Megan Abbott

Interview: Clare Lattin and Tom Hill

Megan Abbott
Interview: Clare Lattin and Tom Hill

Originally published on suitcasemag.com

Living around the corner from Rawduck is not always a good thing. Whenever it comes to planning a drink, dinner or brunch, we have every intention of booking somewhere new. And then we think of Rawduck’s concrete bar brimming with jars, the fanning banana leaves, the spinning vinyl, the natural wine and the eclectic, satiating food. Any hopes of branching out are dashed. Rawduck is the sister restaurant of Ducksoup in Soho. The two spots couldn’t be more different to look at - while the Hackney branch is a big, breezy dining room with long sharing tables and a large open kitchen, Ducksoup occupies a glowing, stripped back nook on Dean Street, with most of the seats lining the upstairs bar. But both restaurants are rooted in the same culinary philosophy. Clare Lattin (owner) and Tom Hill (executive chef) celebrate simple, seasonal fare in their constantly shifting menus. They overflow with colourful, comforting dishes that hum with the memories of their travels around the Mediterranean, the Middle East and South East Asia. On Rawduck’s brunch menu, hiitake dashi with poached eggs and tarka dhal huddles up beside labneh with grilled aubergines. There are (surprisingly delicious) drinking vinegars, fig, heather honey and almond milk and turmeric, black pepper and ginger juice. And life saving espresso martinis. In the evening, the menu offers charred quail with curry tahini sauce, salted cod with bibier chilli, or buttermilk fried chicken with fermented soy. Over in Soho, diners slurp oysters from their shells and feast on sharing plates of slow roasted lamb shoulder with artichokes, squid ink fettuccine and shaved fennel, mint and capers. They sip on natural wines in an array of colours – hay-gold, amber, peach. In both spots, the wine list takes up an entire wall, scribbled on a chalkboard. Clare and Tom were some of the first purveyors of natural wines in London, and are still some of the best. “Once you start drinking natural wine, your taste buds change and you can’t go back.” Tom tell us.

And now they have released their first book – Ducksoup Cookbook; The Wisdom of Simple Cooking. It encompasses all that is great about the two restaurants: a passion for fresh ingredients, experimental cooking and conversation-starting flavours. It brings Rawduck and Ducksoup’s signature dishes into the home, including ferments, preserves, brunch dishes and comforting dinners. You would have to have a pretty serious aversion to the kitchen to not to want to throw on some kind of fabulous linen apron and get going with these recipes right away. Here, we stop in to Rawduck to chat to Clare and Tom about food, travel and the joys of fermenting. 

How do the menus at Rawduck and Ducksoup differ? 

Fundamentally our cooking is the same in both restaurants- its seasonally led and as simple as can be - we try not to overdo the cooking process, allowing each ingredients to speak for itself. You won’t find rich sauces overpowering the flavours of the ingredients. The main point of difference is that Ducksoup tends to be more Mediterranean focused - Tom and I always feel that our menu often follows blue skies and sunshine. But of course in winter we are hearty and satisfying. At Rawduck, our inspiration comes from more far flung places and you’ll find flavours and seasonings from Japan and India as well as the Med and Middle East.  A more healthful approach to cooking is perhaps more apparent here, because we do a lot of fermenting which appears in dishes on the menu, as well as making our own drinks such as fruit kefirs, drinking vinegars and kombucha.

Where do your culinary inspirations come from when creating a menu?

Clare: We travel a lot and take ideas from our experiences, but never in a like for like way - we often takes a small element of a dish and turns it into something else.  For example, we were recently in Venice and went out for morning chicchetti, small snacks often served on bread and we ate some delicious ingredient combinations, Tom took these and turned them into his down dishes, a cold plate, warm salad or risotto.  Because our cooking is so uncomplicated and seasonal - often the food in the restaurant comes from dishes that we’re cooking at home. It’s very much a moving thing, Tom changes the menu weekly and its rare that anything makes an appearance twice. Which is something our customers have come to love - they really enjoy being surprised by what Tom is cooking from week to week. 

