To walk into one of London’s growing number of food halls is to be overwhelmed by a sea of near-identical options. Wherever you go, you'll inevitably be met by £15 burgers paired with small-batch ales, £20 pizzas finished with truffle oil, and other pricey variations on classic street-food favourites.
A small kitchen in Peckham Levels, the multi-storey car park turned food-hall and community space, flips that concept on its head. Canard London and its founders Jake Cooper and Hugo Worsley want to bring duck – a meat typically associated with fine dining – to the masses. Unlike the upmarket dishes sold in skyscraper restaurants and low-lit bistros, their offering is determinedly accessible. Its confit bird is slow cooked in its own juices before being crisped on a grill then served on brioche, between slices of sourdough or mixed with gravy and cheese curds on top of fries. Each dish is accompanied by slaws and chutneys made from local, seasonal produce, with cheeses from nearby Covent Garden and vegetables from local farms.
Sir Plus met with Hugo and Jake during a rare quiet hour at their bustling restaurant to talk about changing people's perceptions of duck, one dish at a time.
Hugo: We met when we both enrolled on a one-year accelerator course for young entrepreneurs. At the interview stages we both said that we were interested in opening a restaurant, and spent the next year building ideas.
Jake: We did a bit of travelling in the south of France and came across a lot of confit duck, which we spent a lot of time chatting to locals and chefs about. It wasn’t any sort of lightbulb moment, but it seemed like an interesting concept that didn’t really exist in the UK. When we got home we ran some supper clubs, developed our menu and got the ball rolling. When this space came around I was ready to quit my job, it just felt like the right time. Hugo actually pitched to Peckham Levels without telling me, he just put my name on the application and then rang me up saying: “Mate, we need to write a menu!”
Hugo: It was the only way to lock him down!
Jake: After we pitched the menu they asked to come to our kitchen to taste it – of course we didn’t have one. We thought: “How are we going to do this?” I’d just moved into a flat around the corner from here, so we said it’d be more authentic if they came over – which they thought was a great idea. All the cupboards had been ripped out, it was just bare walls, but we cooked them our dishes. We couldn’t believe it when they said: “This is a good thing, we’re going to have a punt on you.”
Hugo: They took a gamble on us, and we’ve been very lucky. It’s gone so well so far and it’s surprising how responsive people have been to it.
Jake: People think that duck is going to be really gamey, but when its confit cooked and crisped up it’s more like a tasty pulled pork. It’s not an easy one to do at home. It’s messy and it’s fatty and it’s tricky to prepare. But in terms of health benefits, it’s supposedly far better for you than chicken - it’s just a pain in the arse to cook.
Jake: Confit duck is a peasant dish from the south east of France. In the Gascoigne region there was a surplus of duck – excuse the pun – and confiting it meant that it would last for months. Traditionally it would be covered in salt for 24 hours, which draws out a lot of the moisture, cooked in its own fat for five hours and then stored in the fat. We’ve developed our own method – instead of covering it in salt we brine it, which gets some of the salt into the meat so that it’s more flavoursome. After 24 hours we slow cook it, then strip the meat off the bone. It’s a fairly arduous process, but it’s delicious.
Hugo: There’s no waste. We use the bones for gravy and we crisp up the skin on hot plate. It gives it such a nice texture.
Jake: We try to be as sustainable and as responsible as possible. All of our meat is free range and British, all our fruit and veg is organic. We change our menu to suit what is growing at the time – our chutneys and slaws will vary with the seasons. It’s about being creative with what’s going and making people aware that food doesn’t have to come from abroad, it can be locally and responsibly sourced and still affordable.
Hugo: It can be difficult, but it’s great to support local businesses. All of our cheese is from Covent Garden, and our meat comes from Baron’s Court.
Jake: The London food scene is shifting so much, away from bricks and mortar store to spaces like Peckham Levels where you can sit and eat whatever you want. And it’s such an interesting mix of people here – you could write a comedy sketch about it.
Hugo: Although it’s only been about four months since we’ve opened, people seem to be liking the food and we’re now opening a second venue. We move into Pergola Paddington later this month, which is a similar set up to here. There’ll be three other brands, so a bit of competition. Ultimately we don’t really know what the potential is for duck, as not many people are doing it. I guess we’ll see as we go along. So far, so good, so fingers crossed that continues.
Canard London is open seven days a week at Peckham Levels, and opens at Pergola Paddington on 26th April.