Food review: The Whistling Duck, Hertford
PUBLISHED: 12:19 07 April 2015
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne is impressed by good food and excellent service at Hertford's 'riverside rendezvous'
There’s something about quirky restaurant names that excites curiosity. I had noted the Whistling Duck some time ago and finally worked round to it, encouraged not only by the name but its description of itself as ‘Hertfordshire’s riverside rendezvous’ and promises on the website of being surrounded by some of the area’s best countryside. None of this has much to do with food, beyond suggesting the setting might provide the right sort of atmosphere in which to dine, but the menu, under the command of head chef Marlon Erne, clinched it with a sprinkling of distinctly above-average touches.
The restaurant is part of the complex housing the Riverside Garden Centre, the waterway at whose side it makes its rendezvous being the River Lea at its junction with Bayford Brook. It’s about a mile from Hertford town centre along Lower Hatfield Road. Among its attractions, the Whistling Duck boasts a dining terrace overlooking the water, great for warmer times but sadly out of bounds on my visit owing to a late onslaught of winter which had those present enjoying the indoors rather than the out.
The Whistling Duck occupies a large space, decked out with modern furniture and decor, bright and airy with a polished wooden floor setting off the bright red dining chairs and classily-dressed tables. All very inviting and, on the evening I visited, midweek and again possibly because of the chill factor not very busy, backed up by a particularly warm welcome. Those of us who had ventured out found it all quite cosy on our selection of tables clustered in one corner, close enough to share a companionable atmosphere without intruding on one another. As with any restaurant worth its salt, once the food began arriving these considerations faded into the background.
The a la carte menu, reinforced since last year by a list of specials from the grill, is built around classic British lines, but chef Erne did his training in the Philippines and some full Asian flavours come through in some of his work. This became apparent among the starters with the sweet chilli sizzling tiger prawns (£7.95) served with mixed sweet peppers, which went down a treat across the table. Not so exotic, my fig, Parma ham and rocket salad (£5.95) with sundried tomato, toasted pine nuts and vinaigrette dressing depended on the quality of the ingredients to make its point, which it did quite adequately. Other tempting choices on this section of the menu include Moroccan spiced chicken livers (£4.95) served with ciabatta and a salad garnish, or grilled sweet potato (£5.95) topped with red onion jam, Cheddar cheese and balsamic dressing.The restaurant named as it was, it was almost a foregone conclusion that for main course I should order the honey-roasted duck breast (£14.95), a favourite of mine anyway, in this case with mangetout, braised red cabbage and a soy and ginger dressing. The menu specified it was served pink, which was fine by me but is not to everybody’s taste. Perhaps mindful of this, my fellow critic was given the option of choosing the cooking style for her herb-crusted rack of lamb (£18.95), which the menu indicated would also normally be served pink. She asked instead for a medium roast and was impressed that it arrived exactly as requested, complete with the advertised accompaniments of fondant potato, braised Savoy cabbage and a red wine and rosemary jus. Her only criticism was that though it was indeed herby, the crust part seemed to be lacking. Other mains that caught our eye for a return visit included herb-crusted salmon supreme (£11.95) with crushed new potatoes, broccoli and a butter sauce, or Asian-style slow-cooked pork belly (£13.95) with creamy mashed potato, Savoy cabbage, carrots and a sweet soy and lime sauce.The dessert menu produced a rare treat, crêpes Suzette (£9.95), not often seen nowadays but prepared in the traditional way and with impressive skill in a flaming pan at table. My more prosaic but also favourite apple and blackberry crumble (£5.95) arrived without theatrics but, typically of the service we were experiencing, with custard as I had requested rather than the cream or vanilla ice cream specified on the menu.
With two unassuming but competent glasses of wine, a Tierra Antica sauvignon blanc (£6.70) from Chile’s Central Valley and a Carmen pinot noir reserva (£8.65), also from Chile, this was an enjoyable meal in pleasant and relaxing surroundings, uplifted by good but unfussy food and with the magic touch of excellent service. We look forward to summer and experiencing the waterside terrace.
BOOK A TABLE
The Whistling Duck
Lower Hatfield Road
Hertford SG13 8XX
The cost of this dinner for two was £87.56 for three courses, including two glasses of wine and service.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.