The Red Duck in Balham: Inventive interpretations of Chinese classics
Nestled just off the side of Balham High Road sits The Red Duck, a charming restaurant showcasing the very best of Chinese cooking.
With it being one of the hottest days of the year, the cool interior is a lovely, welcome relief. For those who choose to sit outside there’s a large awning to provide shade from the sun and shelter from the rain (hopefully those days of soldiering through bad weather for a chance to eat out are long gone).
The menu is simultaneously somewhat familiar and innovative, providing beloved take away classics with a much-needed update. Wine and beer lovers can rejoice in knowing they’re both being catered to, with a range of lagers, pale ales, reds, whites and sparkling bottles. The striking part, however, are the House Serves, which encompass The Red Duck’s cocktail list.
They have classics like Aperol spritz and negroni, but the must-try drinks are the Rhubarb and Ginger Spritz – a quenching and subtle cocktail combing a classic Asian flavour with a British summertime classic – and the Suntory Toki Highball, perfect for those who want the complexity of a Japanese whiskey alongside refreshing fizziness.
When it comes to the staff, there’s a sense of pride in what they do, which is probably down to the fact they know they’re serving delicious, high-quality food. The open kitchen adds to the excitement and anticipation of waiting for the courses to arrive and adds a nice background buzz.
There’s a fair amount to choose from on the food menu, but the waiters make our decision easier by directing us to the most popular plates. The Fresh Panko Prawn Balls, House Pickle are simply delightful: fat fried balls completely stuffed with pink prawns, coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs. The same can be said for the Crispy Duck Roll, which combines everyone’s favourite chinese takeaway staple – crispy duck pancakes – with the trusty spring roll. The fresh cucumber and hoisin-crispy duck tastes even better when deep-fried.
Though these starters may sound greasy and fatty, don’t fear: they somehow manage to avoid any oiliness, staying elegantly fresh; and the house pickle offers something sharp to cut through the carbs.
The list of mains, again, offers up elevated dishes that are reminiscent of Chinese takeaways. The Jasmine Tea-Soaked Ribs are unctuously sticky and can be pulled apart with a pair of chopsticks; they’re that tender. In order to cover some veggie bases, we try the Salt & Pepper Tofu, which is scrumptious – a tasty twist on traditional salt and pepper squid. Ridiculously crispy, it comes in perfect bite-size morsels.
The cleverest plate of the night has to be the Wasabi Prawns, which are battered, fried and smothered in wasabi, only without the nose-watering side effects. It’s wonderful to taste the intense flavour of wasabi without streaming sinuses – this is a must-order.
The Red Duck is stylish, relaxed and modern – and most importantly, they do what they do really well. With a lovely upstairs, outside and below, the restaurant also offers lunch specials Tuesday to Friday at a lower price – great for those working in the area.
Photos: Matthew Pull
To book a table at The Red Duck, 1 Ramsden Road London SW12 8QZ, call 020 8154 6838 or visit their website here.