Duck restaurant review: A whip-smart spot to try in Co Wexford

The long-standing Duck restaurant in Gorey has a confidence about its food and service

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The Duck Restaurant at Marlfield House Hotel

  • Courtown Road, Gorey, Co Wexford
  • 0539421124
  • Irish

There’s the guts of 80 years between the youngest and the oldest eater in this long stone building. The logs in the fire are slow burners, more for show and smell than serious heat. Outside spiny green shoots are pushing up through the soil alongside woody stumps of last year’s raspberry canes. There’s new plastic on the polytunnel and the rhubarb leaves are basking in the first warm sunshine of the year.

We’re in The Duck Restaurant at Marlfield House, just outside Gorey in Wexford. We can’t eat in the main house because there’s a wedding on today. This could go either way. I booked what looks to have been one of the last tables in their courtyard restaurant. This Duck is flat out with hoards of Sunday lunchers who range from toddler to octogenarian.

Marlfield House has been a hotel for almost 40 years under matriarch and chef Mary Bowe. She will tour the room at the end of our lunch stopping at every table to fix diners with a gimlet gaze and ask how we have enjoyed things, before sitting down to have her own lunch.

The Duck is a lovely old stone shed converted into a comfortable light-filled place. Bone-handled knives and old silver-plated forks are kept in a French-style pot-bellied dresser. They haven’t twee-ed the place to within an inch of its life. The menu is a laid back wander through a casual bistro canon. You can do a flat bread topped with tasty things or the full Sunday lunch treatment.

One of the many things I like about this place is its roomy bright kitchen visible through a window in the door. The kitchen is often the last place in a restaurant with any light or spretace. And yes, good food can come from a strip-lit sweaty galley from which the chef’s only escape is for fag breaks. But working in natural light is a good thing.

Dips come in small bowls with rounds of French bread toasted crisp and carrots and cucumbers. It’s a plain look for a dish which tends to be garnished with fancy things in more metropolitan spots. No pomegranate seeds here. But there’s nothing underwhelming about the flavours. Violently purple beet hummus tastes of good vinegar, apple cider I’m guessing, and a tiny toasty hint of cumin. There’s a creamy chickpea hummus with hidden depths of garlic and a simple slippery cucumber tzakiki to complete the texture palette.

A starter plate of smoked duck is more than large enough to be a main for my mum, who’s continuing a lifelong habit of saving herself for dessert. The fresh leaves are dressed in an orange and aniseed vinaigrette. It’s a little too shouty a dressing for the delicate baby leaves but walnuts provide a welcome full stop to the citrus zing. The celeriac remoulade is fantastic but tiny, gone in a few forkfuls.

I’ve got a small fillet of turbot sitting on top of a red pepper and pea buerre blanc, good meaty fish with a sauce that hits the sweet spot of being both buttery and light. A side of long-stem broccoli and crunchy mange touts are testament to a kitchen that can turn out perfect greens under pressure. This Duck is unflappable.

Desserts are a delight. The muck for the “Mucky Duck” turns out to be a doll-sized jug of hot caramel which is drizzled over a profoundly chocolatey brownie turning the whole thing into a treat for which it’s well worth saving yourself. Mine is the homeliest pud I’ve had in a long time: a gorgeous glass bowl of creamy rice pudding with three compotes on the side: apple and sultana, a pineapple one that’s the least satisfying, and bright pink rhubarb I’m guessing comes from the kitchen garden. We finish with a good coffee as another table starts their lunch nearby.

The second-string venue in a hotel with a wedding on is often the place where diners get second best. Not in the Duck. Longevity hasn’t slackened standards. This is a whip-smart place where Sunday lunchers are taken as seriously as the main event.