A lifetime of meat-free Mondays won’t undo your carbon footprint after a meal at Duke’s. My friend reported a case of the meat sweats so bad that towelling in the workplace was involved the following day. Everyone raves about the ‘mini buns of love’ (which tickled my fancy first-time round) but they play second fiddle to the beef ribs; all 17inches of them. You half expect to find Man Vs Food’s Alan Richman collapsed within eyeshot, waving a gnawed bone like a white flag.
Certainly the first time I visited, each beast of a bone was despicably, disarmingly good. (So tasty, in fact, that I momentarily forgot myself and reverted to my Essex roots with a dramatic ‘O-M-G’). Having chomped my way through West Coast America recently, I was dead impressed to find this here in London.
But having raved to a friend with dual Brit/US citizenship and bullied her into going, I was embarrassed to find the next trip disappointing. The pork ribs remained great, but the texture of the beef suggested that even the tenderest slow cooking can reach a limit. The meat was a little dry, reluctantly surrendering the bone in stringy, almost ‘hairy’ tendrils. The sides were okay but not amazing, so I completely understood my buddy’s indifference.
The love affair turned more sour still as I was baffled by the cocktail list. Months back, I’d basked in the ethereal silkiness of their homegrown ‘Hummingbird’; a featherlight aperitif with the perfect balance of honeyed sweetness, spice and El Jimador smoke. This time round it was no more, and in its place was great vexation over my off-menu request (followed by a polite refusal). I could see nothing niche about my next request for a straightforward Old Fashioned; surely a bourbon-based cocktail is fitting for a bourbon-soaked marinade? But no, rules is rules: if your name’s not down, you’re not coming in. I settled for a Sidecar, which was eye-puckeringly strong and a downright peculiar accompaniment to the meal. Next time I’ll stick to the local brews.
There’s no doubt that Duke’s is a relaxed, appealing hangout: an open kitchen emits a pleasing rally of sizzling and bursts of fire, while exposed brick and mounted antlers are ten-a-penny. There’s always a buzz and, mercifully, the bigwigs haven’t disappeared so far up their behinds that you can’t book. A triumph as, by 6.30pm on a rain-lashed weekday, even the gazebo was packed. (I’m guessing a skinful of Beavertown beer wards off even the most inclement conditions).
On the basis of my first visit, I’d happily sink my last at Brew and Que, merrily saying my goodbyes while knee-deep in bovine treats. But the second experience and that rogue rib has tainted things, plus I nipped to the ladies only to discover that the good-looking conveniences are unisex. Call me old-fashioned or priggish, but I have no desire to pee within earshot of my man (or any other). It’s either very Haggerston faux-dive progressive, or just a bit minging.
Don’t let me put you off as I’ll definitely give this place another try. I understand the brunch offer is great so that might be a goer, and I’m not willing to give up on tasting that heady level of loveliness again just yet. Give it a whirl, perhaps as a precursor to a brief foray into veganism.