A word of advice to anyone visiting the newly relaunched Duck on Sothearos Boulevard: order a second round of the complimentary potato soup appetiser, if you get it. Not because what follows isn’t good, but because the soup isn’t enshrined on the menu. If the owner decides to switch the pre-appetiser, this might be your last gulp.
“I want another one,” my friend announced, while I guiltily spooned the remnants of froth from the glass with my little finger. “It’s probably their best dish.”
It goes to show how much Duck has benefited from recent changes that it wasn’t, in fact, the best thing on the menu. It wasn’t even in the top three. The restaurant, which opened this time last year, wasn’t badly in need of a makeover. But something wasn’t right.
Unlike popular sister restaurant Mama Wong’s, Duck was often empty. The breakfasts – elegant and good-value – were a delight with golden pancakes drenched in palm sugar and fluffy eggs benedict. Dinner was underwhelming and pricey.
So they hired Australian chef Glenn Thompson as a consultant for the re-launch. Like big names employed to reinvent restaurants the world over, he could have done the bare minimum and taken the paycheck. He didn’t. There is substance to the change: the menu now centres on fresh Asian flavours, with the Eastern touch extending to ginger crème brulee and even a tofu cheesecake.
The decor has changed, too. There are low hanging orange lanterns over the tables. At the far end, near the kitchen, intersecting wooden columns form an elegant criss-cross behind the bar. On the walls, aside from enormous mirrors, are testimonies from friends “wishing you the best of duck” and so on. It’s a bit corny. But the rest of the interior is classy with an Eastern feel that fits well with the food.
The menu is playful but elegant, with an emphasis on spice and regional greens. The prices are far more reasonable: mains range from $7 to $16. A pork belly appetiser was comfortingly fatty with crispy edges and served with subtly smoke-singed eggplant. Coriander popped a fresh punch into most of the dishes, preventing them from heaviness. Sugar cured salmon was served with cubes of feta cheese and edamame beans and soaked in a soy and ginger marinade.
Of the mains, the crispy duck salad was a surprise hit: tangy and crunchy with cabbage strips and red onion. Salmon cooked in coconut was juicy and served with sweet chili jam pomelo, onion and ginger. The sirloin steak was nicely tender and served with a creamy potato mash and red wine jus. But the cut was thick and inelegant – at $16, there are better for the same price.
There were a few other niggles. It’s a narrow space, and tables are crammed in. Had the place been full, we would have been uncomfortably close to our neighbours. The soundtrack, which featured jittery techno, was distracting. Making all the right noises, however, was the food and drink – including cocktails with a local twist (vodka sours with palm sugar; lemongrass mojito) and dessert.
We wrapped up the meal with an item that had raised some eyebrows at the table: tofu cheesecake. We were wrong. This was gorgeously silky and laced with ginger. The biscuit base, embedded with passion fruit seeds, gave a crunchy kick.
“Could you fault the food?” my friend asked at the end of the meal. I might be a cynic, but with three courses of quality locally-inspired food, plus cocktails, for $51 between three I had to say a cautious no.
Duck, #49 Sothearos Boulevard. Open 5pm until 10pm.