Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
London is beginning to embrace the humble brewpub, there are few things finer in life than visiting a bar or restaurant that brews its own beer on the premises and also serves excellent, slap up food. The London brewpub scene is starting to explode and along with places such as the Earl of Essex in Islington and The Bull in Highgate, Duke's Brew & Que in De Beauvoir town is leading the way.
Duke's manages to be always cool and never pretentious
Situated a mere hop, skip and jump from Haggerston station on the excellent new London Overground Duke's could literally have been ripped straight out of Williamsburg (or in this weather, downtown Denver.) Surrounded by post-war housing estates Duke's blends in with its surroundings perfectly, exuding East-London cool but still with a homely enough charm to avoid the pretentiousness that similar venues carry with them. It's a Thursday night in the middle of January but people are still queueing up for tables and as I arrive and see a throng of people inside I feel relieved that I decided to book a table for Dianne and myself a few days in advance.
I've wanted to come to Duke's for a while because not only have I heard that they do they best ribs in town but it's also home to the fledgling Beavertown brewery which has been making waves with it's range of excellent beverages in recent months. We arrive slightly early and our table isn't ready so this gives me a chance to saunter over to the bar and get a beer in. As well as a large selection of Beavertown beers available on cask, keg and in bottle there are lots of other familiar names on the bar such as Brewdog, Thornbridge and Hardknott, I'm here for the house beer though so I immediately plump for a pint of Beavertown's cask conditioned best bitter 'Neck Oil.'
Neck Oil is a decent pint and it was in tip-top shape but it didn't give my palate the full on assault it's used to. Despite not setting my world on fire it went down quickly and I mused on the importance of this beer, you see there is a preconception that cask beer is not 'cool' in fact the Neck Oil made me recall common, everyday beers such as St' Austell Tribute and Tim Taylor Landlord, both decent beers in their own right but hardly cutting edge. Duke's oozes cool but it's not too cool to serve a house, cask bitter and this shows that even with our changing attitudes and tastes towards beer that cask beer is still important and it will live on thanks to the open minded attitudes of breweries such as Beavertown.
As I finish my pint we are ushered to our table, the decor is a simple range of exposed beams, floorboards and reclaimed furniture, this combined with a nice cosy level of lighting makes you feel instantly at home. The place is packed but doesn't feel oppressive or crowded, it just gives it a lively atmosphere that adds to your drinking and dining experience. The menu is a small selection of mains and sides, it's not particularly vegetarian friendly but that doesn't bother me because I'm here for barbecue! This is not barbecue in the outdoor, grilled British vein but instead in the American tradition. Slow cooked, smoked meats are the order of the day, the speciality is their ribs but they also offer burgers and pulled pork. We can't decide what to order so we both plump for a 'Greatest Hits' which features a selection of Duke's signature pork and beef ribs as well as pulled pork, slaw and some dips. We also order some pork 'n' beans because Dianne and I goddamn LOVE pork 'n' beans.
Defeated by meat, demeated
To accompany my smoky meats I order a bottle of Beavertown's Black IPA (of which you can read my review here) which thanks to it's instant success recently became part of Beavertown's core range of brews. Black Betty is a masterclass in dry hopping, massive waves of grapefruit and pine resin leap from the glass and these citrus and pine notes mingle with rich, dark malts on the palate. It was a perfect accompaniment to the massive plate of meat that soon appeared in front of me. The food was incredible and the highlight had to be the epic beef rib that was so large I would have arguably knocked out the chap on the table opposite had I given in to the urge to swing it around my head in a caveman fashion, thankfully I resisted.
I refused to let the food defeat me and ploughed through the meat like a man possessed, Dianne was defeated by her beef put she got a doggy bag so she could take it home and eat it later, had I not fallen victim to my pride I would've done the same. After the meal I required an alcoholic digestive to help all that meat settle so I plumped for a half of Imperial Smog Rocket, a 9% ABV imperial smoked porter. Having tried the original Smog Rocket a few weeks earlier I was really looking forward to this and this huge beer did not disappoint. Waves of smokey umami combined with rich, sweet, black treacle like malts and lumps of liquorice, it was the perfect way to round off a fine feed.
As well as the food and drink being quite frankly incredible the staff were very friendly and attentive and our server Katie in particular was a credit to her employers which rounded off an utterly complete dining experience. Duke's has set the benchmark very high indeed for future London (and indeed British) brewpubs that will surely start bursting forth like daffodils in spring any time soon but with food, beer and service like this, Duke's will take some beating. If you plan on visiting Duke's Brew & Que then based on how busy it was last night I would highly encourage making a reservation a few days in advance.