Meet the Duchess

We head east as one of our favourite Chelsea bars gets a seductive new sibling…


One of our favourite Chelsea bars is Callooh Callay, a sort of boozy Narnia that you enter via a wardrobe door. Here the night slips away in eccentrically luxe lounges that nod to geishas and the Jabberwocky amid rounds of drinks with names such as Berry Me and Pinkitty Drinkitty and fusion small plates such as sea-bream ceviche with yuzu kosho and tuna tostadas with matcha sauce. It brings the swing back to the King’s Road in rambunctious style.

So, when we heard that their sister bar the Duchess of Dalston had opened, we followed the fun east to see what madcap fun owner Richard Wynne continues to cook up. Slotted in between a newsagents and Chick ‘n’ Sours on Kingsland Road, the Duchess is an unassuming sort whose grandeur boldly folds inwards like a baroque Tardis. A wood-topped bar with kitchen-like cabinetry above runs along the right side, and to the left are banquettes just big enough for date-night tête-à-têtes; but the scene-stealer is the elaborate ceiling, affixed with ornate, effectively mismatched tiles sourced in China (which, you’ll notice, have a certain symmetry to them). There’s also some animal-roamed wallpapers in the bathrooms and eye-catching art along the walls (we sat below a picture of an ice-cream van)

As in Callooh Callay, here cocktails are the fuel for what the owner terms ‘serious fun’ – the fun may feel more frivolous and increasingly messy (in the best possible fashion) IRL, but the drinks are serious for sure – we should know – we completed the menu. We started with a Snicker Snack, a hip take on a Pina Colada with roasted pineapple and cola cordial, moving through a Guts & Glory with coconut-washed whisky and pandan-leaf cordial; an Ermine with strawberry and balsamic gin, port and thyme syrup; Dalston Ace with mezcal, watermelon and lime syrup and grapefruit; and – we think, through a haze of merry-making – we finished on an Aunty’s Special, infused with Vietnamese coffee to give you a flavourful pat on the face.

We wouldn’t have been able to complete such a feat of drinking without something to line our stomachs and the Duchess has an excellent selection of taquitos and ceviche. We especially liked the salmon and cucumber salsa cradled in crispy nori shells, and the tempura fish taquitos with wasabi kewpie; but vegetarians fare very well here too: fried banana flowers were a texturally pleasing substitute for fish and the black cauliflower, Chinese treacle and almond matcha salsa taquitos are uniquely delicious. All together, the Duchess offers hedonistic evenings, low-lit trysts and a cocktail menu you’ll want to dip into again and again – and even as we struggle through the hangovers, we’re planning to dive in headfirst once again.

Find the Duchess of Dalston at 392 Kingsland Road, www.duchessofdalston.com