What do you think sparked the recent obsession with locally-sourced food in London? 

Tom: I don’t think its that recent, when you look at someone like Fergus Henderson of St John. He’s been celebrating locally sourced for over 25 years, as have many others. But it is much more the norm now, as it should be. There are many factors that have made the world a much smaller place - and we’ve picked up many influences from how other countries do things, which in turn has made us work with our own food suppliers and farmers in a different and better way.

How did you become interested in pickles and ferments? What excites you about them.  

Clare: Originally it was the health benefits they offered. We went to Japan and were totally inspired by their incredible approach to pickled and fermented foods in their diet. But at Rawduck, the fermenting is as much about the taste as the health aspects - fermenting foods create such a surprising flavour dimension. Few ingredients can touch on it. It’s like creating your own mystery in the world of flavour. 

What kind of reaction do you see when people try natural wines? Do you think people are surprised by the difference in flavour?

C: Yes. I think a lot of people are astonished by the difference in flavour from the non-natural stuff they’ve been drinking. But in a totally good way. They are surprised that the flavour of mass produced wine is so far removed from the flavour of the grapes. A natural wine is so full of expression; from the grapes, to how it was made and where it was grown. The natural wine movement has moved on dramatically from when we first started selling them 5 years ago. 

What are the main differences in having a restaurant in West and East London?

Rent is probably the biggest factor - although saying that East End rents and premiums are shooting up rapidly. Customer spend is higher in Soho, being East we are a neighbourhood restaurant and spend is expected to be lower. And other than that I would say predictability of trade. In Soho you can pretty much know the pattern of trade. But East its a lot less predictable. It took us a good 18 months to get a good handle on the patterns.  East our audience tends to be younger, although both restaurants do share similar customers.  

Why do people in London suddenly love brunch so much?

T: I think it comes back down to the world being smaller and having access to how other countries do things. Brunch is a big thing in America, New Zealand and Australia and all of these countries have had a massive influence on the UK restaurant scene in the last 7 or more years. 

How does the atmosphere at brunch differ from dinner time at Rawduck?

It’s much faster and louder. It’s a light space; simple, clean and modern, so it works really well at brunch, plus the communal tables are perfect for families and large parties. In the evening, the lights go down and the candles come on. It’s more subdued.

Tell us the process of writing the cookbook. What were the high and low point?

C: I worked in cookbook publishing for over 10 years so for me I understood a lot of the process before entering into it - which is perhaps why it took us so long to write one! There is a lot of work, and when you’ve got a menu that changes week on week half the battle is deciding which recipes to put into the book. I don’t think there are any lows in creating something you are passionate about – it’s all exciting. It’s a privilege to be able to work with people you really admire and respect and create something wonderful that will last forever with them. And that is worth any pain of correcting copy long into the early hours when managing your full time work load at the same time. 

How do you hope this book will be used?

T: I hope that people will cook from it time and time again. 

The recipes are really really simple - and all of the ingredients are easily available. What’s more, they are dishes that you actually really want to eat; everyday food that, with a tiny addition of something unexpected, turns into something memorable and delicious. The food is never fancy, it’s just really good. 

Clare Lattin and Tom Hill’s Guide to London

First stop for natural wine:

Brawn and 40 Maltby Street.

Where would you buy a crate from:

Aubert & Mascoli in Spa Terminal, Bermondsey.

Favourite market for fresh produce:

Spa Terminal near Maltby Street, Borough Market, Natoora online. There are also some fabulous Turkish Green grocers in Stoke Newington.

Best street food vendor:

The guy who makes flat breads in Ridley Road market. They are just flatbreads but there is no ‘just’ about them. 

Favourite plant shop:

Conservatory Archives on Hackney Road.

Favourite brunch spots:

Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park.

Best cosy dinner:

Primeur in Highbury Fields.

Favourite pub in East London:

The Marksman.

Most interesting chef around at the moment:

Merlin Labron-Johnson at Portland and James Lowe at Lyles.