a degustation of Wild Duck proportions
Life has been for lack of a better description, extremely busy lately for both Jeremy and I. So before we knew it our anniversary had rolled round and that meant something great - a date night for the two of us alone. Cue the excitement!
I left the plans up to my boy since last year's visit to Amuse on our anniversary was my idea. I had no idea where he was going to choose until he texted me a couple of clues and I figured out that he'd chosen Nedland's local fine dining restaurant, the Wild Duck.
The Wild Duck
This restaurant has had quite a bit of fanfare supporting it, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't eagerly anticipating the meal. The Wild Duck used to be situated in Albany for several years before relocating to it's place on Hampden Road, right around the corner from UWA.
We arrived for our 7pm booking on time; immediately seated by the window inside. It's quite homely looking with warm yellows and timber. Having the open windows lets the cool night air seep in, though it is a little weird when you see the locals walking past with their dogs or in running gear only a metre away. Despite this somewhat casual atmosphere, the vibe itself is quite formal - it feels slightly disconnected as a result.
As we sit down our waiter tells us the degustation menu is written down for us to see; laughing to himself as he declares it easier this way than explaining each course. I can see where he's coming from but as the night progresses I do feel a slight pang of disappointment, I actually enjoy chatting to wait staff about dishes and discovering the different ingredients used, plus where they're sourced and the techniques involved. But I guess not everyone has such a curiosity like I do!
We place a drink order each, opting to order as we go instead of enjoying paired wines. It's a Wednesday night so we're not quite up to drinking too much. People around us are all settling in and either indulging in the degustation as we are, or are ordering off their ala carte menu which has similar dishes to the degustation only more involved.
Once the drinks arrive and water is topped up, a waitress brings out a complimentary amuse bouche. It's a tomato marshmallow square with parmesan crust on the outside and fresh strips of basil to compliment.
It's as light as air, and my first savoury marshmallow. The parmesan on the outside works so well with the sweet tomato, and the basil strips are delightfully fresh. It is a great way to start our night here.
About 10 or so minutes later the first actual course of our degustation dinner comes out. It's a plate with a glass dome on top, completely encasing a thick cloud of white smoke. I do love a good element of theatre with fine dining, and this definitely caught my attention.
The waiter lifts the dome and the smoke pours out around us, wafting a fragrant aromatic first glimpse at our Seafood Chowder dish.
This was actually one of the best dishes of the night for me. It was everything a good chowder (cue Simpson references here because that's what Jeremy and I were doing - such children sometimes!) should be. Thick, creamy and flavoursome. There were little cubes of bacon and kernels of fresh, sweet corn.
I love the perfectly seared scallop on top which was generous and so tasty I want more now. Inside the chowder there was also a large, plump prawn which worked perfectly with the other ingredients.
There was a bit of a wait between the chowder and our next course - around 15/20 minutes which ended up being the status of the night. Not such a bad thing if you're there on the weekend taking your time and enjoying being out and about, but on a weeknight we did end up finishing rather late consequentially.
16 hour pork belly
The 16 Hour Pork Belly dish was worth the wait though, with a happy square of pork (including crackling top) awaiting our attention. It sat on top of a celeriac puree, with apple jelly, apple air, mini gnocchi rounds, spinach and also a couple of soft, juicy pork loin cuts.
While some 'foodies' are saying pork belly is overrated, I have to admit it does and probably always will, hold a special place in my heart. It's very unlike me or my boy to say no to this protein, so we didn't mind at all that this is what they were serving for one of our courses.
The pork was excellent - well seasoned, tender and so crunchy on top. I love the apple jelly and the mini gnocchi, they balanced out the dish in terms of textures as well as flavours.
Crispy skin duck breast
For a restaurant with duck in their name, it makes perfect sense that they would choose to serve it as one of their dishes. I love duck, it's actually one of my favourite meats, so there was a great deal of pressure riding on this in my eyes. And thankfully, it delivered!
The duck is perfectly pink and so succulent that I swoon a little. Best dish of the night for sure!
The carrot puree underneath is sweet and extremely fine, working well with the sticky and satisfying duck jus that flows along the plate. I love the creamed peas on the side which are part mashed, part whole allowing for a variety of textures.
If I make it back here to eat, I think I'll skip the degustation and just order this as a main instead, it was great. The only downfall was only one of the pieces of duck on my plate had that promised crispy skin, and there wasn't much of it. While it didn't need it to make the dish spectacular, it would have delighted me even more.
