For a while The Duke's Head in Walthamstow was mysteriously closed and cut a pretty spooky figure all newly painted black, making that one part of Wood Street look like a stray piece of a ghost town. I wondered if it was going to become some sort of goth pub, but on its reopening and rebranding as The Duke, that doesn't seem to be the case. It does have an Addams Family pinball machine though.
So the first thing I want to say about The Duke is that the rebranding is really cool. They painted right over the poor duke with their slick new logo (although for a while the original signage was left up with a crude moustache and glasses spray-painted onto him - I wish they'd kept that). The indoors has a lovely old western feel to it and just feels immensely cosy. The atmosphere is further complemented with a soundtrack of Motown delights.
As for the food, so far I've had their portobello mushroom burger (£8.95) and both kinds of fries on offer (rosemary fries and alternatively, sweet potato fries). I really enjoyed the mushroom burger. I usually struggle to finish a meal when I'm eating out, but I managed to finish every last scrap of the burger and the rosemary fries on the side (there's no picture of a burger here because I took these photos on a second visit which was a fries-only one). It tasted really fresh and had a lovely combination of tomato, roasted red pepper, mushroom, and goats cheese.
The rosemary fries (£2.50) are the standout menu item here. They are incredible. The best fries I've ever tasted. I want to eat a thousand of them right now. The rosemary gives them such a perfect flavour. I'm literally drooling right now. Please help me.
On my second visit to The Duke I tried both types of fries side by side. I don't think the sweet potato fries (£3.00) are quite as good in terms of flavour (they're a bit blander), but they're admirably cooked regardless and have a great consistency.
I think the redesign is fantastic. The atmosphere of the place is lovely, the décor and sounds are cleverly curated, and the food is really tasty and enjoyable (and with some reasonably priced side dishes for anyone trying to be thrifty).
My beer correspondent, Elliot Summerhayes, has this to say:
Summary:The Duke has a good variety of tap beer, but somehow can leave me wanting for more. It does knock its predecessor into a cocked hat and managed to surprise me with quite a few beers I'd never even heard of before. One problem is that the net was cast wide but not deep: there's variety, but not enough of any one sort of beer. That's not helped by guest beer not being rotated very often (or at all so far).
A bit of depth:
The Duke has an okay selection of ale, with Wild Card's Jack of Clubs (ruby ale) and Hogsback's T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale) as backbones. If you've never had either, try to find them - they're good. I'm going to be very self-interested here though, and focus on the things I've not had anywhere else. That means some interesting lagers and American Pale.Signature Brew's Unfiltered Vienna Lager is oddly ale-like compared to most British lager. It looks like ruby ale - dark and cloudy - and it tastes like toasted malt in the same way a ruby might. There's a subtle hop note to it that's just right, but that's thrown off by a citrus edge that's just a bit too heavy-handed for the beer to taste balanced. Served cold, it's beautifully refreshing, but too heavy in taste and ABV to be a good session lager - a good opening round though.Vedett is less interesting, but by far the better lager. It's branded as an 'Extra Blond' and definitely looks the part - a few shades lighter and you could mistake it for Hoegaarden. It's an incredibly crisp lager, with a light body that makes it fantastically easy to drink. What makes it great is it has depth to go with that drinkability. It's a subtle, very well-rounded and very appreciable flavour. The brewery's taste notes say 'smooth and malty, subtly hopped, with a lingering fruitiness and vanilla tones' and, whilst idealistic, that's actually quite close to the mark. It's smooth and subtly malted, though not really hopped at all - though it shouldn't be. It is fruity, but only in the same way a dash of white wine in your cooking would be. And you can definitely taste the vanilla tone, which isn't very common in beer and is something I love.My session beer of choice at the Duke would be Shipyard's American Pale Ale though. It's refreshing, very fruity, and it isn't an overhopped citrus nightmare that turns your face inside out on the first sip - which, gratefully, sets it apart from most of the IPAs and some American Pales that we get in East London, like Signature Brew's Backstage IPA which is (so far) the worst pint I've had to finish this year. Shipyard gets to be my session because it's simple and unassuming. It's good beer, it has flavour, but it's not so interesting that you have to keep analysing it. It's the Die Hard of beers at The Duke: something you can go back to again and again and just enjoy, and that's important.