing I can say about the cooking is that it’s competent but none of the dishes I tried were outstanding or particularly memorable. Confit duck croquettes were more potato and onion than anything else (if there was any duck to be found in these I’d be damned). The confit de canard main, served literally on its own, was about what I expected it to be, but nothing special and indeed rather dry. In both of these it felt like something was really lacking: true French soul, a je ne sais quack.
Indeed, if this is all about the duck and nothing but the duck, where are the duck hearts? The foie gras? I suspect they’re playing it safe with less controversial dishes but it does seem they’re missing a trick here. If you waddle in the middle of the road you’re liable to be run over.
Trying the only real vegetarian dish on the menu, the vegetable and goat’s cheese tart promised to bring a ray of Provençal sunshine to proceedings but ended up being a crowded affair – an assemblage of courgettes, red peppers, aubergines and mushrooms vying for space on a very dry pastry base (and curiously the same price as the duck dishes despite the cheaper ingredients).
Everything was so damn dry. Even the spring greens on the side, with lardons and dripping in bacon fat (gorgeous, yes, but doesn’t half bring on a thirst – probably a ploy to get you to work through all five of their red wines).
The meal did at least end on a high note: a standard-issue but perfectly made crème brûlée. That may not seem a huge achievement but it’s amazing how many places can ruin this classic dessert.
None of this is turning base metal into gold. Nor does it purport to – it’s all straightforward comfort food. That seems fair enough, but not so much when it’s deceptively expensive. Prima facie the price point looks cheap but the main dishes exclude sides and once you’ve had a thirst-quenching cocktail or a croquette or two, things start to rack up. Three courses, one small glass of Gascon plonk, a cocktail and an espresso came to £70.
Is Monsieur Le Duck a lame one? I’m not saying you won’t have a good time here (provided you eat duck of course), and if I was in the area and craving duck I’d probably return, but for a memorable casual dining experience I feel your money will go much further at the likes of Cora Pearl, The French House or even St John round the corner.
27 Clerkenwell Road
by J A Smith