Open Sun–Wed midday–11pm; Thurs-Sat midday-midnight
When it comes to riverside real-estate, the Duke’s Head in Putney couldn’t have it better. Set over three floors in a 150-year-old Victorian grade II listed building with sparkling views over the River Thames, the Duke’s Head is close enough to the bustle of Putney to be convenient, but hidden enough to immerse yourself fully in the calm beauty of the river.
Recently refurbished and now boasting two very different dining spaces in the relaxing Coxswain restaurant and the more informal Rowing Club, there is everything on offer from international street food to a seasonal menu of British fare, all washed down with a huge array of cocktails, real ales and an extensive wine list.
The stylish delights of the Coxswain restaurant certainly stay true to the classical Victorian feel of the building; high ceilings and large windows flood the dining room with natural light, and the blue and green palette brings the leafy splendour of the river into the dining room. The main bar itself is all dark wood, frosted patterned glass and gorgeous original features. Certainly, it’s a venue with atmosphere on its side, designed to encourage you sit back and just watch the world drift by.
The vibe here is relaxed and informal, and certainly it appeared to be a very family-friendly venue (which on this occasion didn’t really help with what I imagine was supposed to be a calming atmosphere, but is laudable nonetheless); our fellow diners mostly appeared to be young couples with small children. It would no doubt also be a lovely spot for a romantic date.
The bar itself feels like a real Putney local, which sadly meant about 40 incredibly loud and enthusiastic school-age girls (one had to question their being allowed there en masse) turning up halfway through our meal, running around excitedly screaming at the top of their lungs and completely shattering the peaceful atmosphere we were enjoying.
The menu advertises itself as British seasonal, of which I’m normally a huge fan. Certainly, on paper it all sounded very appetising.
However, on arrival my pickled North Sea herring with red onion sour cream, soft boiled egg and gooseberries (£7) was mostly inedible; the pickled herring was soft and tasty, but the sour cream was fairly bland, the soft-boiled egg nowhere near soft and the gooseberries were so unripe I couldn’t even bite one to taste it. My companion’s ‘dish of the day’ starter (it should be noted there was only the one—no mention of a special main, dessert or the advertised ‘catch of the day’), ham hock on sourdough with black pudding (£7) was, in her own words and a shrug, “nothing special”.
The mains fared even less well. While my flat iron steak (£17) was itself cooked to perfection, the accompanying bone marrow and wild garlic butter tasted of neither of these two (normally mouth-watering) things, and the sprouting broccoli with almonds was equally flavourless. My companion’s pan-fried cured salmon (£17.50) arrived with a skin so blackened and burned it was probably safer ignored, the flesh of this normally juicy fish all but dried out. Even the accompanying puy lentils were so over-salted they were no help washing it down.
Our extra order of hand cut chips (£4) weren’t thrice cooked so much as thrice torched (I felt glad I had no fillings to break on them). But the cauliflower cheese with spiced crumb (£4) was, thank goodness, perfectly lovely. And while both the chocolate brownie (£6.50) and sticky toffee pudding (£6.50) didn’t set my world alight they were both comforting and decent.
This may also be the place to note that while service was surface-level friendly it certainly wasn’t anywhere near attentive (we sat for a good 40 minutes after our mains had been eaten and our wine had long been finished before we eventually had to ask for the coffee and dessert menu ourselves). Also, there was a huge—and extended—mix up with the bill at the end of the meal, which unfortunately left a taste as sour as the food.
As you would expect for a gastropub, you are more than well-served for a tipple here; the spirits list is longer than the food menu, there are excellent ales a-plenty, and the wine menu is equally extensive and varied (we enjoyed a crisp, refreshing Picpoul de Pinet at £29.50). I was particularly delighted by their excellent (separate to the spirit list) summer gin menu, with flavour profiles from blood orange to rhubarb, and could have happily sat sipping these for a few sun-dappled hours!
In a nutshell
If all you want is a gorgeous spot to sip a cooling drink and watch the world, Thames and Oxbridge race boats drift by (braying underage schoolgirls notwithstanding), this is a fine choice. But if you’re looking for a culinary treat I’d row a little further along the river!