Stacey, my new favourite front of house ever, deposits a small, viciously heavy metal truncheon at our table. This is because we have pre-ordered (as you must) the clay-baked duck at this extraordinary new restaurant from chef Stevie Parle. Parle himself brings the bird, wrapped in pale clay and looking for all the world, on its nest of pine, like a giant pupa.
Tap, tap with the truncheon, and the clay parts to reveal more layers, hay and fermented cabbage. The larval impression intensifies as cabbage is peeled apart, trailing strings of ducky goo. It’s all very Alien. But out of this vaguely disturbing carapace emerges a luminous “butterfly”: a roast duck, bronze-lacquered in honey and miso, almost too perfect-looking to be real – like one of those plastic Japanese window-display foods. It’s whisked away to return, jointed and carved into pristine chunks, with wafers of purple pickled carrot, roll of cabbage, a sweet-savoury pear (from, I think, its “broad bean and barley miso”) and “fireplace potatoes”, sliced into an armadillo shape, like hasselbacks – nutty, crisp, bewitching – roasted in Craft’s own-cultured butter in the ashes of the wood-fired ovens. The duck alone is worth the schlep to Greenwich. Hell, with its tender, rosy flesh, sticky skin, fat basted away to nothing, and the whole suffused with a subtle smokiness and sweetness, I’d almost swim there for it.
Yes, it costs £75, which causes a frisson. But it feeds three (we take a lot home) and could easily stretch to four. It’s hard for the rest of the menu to keep up with this barnstormer, but keep up it does: turnip, carrot and cauliflower pickled in brine and planted on strained yoghurt with fronds of fennel might seem Spartan by comparison, but has a wonderful, fresh vibrancy. Einkorn, an ancient, protein-rich wheat variety, is used to make a cakey drop scone topped with a sultry duck liver parfait, jammy damsons and tiny, frothy bouquets of elderflower. There is the finest eel I’ve tasted (and, yes, I’ve been to Japan): glossy, dark-toffee coloured, it wreathes the mouth in buttery smoke, bitter sweetness from treacle, sharpness from malt vinegar, blades of pickled leek – and sheer eelishness.
Home-cured meats are remarkable: ribbons of white pork fat, a feisty London lardo; petals of pork loin, gently salty, wholly porcine; IPA-cured beef leg, like the best bresaola, but subtler; lop (a rare-breed pig) salami, its peppery richness spiked by a dab of fierce mustard. There’s a Britishness to it all, uncompromising in intent (Parle is using UK-only suppliers), but luxurious in execution.
I arrive early for my meal – whisking along the Jubilee line takes a lot less time than I imagine – so I wander around the O2’s internal “street” of restaurants, increasingly dejected. There’s the estimable Byron, true, but there are also the execrable Five Guys, Garfunkels, Frankie & Benny’s. There’s a place threatening, “Try our Elvis-inspired menu”. Seriously? One joint I’d never previously heard of, Jimmy’s, offers Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and American food – I don’t need my inbuilt restaurant equivalent of gaydar to know it’ll be several levels of shite. Even the strikingly beautiful, mosaic-ed Farshid Moussavi campus building alongside has a Cafe Rouge and a Chiquito festering in its haunches. For Parle to open up here is the equivalent of his newly hatched butterfly landing in a bluebottle nest.
There’s no doubt Craft is a curious place. During the day, it has the look of the only upscale restaurant in this newly built village. At night, though, the design (by long-time collaborator Tom Dixon) makes sense, as city lights glitter in the darkness outside the wraparound, third-floor cocktail bar. The vivid colour scheme, all turquoise, mauve, sapphire, copper, mutes into something louche and sexy. But the lightbulb moment happens when you realise that the building’s sheer scale has allowed those wood-fired ovens, in-house curing rooms, a vast kitchen for on-site butchery, a fermenting cellar, coffee roastery, plus Parle has the use of the new public park, co-designed by Dixon, Thomas Hoblyn and the Guardian’s own Alys Fowler, for an orchard, beehives and smoking huts: it’s a fertile mini empire. With our duck, we have a bowl of greens (“from our garden”), the freshest-tasting, sprightliest leaves and herbs grown within spitting distance. Like I said, extraordinary. But nothing is more extraordinary than that duck.
• Craft London Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10, 020-8465 5910. Open lunch noon-2.30pm Wed-Sat, dinner 5.30-10.30pm Mon-Sat. About £75 a head including drinks and service.
Atmosphere 6/10 (daytime) 8/10 (night)
Value for money 8/10