While all other degustations I've experienced serve the palate cleanser between mains and dessert, here they serve it between mains. Not a bad thing at all, especially when you get a lovely and soft kiwi sorbet as we did on this occasion. The flavour could have been a little stronger, but the sweetness and consistency was spot on.
A great choice of fruit to showcase as not many restaurants use kiwi fruit in their desserts or other dishes. It's a fruit that is rather popular in my house!
The final savoury course for the night is the Black Angus Beef Fillet, which is sous vide and accompanied by red wine fondant potato, mushroom, onion gel and red wine jus.
My SLR didn't quite capture how lovely this looked - by this stage it was quite dark in the restaurant and I hate using my flash. Never mind, the proof is in the pudding anyway - right?
The beef was a bright pink which didn't bother me at all as I eat my meat rare. But it was actually cooked through from the sous vide process, and cutting into it was like a hot knife going into butter. Of all the dishes so far this was my least favourite. There wasn't anything at all wrong with it, the mushrooms were cooked perfectly and there was a good balance between the ingredients and flavours on the plate. But it seemed to lack a real wow factor, which was something we felt about the night in general.
The food is flawless, but nothing really had me raving. Not everyone needs that moment when dining out, and I don't know if it's because I expected big things since I've had some amazing meals here in Perth... I walked away later that night perfectly sated, but just ever so slightly underwhelmed. And in all honesty it feels strange saying that because like I said, the food was lovely.
Mango and pannacotta
When it came to the dessert portion of the night, I have to say that The Wild Duck were very accomodating. I'm not a huge fan of mango and we'd made pannacotta during the week at home so the degustation's listed dessert wasn't quite appealing to my tastes. They were all too happy to provide me with an alternative dessert called the mini campfire.
Presentation wise, Jeremy's Mango and Pannacotta was beautiful. Mango jelly, spiced pannacotta, malibu jelly, coconut ice cream and mango sorbet adorned the plate. He told me it was cool, fresh and sweet. I was surprised to see so many herbs on the plate, but he felt it didn't distract from the flavours and the green popped against the shades of orange present.
Before the desserts on our table came out, they arrived at the table beside us. As the waiter lit an iron pot which took up in a spectacular burst of fire, I realised that I would be getting something similar since I was having a mini campfire dessert of my own. How playful! There was also a 'makeup box' dessert which came with a mirror and makeup case full of liquorice treats.
It seems that since my dessert was a smaller version of the standard menu offering, I didn't get the fire show on mine. Instead, my plate came out with a glass dome (same as the seafood chowder) covering smoke over my marshmallow logs. It left the marshmallows with a distinct taste that was quite like it had actually been toasted over an open flame. It did however seep a strange liquid onto the plate though which once I discovered, I avoided carefully.
The chocolate brownie in the corner was delicious and rich, working well with the side of peanut butter icecream. The whole thing was like a deconstructed s'more (the fancy kind that includes peanut butter). It was nice, but it lacked the impressiveness of the full version the table next to us had. In particular, the ice cream was the best element with it's peanut butter goodness singing through in every spoonful. I love peanut butter - yum!
Once our final plate was cleared our waitress asked if we'd like tea or coffee which we politely declined. We waited afterwards to get a servers attention for the bill but some time passed and we realised that we would probably be best just going up to the register.
As Jeremy arranged the bill, I searched through my bag, brandishing my entertainment card and enquiring if they accepted them. It was at this point our nice night out turned a little sour. While they did take them, we were given a rather uncomfortable lecture (that dragged on somewhat) about how we should have told them before we were given the bill. Cue awkward silence. Anyone that knows me knows I have a bit of a temper when I'm pushed, so it took everything inside me not to snap back at them and ruin the night. It was such an unnecessary way to finish things off and left me feeling a bit unsettled as a result.
So I guess that leaves me a bit lost for words on our experience at the Wild Duck. Was the food delicious? Yes. Was it well executed? Yes. But did it have that wow factor in the atmosphere and dishes? Sadly, not really. After recent dinners at No 4 Blake Street and Print Hall, it needed that sparkle of magic that they exhibit. But would I go back? Most likely, yes. Especially if that duck dish is on the main menu. I'll just make sure I have my entertainment card out and ready to prevent a repeat of the most awkward restaurant moment I've experienced.