Last summer we had a superlative supper at the Waxworks in Brading. Our five star review gushed about soft meaty slabs of succulent bacon loin, the playful juxtaposition of ingredients and artfully casual service. To our incredulity, the day after our review was published the restaurant closed. When we saw that the team behind the Waxworks had relocated to Ryde’s erstwhile Bombay Palace (codgers among you may remember it as the Thatcher’s End) we were delighted. Now renamed The Duck, this is pretty much the nearest restaurant to Matt and Cat Towers – and to have something as potentially wonderful on our doorsteps warmed our cockles.
Using as a pretext a rare visit by Cat’s brother plus her elderly father keen to celebrate his 82nd birthday with his devoted daughter and her trencherman boyfriend, we booked a table at the Duck one mid-week day in early spring. Pleasingly there were other diners enjoying the smart, yet relaxing, restaurant and we were shown to a neatly-dressed table with a view of the Spinnaker Tower winking its red lights across the Solent.
The Duck clearly knows how Cat operates; the desserts were listed on the menu before the main courses, and there were some tasty-sounding dishes there. The starters, too, were creative and diverse: scattered among the bill of fare were offers of whipped cheese, candied walnuts, something called a ratatouille fish bowl, plus pan-fried belly pork bao buns with slaw – hitting two food trends right there in one dish.
We went straight for the main courses: the three fellas all had heart of beef rump and Cat, having eyed-up chocolate brownie for her pudding, chose pan-fried gnocchi served with homemade lemon, cashew and rocket pesto, topped with fresh Greek salad.
Cat’s dad opened his birthday presents and squinted at the cover of George Orwell’s 1984 – after all you’re never too old for a dystopian story about government surveillance and public manipulation. A few years back Cat went to New York and, in this city of lights, it was surprisingly hard to find a restaurant with decent illumination. It was peak-filament bulb era; hipster joints with grungy distressed surfaces barely lit by unshaded lights dangling on fabric-sheathed cables. Great for an intimate meal with someone who doesn’t want their dining partner to notice their raging acne or yellowing teeth, but not so good for reading the menu or scrutinising the actual food. We’re not saying that the Duck has quite that dedication to keeping the nouvelle-lighting faith, but it wasn’t quite food-blogger-friendly.
The restaurant started to fill up; a quartet of pensioners trumpeted their arrival. Perhaps they were all hard of hearing and had got used to the need to shout at each other? Certainly their pontifications about gnocchi assailed our table; “I’ve no idea what gnocchi is, have you? Other than that I’ve seen it on Masterchef.”
As it happened, at that moment Cat could have shown them as her gnocchi arrived. It had sounded full of promise, with its home-made pesto and salad topping but, poking among the ingredients in her bowl, Cat wondered if perhaps she didn’t understand gnocchi either. The olive-sized doughy balls had been kissed by the pesto; where Cat was expecting a flavoursome sauce, the reality was more a rationed seasoning. The salad comprised a nest of crispy twiddly leaves, chunks of cucumber, some generic cherry tomatoes (unexpectedly, ubiquitous heritage toms were not the chef’s first choice), black olives and a lot of raw onion. To make it particularly Greek there were also cubes of feta. This dry crumbly cheese didn’t do the already dry dish any favours.
Gnocchi Greek salad £11.95
Rump steak and frites £17.95
Lemon meringue £5.95
Biscoff brownie sundae £5.95
The steaks on the other hand were juicy and smothered in an outstanding rich and creamy chorizo and mushroom sauce. The decently-cooked chunks of meat were topped with tasty sprigs of greens and roasted baby corn. The “salt and pepper skinny fries” had been anointed by the same frugal hand as the gnocchi – Matt couldn’t detect any seasoning at all.
The polite waitress sprung a surprise pudding special on Cat: chocolate brownie and Biscoff ice cream sundae. It was intense; pooling at the bottom of the tall glass was chocolate the consistency and richness of ganache. Filling the gaps were thick cream, strawberry, and cool ice cream garnished with a thick slab of chocolate. It was a pretty impressive dessert.
Matt’s lemon meringue shortbread was the most clever and well-presented dish of the night. The shortbread was casually draped with soft, sweet meringue centres; sharp, home-made lemon curd and lemon curd ice cream. A delicious combination. On top, a little shortbread duck. It really showed what this kitchen can do.
At the Duck we got a mixed batch with much potential – some great food (the shortbread and the steak), some decent food (the sundae), and a couple of lemons (no, not the dessert). The venue itself is rather smart; the service welcoming and professional. With its views across the Solent to the twinkling lights of Southsea, the Duck could easily become a destination restaurant.
This is the full-length version of the review that first appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Some excellent food
- Great location and sea views
- Kitchen team has a strong track record
- A few dishes fell short of the mark