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Jacques, the Tapster at The Duck & Rice, in London’s Soho, is in mid-flow when we enter. He’s conducting a pouring master class with the staff and 12 pairs of eyes are fixed on him, their concentration focused on the perfect pour of Pilsner Urquell in his hands.
Jacques is a knowledgeable and expert Tapster, but he wears it softly; humble with a real passion for doing things the right way over the easy way. This is his story.
“I was born in Belgium to Turkish parents, and lived in Brussels until I was 12 years old. I went back to Turkey as a teenager but came back to Belgium to study psychology at university. To part-fund my college, I worked in restaurants and bars. I remember having a sudden realisation – on Valentine’s Day when I’d picked up an extra shift in a restaurant – that I loved this work and had really found what I wanted to do forever.
In 2012, I came to London for the Olympics and worked in Hakkasan, a Michelin-starred restaurant off Oxford Street, then the Japanese restaurant ROKA. I heard about Alan Yau opening The Duck & Rice and approached him.
I just fell in love with the concept – a traditional English pub that serves Chinese takeaway food but at restaurant quality. Genius!
I was first hired as Head Waiter then promoted to Manager. I enjoy the atmosphere here, it’s a big wink to English culture – Alan wanted a relaxed pub feel but with exceptional food. Alan insists on no uniform, which makes it less formal and more friendly.
I officially tried Pilsner Urquell for the first time before we opened – at The White Horse in Parson’s Green. I saw the big foam head and instantly felt at home as a Belgian beer drinker.
When I tasted Pilsner Urquell, it was fantastic. I thought Belgium were the best at beer, but turns out I was wrong!
We opened The Duck & Rice on 17th April 2015. When we first started I was sceptical about selling 800 pints of beer – one tank – in five days. But now we sell 1,600 pints in five days. It has gone well beyond expectations.
I went to Plzeň on the Tapster Programme in June 2016. It was there I realised how important the beer was and I took the trip seriously – I came back with a burning mission to adapt my bar to be able to pour Pilsner Urquell properly. It was challenging as we only have a small bar so there’s not much room, but I made small changes. Before, I’d put my beer glasses in the freezer, but now I realised it made them too cold, which affected the drinking experience.
English drinkers can complain about the foam and want their beer topped up. It’s a cultural thing. I just try to explain the importance of foam and flavour. In England the head of the ale is not meant to be enjoyed – only the liquid. In Belgium, we understand foam.
Serving Chinese food and Pilsner Urquell is Alan’s genius. The Chinese normally drink light rice beers, which have no flavour profile. But Alan insisted on this Czech beer, the original golden lager. As Pilsner Urquell is both sweet and bitter it complements every Chinese dish we create.
We were the first to bring tank beer to Central London. It’s great because the beer got noticed before we did – it became a draw for people.
I’m certain we serve the best Pilsner Urquell in the UK – or at least in London. It’s already the most popular beer on our tap by a long way and we go to great lengths to get things right.
We’re starting to be known as a beer pub and we can get even better. We’ve got plans to train up two more Tapsters. Ultimately, my goal is to convert English people to start drinking beer with foam!
I make sure all my staff are trained extensively and regularly. And I’m probably wasting more beer than I should searching for the perfect pint – but it’s worth it.
Our mission is to make sure we’re constantly improving our Pilsner Urquell serve. I only want to serve beer I’d be happy to drink myself. Like a chef, I don’t want any beer to come back. I want to make it perfect."
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