Duddell’s opened in November 2017, an import from Hong Kong promising Cantonese food with a Michelin starred pedigree. Approaching St Thomas’ Church, you’ll be forgiven if you walk straight past the scaffolding and miss the entrance entirely, if it weren’t for that tell-tale light waft of ginger and spring onion, like a homing beacon to the nose.
Inside, the space is beautiful. Elegant light fixtures occupy the incredibly high ceilings, and teal banquettes line the room, brass fixtures gleaming. Nothing gives away the provenance of the cuisine, save for steamer baskets gently wafting in the kitchens.
The menu is huge, with Chef’s Recommendations catching the eye, followed by Cantonese classics updated with some modern and occasionally European ingredients. We grappled with a tiny cocktail served with a Campari jelly goldfish on the rim (‘it’s nice to have a sip and take a bite of it’) proving ourselves useless fishermen, while we deliberated on our choices.
The much-lauded duck if offered whole or by the half. Presented tableside, it is then deftly carved into slices of skin and meat with fennel sugar to dip the former in. Pomelo and pineapple are precisely matchsticked to go inside pancakes with the more usual hoisin sauce, spring onion and cucumber. At £38 for the half, this is an extravagant start to the meal but one can see the skill and effort in the preparation and cooking of the glossy, lacquered duck.
The skin is sweet and crisp, the fat rendered well, and the carved breast slightly pink. The pancakes are obviously made in-house, slightly thicker than usual and off-kilter from a perfect circle. We’d come back for this preparation of the duck alone. The rest is taken away, to be stir-fried with a selection of sauces (ours being spring onion and ginger), served later with the rest of our meal.
Truffle spring rolls (crisp and greaseless) came as a portion of four and elevated the humble slender snack to a moreish treat. It’s also one of the few times we’ve found that a dunk in chilli oil actually didn’t improve things. The truffle flavour sat on the right side of delicate, a meaty shiitake mushroom filling carrying it.
Salt and pepper squid was a behemoth portion, lightly battered but lacking in salt and pepper flavour. Perhaps more suited to being picked at by a party of six, after a few bites we lost interest. We regretted not having the much-photographed ‘dim sum symphony’, the now-infamous goldfish-shaped dumplings which have divided opinion, but we were two, and awkwardly the order is for three.
Truffle roasted black cod with lily bud and nameko mushrooms were cooked with aged Chinese vinegar and the dish was reminiscent of black cod in miso, made famous by Nobu. Sweet, savoury and buttery all at once, it clocked in at an eye-widening £36 but oozed richness and elicited much happiness from us. Steamed jasmine rice suffered a little with a slightly tough crust but helped us out in diluting the intense flavours; exactly what rice should do.
Stir-fried kai lan (Chinese broccoli) was expertly trimmed into spears, and topped with minced chicken cooked with spicy shrimp. The vegetables, ordered to break up some of the richness of the meat dishes, suffered a little from being overwhelmed by the amount of chicken. We wanted freshness and vegetable crunch and the balance here was swayed the other way.
As we were two, any more was outside the capacity of our appetites, though we gazed longingly at the couple behind us tucking into a veritable boat of lobster noodles. Instead, a shared dessert of coconut pannacotta with mango and lychee resembled a fried egg in construction, and was a decent, if slightly forgettable finisher.
Staff are attentive and friendly, willing to chip in with their favourite dishes and help with navigating what could be a bewildering menu, both in portion sizing and ingredients. Cantonese food, traditionally designed to be shared rather than following the three-course meal format, is all about balance and at Duddell’s some of the dishes had a tendency to lean towards the richer, extravagant side. Clearly aiming at the Michelin end of the spectrum with a menu strewn with foie gras, lobster and truffle, it also appeals to the traditional; abalone is spotted more than once, with classical techniques such as the double-boiled soup, and duck.
Duddell’s, 9a St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY
JOL was invited to review Duddell’s on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.