People say that moving ranks highly as one of the most stressful life events you can experience. You might think this is down to the fact that bubble wrap stopped being fun around the time puberty kicked in, or because it means having to finally deal with The Drawer That Shall Not Be Opened. You know, the one with four travel adapters, a polaroid of an ex, fourteen mysterious cables, and a receipt from a teeth cleaning in 2014 you somehow feel legally obliged to keep. But in our humble opinion, moving causes so much emotional chaos because it means waving goodbye to the neighbourhood restaurants that serve as the loyal background to your life. Restaurants exactly like The Red Duck.
A cool but casual Chinese spot just off the main high street in Balham, The Red Duck has all the potential to become your nearest and dearest in restaurant form. It’s somewhere you hit up for a big bowl of char siu rice on a Wednesday lunchtime, ripping open your red packet of chopsticks with abandon and - hello genius - grabbing a bag of prawn crackers to nibble through after your next meeting. It’s a place you order comforting Singapore fried noodles from at 8pm on a Tuesday when you can’t be bothered to cook and no longer care that their delivery driver has seen your entire collection of Star Wars pyjamas. And it’s also a place you take your mate from the other side of the river to try their barrel-aged plum negronis and to witness the wok fire show live at the open kitchen. Because yes, first and foremost The Red Duck is the neighbourhood restaurant that everyone would want on their street, but that doesn’t mean that the food isn’t worth traveling for.
As you can probably guess from the name of this restaurant, the headline act here is the Crispy Aromatic Duck. It’s of the tender, moist variety that you’ll enter a defiant chopstick battle over for the last piece of oh-so crispy skin. It’s served tableside, merrily carved and shredded as you watch on trying to keep public dribbling displays to a minimum. Load up your pancakes, toy around with a little hoisin spooning theatrics, and enjoy the ritual of it all. But be sure to leave room for the rest of the food, because at The Red Duck there’s always something to try. The menu is fairly short but it covers a smattering of classics, from those deeply satisfying vermicelli noodles, to crunchy panko prawn balls, to a gloriously eye-watering dan dan mien. Just bring your appetite and the knowledge that the sweet, crunchy char siu pork should not be skipped.
The Red Duck really is the perfect blank canvas for you to get all Bob Ross creative with your restaurant needs. White walls, light wooden floors, grey booths, their little minimalist red duck insignia in neon red lights - you can dress it up for a highball-heavy date night out on their little terrace in the summer or keep it casual with all six of your flatmates in their straightforward basement booths come winter. It’s a restaurant that’s designed for regulars, a one-stop spot for people to walk hand in hand to time and time again. Not within walking distance? Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself on Zoopla mid-dumpling, looking up available flats on Ramsden Road. Because yes, this is one neighbourhood restaurant that would make facing your old nemesis, bubblewrap, entirely worth it.
An essential. Homemade with extra crunch, dip ’em in the chilli oil for certified good times.
Do not underestimate The Red Duck’s dumplings. We repeat, do not underestimate The Red Duck’s dumplings.
Did someone say ‘CRUNCHAY’? Yes, it was us, getting characteristically over excited as we tucked into these naughty little fried bites. Again, one to be dipped in the house chilli oil with wild abandon.
The poultry headliner. Now, there is nothing sadder than dry duck. IYKYK. But the duck here is so succulent that you’ll actually find yourself using the word succulent in public. Give it a nibble sans sauce and you’ll see what we’re talking about. This duck carries the dish - pancakes, house duck sauce, polite little slithers of spring onion are all just there as an added bonus. Order this.
The real headliner. The headliner of our hearts, if you will. A prime example of why sweet roasted meats really are one of the greatest things you can eat for dinner, for lunch, forever. The glazed skin on the pork is excellent and we will fight you for the crunchy corners. If you’re not partial to a sweet treat, know that the house pickles perfectly balance that sticky glaze.
More salads should involve noodles. And you should have more salads involving noodles in your life. Yes, The Red Duck has a whole lot of roast meat action going on but their noodle dishes are a texture masterclass. Pair with the chilli and coriander sauce.
One of the best negronis in town. And it’s £7.50. Londoners, rejoice.