Duddell’s is a Hong Kong restaurant that currently holds one Michelin star (until the latest 2018 guide it had actually held two stars since 2015). They opened a branch in London Bridge in November 2017 in the former church of St Thomas, an 18th century building that used to be part of St Thomas’ hospital. When I visited the building was covered in scaffolding, but the entrance is still marked and can be found at ground floor level; it is quite close to The Shard. The executive chef at Duddell’s is Daren Liew, former executive sous chef of the Hakkasan Group, who previously in his career had worked at various restaurants and hotels in Asia.
The dining room is light and airy, with mezzanine level seating surrounding the central dining area and partially open display kitchen (the main kitchen is downstairs). Even at a fairly quiet lunchtime the hard surfaces and music playing meant that the room was quite noisy. The lengthy Cantonese menu had several recommended dishes as well as a selection of starters and mains, with dim sum in addition.
The wine list was quite substantial and ranged around the world, with wines from places like Armenia and China as well as more familiar territories. Sample labels included Axel Pauly Bernkastel Riesling Kabinett 2015 at £45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £17, Chateau Haut-Bergay 2004 at £75 compared to its retail price of £22, and Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino 2012 at £105 for a wine that will set you back £38 in a shop. For those wishing to splurge there were also grander bottles such as Mouton Rothschild 2001 at £850 compared to it its retail price of £420, and the 1962 vintage of the same wine at an unkind £1,650 (plus service of course) for a wine with a current market value of £504. The list was sloppy in places. A Walker Bay white wine had the vintage, but the grower (Finlayson) was spelled incorrectly, and more to the point omitted the grape variety. The vineyard makes a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, so which is it?
We tried a broad selection of dim sum. The classic har gau had a nicely made dumpling with good texture and pleasant prawn filling (14/20). A scallop dumpling could have had slightly sweeter scallop but was nonetheless good (13/20). Mushroom dumplings were rather bland (11/20) and char sui puff was not as fluffy as some (12/20). Wagyu puff had a lot of pastry relative to filling, and did not compare well to the somewhat similar venison puff at Yauatcha (12/20). The best of the bunch by some margin was prawn and crisp bean curd cheung fun, with pleasingly crunchy texture inside its soft rice noodle wrapper (between 15/20 and 16/20).
Peking duck (£38 for a half) was presented at the table and then carved in front of us, and certainly looked pretty. The initial serving was of the skin and breast, and the legs appeared later. The meat itself was nicely cooked but the skin was worryingly flabby. In top places in Beijing such as Made in China the skin is genuinely crisp yet delicate and melts on the tongue, but here it was just limp. The pancakes with it were also a little on the thick side, though they came with an impressive array of condiments, including pomelo and pineapple as well as the traditional plum sauce and spring onion. The duck legs were better, nicely cooked and seasoned and served with ginger. This is tricky to score since the various elements were at quite different levels, from the nice legs to the soggy skin – on average maybe 13/20 if I am kind. Certainly this duck did not compare well to the better versions I have tried in London, such as those at the late lamented HKK, Hutong and A. Wong, never mind to the better ones in Beijing.
Crisp salty chicken (£23) used expensive Bresse chicken. The bird is soaked in a broth with dried scallop and shrimp and Parma ham, and then air-dried for 12 hours. The meat itself was very good, cooked nicely, but the skin was really soggy, a particular problem if you describe the dish as “crispy chicken”. It is technically hard to get the skin on a Peking duck right, but getting chicken skin to be crisp is not rocket science, so I am not sure what went wrong here (12/20).
Yuzu “tart” was really a yuzu panna cotta resting on an almond pate sablee base, with yuzu ice cream to one side, as well as black sesame crackers. Whilst the yuzu ice cream was fine, the panna cotta had a troubling fermented aftertaste. The chef I was dining with surmised that this was due to the use of yuzu preserved in salt from a bottle to concentrate the citrus flavour. Whatever the reason, the overall effect was strange and not at all pleasing. This was a real pity as yuzu can be lovely in a tart. Sadly this just dish didn't work (10/20).
Service was fine. The bill came to £70 a head with only water and jasmine tea to drink. Although we slightly over-ordered, if you came here in the evening and shared a moderate bottle of wine then you would be doing well to get away with less than £85 a head. At this pricing level any little flaws start to rankle, and although there were some good dishes today, it was also true that far too many dishes had some issue or another. If I came back here I would stick to the dim sum and skip dessert, based on this meal.