Following a successful six-month pop-up near Spitalfields Market, Monsieur Le Duck has opened a permanent space in Clerkenwell. Aiming to evoke le douceur de vivre (a phrase synonymous with France’s south-west, literally meaning “the sweetness of living”), the restaurant pays constant homage to Gascony, specifically duck: the cornerstone of its world-famous regional cooking. Gers’ duck population outweighs humans, duck fat outplays oil and local residents typically suffer from fewer heart attacks than almost every other regional population in France, somewhat paradoxically.
Like Petit Pois and nearby Comptoir Gascon, Monsieur Le Duck champions that glorious model of country cooking that’s often a welcome alternative to dominantfine dining. Gallic cooking’s heart and soul, synonymous with the home kitchens in France, though few have the time or patience to replicate in the UK. Humble, obstinately rich aliment-réconfort designed for hungry families rather than social media gratification. But then again, when confit de canard provides change from £15 in a central London restaurant, why bother cooking it at home?
Split across two floors, the 80-cover restaurant is decidedly comfortable. On the ground-floor, the dining room features a large central bar, plenty of exposed brickwork, sympathetic lighting and playful, duck-focussed art. Various nods are also included to the restaurant’s cute logo, featuring an anthropomorphised duck sporting a questionably positioned moustache. Service is fittingly casual yet efficient, ultimately welcoming. As for the menu, duck dominates – the star of almost every dish on the menu, bar a few starters and a vegetable tart Provençale. Wines are sourced from vineyards in the south-west of France and accessibly priced, while a considerable number of French digestifs are also available.
A recent dinner began with a Pousse Rapière – a traditional Gascon cocktail comprising bitter orange-flavoured Armagnac and sparkling wine – to be sipped alongside a basket of baguette served alongside a disc of duck fat butter: insalubriously appealing, like schmaltz but more refined. A starter of duck rillettes was similarly indulgent, favourably fatty and accompanied by piquant cornichons and sweet onion jam. Glorious confit duck croquettes were every bit as charming as the title suggests.
Besides the prix fix menu (mixed leaf salad, confit duck and one side for £17), Le Grand Jeu offers the best value in regards to mains, at £34 for two to share. Providing a generous selection of the kitchen’s signature dishes, Moulard duck breast was prepared in two different ways, each served medium rare. The portion of gently pan-fried breast had well-rendered fat and crisp skin, while the chargrilled portion vaunted some prevalent smokiness, the fat equally well-rendered but chewier, like that which accompanies Italian guanciale. Both were executed with exacting standards.
The duck burger made with minced Barbary duck leg was less remarkable, texturally dense and slightly marred by an acrid bitterness imparted by intense, somewhat overwhelming, char lines imparted from an excessively hot grill. The rest of the sandwich compensated for the patty’s shortcomings, however. The sweet, lightly toasted brioche bun, crisp lettuce, cornichon and a lavish spread of aioli. Far better was the confit de canard, nonetheless. Finished in the pan, the slow-cooked duck leg was cloaked with brittle skin – not unlike the sugar topping on the simple yet superlative crème brûlée available for dessert – shielding soft, generously seasoned meat rife with garlic and thyme. The highlight of a decadent dinner showcasing the delights of south-west France. Le douceur de vivre, indeed.
Monsieur Le Duck can be found at 27 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RN.