Jan 18, 2012

The Wild Duck

Wild Duck
5/112 York Street, 
Albany, WA  6320
(08) 9842 2554

A few years back I discovered that this place had popped up in Albany and I was surprised. Sleepy little Albany was never the place I expected to find a restaurant with the audacity to offer gourmet, or even fine dining of any calibre. 

Also surprisingly the Wild Duck has endured. It's had it's fair share of criticism regarding service, but one thing has never changed; Chef Andrew Holmes is serving the kind of food unheard of in WA country towns. He's not afraid to play with the latest gastronomic techniques. Foams, soils, cook it in a bag, smoke it, encapsulate it or make it look like something it's not and I think this is an incredibly good thing for the restaurant scene. 

On this road trip I booked a table for Ondine and myself, as we both had fairly high expectations. I'm will have to be be pretty critical here because Wild Duck has so much potential, but on our visit it just fell short. It wouldn't take much to become a great restaurant in my opinion.

We arrived and were seated without delay. The staff were polite, but they seemed a little on the awkward side at times. The wrong cutlery for example was left on the table when the soup was ordered, and it wasn't noticed throughout the meal. Out waitress's wine knowledge seemed rudimentary at best and there didn't appear to be a Sommelier on staff to offer wine assistance. These are all pretty minor things though, but they do add up.

Ondine ordered the soup of the day ($20). It was described to us as seafood chowder, which we were a bit excited about because we had heard all kinds of good things. What came out was actually a little bewildering. Imagine if you will, a smoke dome over a bowl of soup is brought to your table. The dome is lifted expectantly, only to reveal grilled scallops and prawns sitting on a soup made from bacon and corn.No fish. The soup did not even taste like it had been made using fish stock.

I ordered the twice baked goat cheese soufflé ($24). I was warned that this would take an extra 20 minutes, which I did appreciate. The first glaring problem though was the entrée course took an entire 45 minutes to arrive to the table. That's just too long - even 25 minutes for an entrée is a bit sluggish.

Twice baked goat cheese soufflé
Seafood chowder

To top it all off the soufflé, while appropriately cheesy, and light was disinterestedly served on a bowl of microgreens and garnished with olives and tomato relish. For something that took 45 minutes to prepare, I was sadly underwhelmed.

Both dishes while technically good, were let down by poor flavour combinations. The aggressive smokiness of the soup erased the sweetness of the prawns and scallops. In the soufflé, the addition of star anise to the tomato relish totally threw the dishes flavours out of balance, and the olives were just sad. Great produce, prepared well, but not quite with it in the flavour department.

Main Course
Our mains were both solid dishes, Ondine ordered the duck leg and breast with sweet potato purée, spinach and orange glaze ($36), while I had the crispy skinned pork belly ($35).

The duck consisted of a sous-vide breast and confit leg, on a bed of wilted spinach, sauced with duck jus. The orange segments we presume originally alluded to duck a la orange, but this is all an allusion because there was little or no apparent glaze, and no discernible taste of orange. The duck was great, but sad because everything else was just ordinary. Sweet potato purée? best left unmentioned.

Duck with orange glaze
Pork belly

The pork on the other hand was supreme. Confit pork belly, it's skin fried until glass was the star. So very rich and sticky. A sous-vide pork loin wrapped in prosciutto accompanied the belly, while a pea mash, and grilled scallops topped it all off. The low point I think was that the scallops were a little on the overcooked side and I could have done without the pea mash. The peas were fresh, but a little gluey. Their flavour and texture just didn't work with everything else on the plate.

This was the show-piece of the meal. Wild Duck puts out some really good desserts, with interesting flavour combinations and really outstanding presentations.

Coconut and spice panna cotta
Hot apple and walnut tart

The coconut and spice panna cotta ($15) was really good. By itself the mango sorbet and mango liqueur jelly was ordinary, but when Chef Holmes adds palm sugar crystals, fresh coriander leaf and coriander syrup, the dessert goes to another level. I don't normally like coriander, but in this dish it all really worked.

Ondine had the hot apple and walnut tart ($14). Served with a aromatic rum and raisin ice-cream, it too used a bed of palm sugar for a bit of extra crunch, and then finished things off with a tart syrup of reduced apple juice. It was light, and nutty, using walnuts to build the crust.

So was it worth the trip? Well if you are in town, you would be hard pressed to get a meal of this quality anywhere else. Would I travel 400km just to go to it? Not really. The service is well meaning, but a bit below par, and you sometimes will get things on the menu that just don't work. Wild Duck is improving, but not in the top twenty WA restaurants yet.

So if you happen to be in Albany, and looking to sample some of the best local produce. Perhaps have a romantic, yet casual meal. Personally I'd try and drop in just for the dessert, they are that good.

Recommended. 13.5/20

The Wild Duck Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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