Saturday, 20th April 2019 – The Muddy Duck, Hethe
Following on from a theatre trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the sublime Kunene and the King at the Swan Theatre, and unhappy to remain in the town on a sunny holiday weekend when you could barely move for the crowds everywhere, we headed cross country towards home for an early dinner at The Muddy Duck. This is another place I’d been thinking we should try for a while, so it was a case of making a booking and assuming that I’d chosen a sensible time. We arrived slightly early, which gave us a good excuse to drink a glass of Champagne in the rather lovely garden (even if the tables aren’t exactly level and you thus have to hang on for dear life to your Champagne flute because if you put it down and let go it’s going to fall over)!
The building itself is old and rambling and looks like it has been there forever, but it’s also been well maintained and has the air of being cared for properly. We moved over to the outdoor restaurant terrace at the appointed time and one of the waiting staff appeared to take a further drink order and offer menus. We opted for a second glass of champagne (it was Lanson Black Label which is one of my favourites if we’re talking non-vintage and not too expensive). I did have to ask for a replacement though, because the first glass had apparently been open all day and seemed to have lost most of its effervescence. It was no trouble, though I’d have preferred not to have been handed it in the first place. However, they handled it very well, which is what really counts.
With it also came some utterly wonderful sourdough bread. Now I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a standard in restaurants these days for good reason, especially when it’s done well, and this had been. This version was seeded and all the better for it. The butter was pretty good too, and the napkins made me laugh.
The menu has gone the way of so many menus now, with “small plates” for sharing or otherwise. However, unlike some places where they won’t let you structure your order in a sensible way but insist you take the dishes in the order they become ready, the Muddy Duck is prepared to serve it up as courses or in whatever order you want. We decided we’d take a first round, and order a second as long as we could have a half hour or so between finishing the first round and the next one appearing. The waitress said that would be fine. We started therefore with three dishes, the lightest of them a tempura asparagus, seasoned with black salt and with a dish of lemon mayonnaise into which we could dip the delicately battered spears. Sadly, due to sun-induced glare the photo of this dish and the next one, a gloriously sticky plate of heritage beetroot, with goat’s cheese, rocket and – something I’ve not had before but now I need to know why! – candied walnuts. The world needs more candied walnuts. The third plate was a serving of crab, on a slice of that delightful sourdough, grilled and slices of charred lemon. It was a fabulous thing.
For our second round, we hit the fish section further. We chose just two dishes, one of them the trout in brown butter, with ginger, chilli and lime. They’d gone easy on the chilli which meant it was pleasantly mild and didn’t overpower the fish, letting the ginger provide the contrast instead. There were additional brown shrimp scattered over the top as well, and you’ll get no complaint from me about that sort of extra treat.
The second fish dish was an absolute triumpy, a lobster mac and cheese, packed with flavour and the lobster still tender and moist. I could eat that every day, though I’d have to do a lot more running if I did. The crunchy crumb topping was a lovely addition too. OK, they charge for it (it’s £17.00) but it’s well worth it.
We were starting to flag a bit now, so it was with some relief that we discovered that the meat servings were small and sensible. The half Gressingham duck breast with plum sauce was the only dish that really didn’t blow me away. The duck was tender but because it had spent time in the sous vide machine first it wasn’t rare. I was happy enough to eat it, but I’d have been more impressed if it had been bigger and redder. The sauce was more jammy than sauce like so I’d probably give that a miss another time.
Our final dish was lamp rump, this time cooked just as I prefer, and sitting in a brilliant green puddle of wild garlic sauce. There were also sun-blushed tomatoes, but they were almost a side-show compared to the sheer delicousness of the wild garlic and the meat. It was the perfect end to the meal, and it took care of the last of the sourdough as well, because it was that or licking the plate!
To drink we chose a somewhat pricy option from the list of rosé wines, a bottle of Whispering Angel, Chateau d’Esclans 2016, Côtes de Provence, from just outside Fréjus. The wine list says “The palate is refined and elegant with faint cherry nuances and beautifully integrated balancing acidity”, and I for one would not disagree with them.
We couldn’t have eaten another thing at this point, so we paid up and headed for home.