Friday, 12 June 2015

Al Duca (Duke of York St): where you can bring your party and cry if you want to

Sometimes it's hard to find places in London where you can book a table for over 15 people without having to 1) plan months ahead; 2) hire a private room; and 3) pay extortionate prices for canap├ęs and bowl food you can make at home. When my friend B invited me to his birthday dinner I was curious how he managed to book a table for 20+ people - and not a private room - on a busy Saturday night.

His restaurant of choice was Al Duca, an Italian trattoria by London Restaurants (of Osteria dell'Angollo and The Beehive) just off St James Park/Piccadilly. They offer a wide range of Italian dishes, both contemporary and traditional. The place itself is cosy and seemingly perfect for relaxed business lunches for offices within the vicinity.

Fair enough, there was a set menu involved. For a £30 tab per guest (sans vino), you get a proper three course meal. I thought this was a very reasonable amount to get your guests to pay for.

Bread baskets came around the table first. I love Italian bread and Al Duca's offering set up a good start to the meal. I was quite taken by the sundried tomato focaccia and might have to admit here that I ate more than my share.

For starters, I went for the octopus stew. The baby octopus was cooked quite nicely and the tomato sauce with chilli and olives was very strong in flavour. This dish was very hearty and I can imagine it being served atop fresh pasta as mains. As a starter, it was served with fried polenta to soak up the sauce.

I had some of the beef carpaccio which I thought was the winning dish of the night. It was a generous serving of beef topped with beans, pine nuts, pancetta, and a whole lot of pecorino from Sardinia. I loved the celebration of colour, the play on texture (seriously, those pine nuts were super sexy), and the revelry of flavour. I wish I had this instead.

For mains, I went for the classic grilled seabass with french beans and balsamic dressing. Whilst the fish was cooked nicely and the portion was quite big, I thought this was quite average. I suppose that's what you get for going for the safe option.

My friend J ordered the chocolate tart served with pistachio gelato. I imagined this to be quite rich and dense but it was actually quite light - both in texture and in flavour. The gelato stole the show here.

I went for the passionfruit panacotta as it appealed for a light end to the meal. The panacotta itself set very nicely however the flavour was much too strong and much too sweet for me. I couldn't finish it at all.

Majority of B's guests seemed pleased with their meals, ooh-ing and ahh-ing appreciation per forkful. I thought the food was good enough to please a whole bunch of people, although nitpickers and annoying foodies (*ahem*) would probably think it's all on the average side. #cantpleaseeveryone

Overall, Al Duca is safe. Service is warm and friendly and the wine selection is pretty decent too. Nonetheless it was great seeing B enjoy his night, as well as know that some places in town are still quite reliable and group-friendly.

Al Duca
4-5 Duke of York Street, London SW1Y
Ave price pp: £45. Party menus start at £28

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  1. Shame it didn't wow you but that octopus stew looks amazing!
    Lots of love,
    SilverSpoon London

    1. Would've loved it over a bowl of fresh, al dente pasta! Nothing wrong with the food, but nothing spectacular either! x

  2. £30 per head ain't too shabby for a decent 3-course meal! And Italian is always a crowd pleaser :) Loooove the sound of the sundried tomato focaccia - my 2 fave things in one!!! Shame you had food envy re your octopus but still looks pretty tasty to me! Lots of love, Andrea xxx

    Andrea's Passions

    1. It's such a good idea for pasta sauces! =) I bet it's nothing as authentic as your food in Sicily though! x