A chance conversation with a Ranelagh local revealed that they’ve all been keeping it a bit quiet about a BYOB restaurant in this deep-pocketed stretch of Dublin. CN Duck has been on my radar since it opened, last February, but the €6 corkage was news to me.
I’m a big fan of Chinese duck. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily rustle up at home, although I have given it a shot. A coat hanger, bicycle pump, hairdryer, jar of maltose and paint brush were all deployed in a lengthy process over a 24-hour stretch.
A bullet oven would have made things a lot simpler. It’s an impressive piece of torpedo-shaped stainless steel kit which allows the meat to be hung upright, so that the heat circulates around it. In CN Duck, the oven is fired up at 8am each morning, and again at 3pm, to roast the day’s meats. The lacquered ducks, hanging from meat hooks, are the first thing you notice in the open kitchen.
It’s a smart room for somewhere that’s designed for a reasonably fast turnaround, with polished concrete walls, industrial grey metal pendant lights and two dark wooden communal tables dominating the area. The smaller tables are occupied; as if in an effort to fill the large table we are assigned, we take a good dive into the menu, ordering in stages to control the flow of our meal.
From the Asian bites section, the chilli edamame (€5.80) are the perfect palate-tickling bite with a glass of chilled Mosel Riesling; and we move on to the vegetable spring rolls (€7.50) and the chicken dumplings (€8.20), which are made fresh in the kitchen each day.
Clearly the Chinese duck is non-negotiable, but there are three other types of roast meat on offer, so choices need to be made
Both are extremely good, the julienned vegetables steaming hot in a crunchy wrapper, and the crispy bottomed, brittle-edged dumplings stuffed full with a savoury farce of chicken. A wakame seaweed salad (€8.50) is all briny freshness, the seaweed mixed with strips of red onion and carrot, tossed in a sesame oil dressing with a splash of acidity.
Clearly the Chinese duck is non-negotiable, but there are three other types of roast meat on offer, so choices need to be made. Two combo platters with bones (€19.50) get us close to the goalposts. We add sides of egg-fried rice (€3.50), and wok-fried greens (€8), and I should mention that at this stage we are looking at a spread that will feed at least three people.
The duck, gleaming with a papery-thin lacquered skin, has been chopped into manageable pieces with a cleaver; the layer of fat beneath the skin has been rendered, and the meat is glossy and sumptuous. It is mind-blowingly delicious. Shards of bone are easy to release from the succulent meat as you eat it, so long as you don’t mind getting your fingers greasy – but really, it’s a visceral delight you should not miss.
The pork belly is also extremely good. Again, the magic of the bullet oven has rendered the fat to a soft bite and the crackling shatters like glass. It is the best crackling that has ever sat before me.
Not everything is perfect, as we find the char siu pork just a bit disappointing. The meat seems a little dry: perhaps it was cooked earlier in the day, but it’s the relative lack of flavour that has us questioning its provenance. It is not free range, I later discover, which is sadly not unusual, and somehow it really shows here, despite the sweet saltiness from the red stained barbecue sauce.
There is something quite perfect about sitting at a table laden with food, chatting to an old chum, and working through the dishes
The roast chicken, which is also lacking free range credentials, gets away with it. Despite being an intensively raised bird, it tastes stunningly good. The crisp skin is the stuff of dreams, and the meat inside is succulent and cooked beautifully.
Minor slips aside, our meal has been astonishing. There is something quite perfect about sitting at a table laden with food, chatting to an old chum, and working through the dishes. Yes, we are lucky that the place isn’t full. The staff are charming, and there’s absolutely no pressure to vacate our table. The Riesling, I have noted for future reference, is a truly great match for the food, and I’m already planning to return.
This is a restaurant made for a night out with friends, where you can run up a few quid on interesting corkage, and eat with absolute glee from a feast of scintillating food.
Dinner for two with corkage was €86.50.
THE VERDICT Possibly the best Chinese duck in the country
Music Daft Punk, Ariana Grande, various pop
Food provenance Silver Hill duck, Boylan’s Frozen Food (chicken is not free-range), Dawn meats (pork is not free range)
Vegetarian options Spring rolls, dumplings, seaweed salad, stir fried vegetables, and fried rice
Wheelchair access Accessible, with no accessible toilet