Monday 17 January 2011

The Duke

Ever since its reincarnation a few years back from a rather pokey, scruffy and unfriendly local pub into its present form, I've been wanting to get to like the Duke. The interior, which was opened up and refurbished into a rather standard gastro-pub format is nevertheless light and comfortable, the tables and bar are clean, and the staff are friendly.

But it's had a chequered history with the Dame's household. Sometimes it is so empty that the size of the place overwhelms the few customers and it can feel rather desolate. Once we were badly overcharged on a round of drinks but were already slightly tipsy and didn't realise until we got home. It was tagged as 'the expensive pub' for at least six months. The last time we went (about a year ago) the food was mediocre and certainly didn't live up to the price tag.

However I do like variety when I eat out, hence I'm always willing to give places another go, especially when they are within walking distance. In search of a venue for our Sunday lunch we decided to give the Duke another chance, rather than our usual standby of the Royal Albert or the Dog & Bell.

They got off to a good start with the beers on offer - Sharp's Doom Bar was one of two real ales on the hand pumps, and one of my all-time favourites, and it was kept and served perfectly. The bar was not particularly busy, with four or five groups of diners spread through the large room, but it had just about enough buzz to make it seem more lively than usual.

On Sundays the pub serves a roast dinner alongside the usual menu, and you can dine there till 5pm, which is always good for folks like me who like a big, late breakfast. Last weekend's offering was Gloucester Old Spot pork, or corn-fed chicken breast, both served with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, veg and gravy and each costing £11.10. The full menu includes a range of options including fishcakes and fish pie, as well as veggie dishes such as butternut squash risotto, or curried chickpea burger, all around £8 or £9.

Normally I would choose roast chicken over roast pork, but only if it was a leg or half a chicken - something on the bone, rather than a breast which can easily be dry and overcooked. So the pork it was.

The wait was reasonable - about 10 minutes before our food was delivered - and the presentation was fine. My dining companion declared that the portions were not large enough and he could have eaten it all again, but then he does have a healthy appetite, especially when it comes to a roast dinner. The Yorkshire pudding is hiding most of the meat on this picture, but in fact there was a reasonable amount on the serving. If anything, I could have done with a little more veg.

And what of the food? Very pleasant, and a massive improvement on what I had been expecting, given our previous dining experience. The meat was very tasty and nicely cooked - a couple of pieces were a bit dry, as if they had been sitting under a hot lamp too long, but there was ample gravy to moisten it. What's more there was not a scrap of gristle on my plate at the end of the meal - and that's a definite plus as far as I'm concerned.

The carrots and cabbage were tasty and fresh, and the roasted parsnips were ok, but could have done with a bit more sign that they had seen a roasting tray, being a little bit limp and soft.

The Yorkshire pudding was a revelation, so much so that I have already decided I'm ordering toad in the hole next time. Sweet, crispy and fresh, dramatically different from the ready-made variety that pubs normally dump on the plate with such little care. I could have eaten two more for pudding. With cheese.

Sadly the meal was rather let down by the potatoes - yes they were roast potatoes, but not as we know it. They were boiled new potatoes that had subsequently been roasted whole so their skins were browned but there was no element of crunchiness to them.

The whole point to chopping large potatoes into smaller pieces, putting them in the boiling water and slightly overcooking them, is to get the fluffy edges. When you roast them in the top of your oven, they drink up the oil and turn all crispy! Crunchy roast potatoes to go with the tender meat, with gravy slopped on top of them. It works, don't mess with it!

That being said, the disappointing spuds did not put me off going back, so it looks like we might add the Duke to our regulars for week-night meals and perhaps the odd Sunday roast. I'd like to try out the puddings, especially the plum crumble, so perhaps we'll be going back sooner rather than later.

The pub has also just started hosting live music, with the Duke Box presenting jazz on Thursday nights with a special meal deal, and bands on Saturday nights from 9pm, all events are free.

The Duke
125 Creek Road
020 8469 8260


. said...

The people behind this pub also run The Dolphin in Sydenham and The Dartmouth Arms in Forest Hill, which seem to do OK. I assume they are biding their time on the basis that when the flats by the Laban are filled they will be the local. Sometimes see Laban students in there, but let's face it no-one ever made a good living selling food to dancers.

Kat said...

Glad to hear that the roast dinner experience seems to have improved.
I never returned after taking friends there for a roast dinner only to have something like a school dinner second-helping with mushy watery veg served up. I left somewhat embarrassed as none of us particularly enjoyed the food or the atmosphere.
I will definitely give it another go now, however I still see they are using the little plates. Dont know why they cant use regular/larger plates so all your food isnt piled up in a tower formation and then starts falling off the edges as you tuck in.