I am in two minds about one-dish restaurants.
On one hand, they can be a little gimmicky. On the other, I like the idea of focusing on a single ingredient, whether it’s chops (Blacklock), fried chicken (Chick’N Sours) or pasta (Padella), and just really smashing the bollocks off of it. Nobody can deny those restaurants are doing a spanking job of showcasing their chosen champion, and even the lower tier restaurants – Burger & Lobster, HipChips and that bloody stupid cereal cafe – are still getting by in these tough times.
Monsieur Le Duck enters the arena from a new angle…no prizes for guessing what. Inspired by the founders’ love of South-West France, whose residents apparently gorge on duck like Londoners gorge on avocados, it offers a short, regimented prix fixe menu of (mostly) authentic duck dishes from the Gascony region. Diners choose between Confit de Canard (leg), Magret de Canard (breast – served grilled or pan-fried) or a duck burger, each served alongside a mixed green salad and French fries (ooh, how I wish they were fat chips done in duck fat) for £17. There is no vegetarian option, something I find mildly appalling in any new restaurant hoping to make it on London’s brutal restaurant scene. (ETA: I see they’ve now added a walnut and goat’s cheese salad with optional duck – hurrah! Well done Monsieurs.)
It must be said that £17 sounds a lot for any burger, even one filled with luscious duck meat specially trucked over from southwestern France, and especially when the likes of Patty & Bun, Bleeker Burger and Honest Burger are all within waddling distance. But then, considering how authentically French everything else is on the menu, one does get the impression that the burger was added as a bit of an afterthought, perhaps to placate any fussy buggers who inexplicably do not want to eat one of the best pieces of confit duck this side of the Channel. The magret de canard, too, is exemplary stuff, cooked simply to show off what a bloody good piece of meat you’re eating, and obviously has the added bonus over the confit option in that it doesn’t make your arteries go clang just by looking at it.
With the chips and salad, it’s certainly better value than Duck & Waffle’s much-hyped eponymous dish at the Heron Tower down the road, which consists of an (inferior, IMO) confit duck leg on an American-style waffle, topped with a fried duck egg and lashings of maple syrup for £18. Admittedly you get the Heron Tower’s gorgeous views, but for the perennial people-watcher Monsieur Le Duck’s big glass windows looking out onto Spitalfields Market hold much greater appeal.
A short wine list comprises three ‘vin ordinaire’ by the glass – a white, a rose, and an especially nice red – at £6.50/175ml, and three ‘vin supérieur’ at £32 a bottle. The pudding list is short and sweet: a tarte aux pommes (£6), a very reasonably priced ‘Fromage A Trois’ cheese plate (£6) and a crème brûlée (£6.00), which I could take or leave. The whole point of crème brûlée is the crispy, caramelised top layer, so I prefer it in the traditional wide, shallow ramekin. These were served up in the deeper dishes, which, for me, really threw off the ratio of sugary topsoil to eggy substrata.
The whole concept, with its short menus, carefully chosen wines and Bishopsgate location seemed geared towards a certain type of Londoner, and the vibe is very much one of a slap-up lunch place, or even pre-theatre dining (that is, if the City of London had any theatres). It’s the kind of place you might spill into directly from the pub on a Thursday night at 9:45pm, utterly ravenous but not yet shitfaced enough to contemplate the Liverpool Street station McDonald’s. But it’s also another great place to eat around Spitalfields Market, adding to St John Bread & Wine, Bottles, almost everything at the Kitchens, and countless other worthwhile establishments. That said, there isn’t anywhere doing duck quite like it. These days, it’s pretty rare to find anywhere with a truly different USP, so if you love duck but prefer it without the waffle, pop it on your list.
Monsieur Le Duck, 4 Brushfield St, London E1 6AN
I visited Monsieur Le Duck as part of a press event and my food was complimentary.