Photo: Fiona Morris
At 6 o'clock on a chilly evening in Berry's main street, a bottleneck has formed at the Hungry Duck's wooden door. The footpath, previously deserted, is suddenly brimming with people.
Inside the restaurant, staff are welcoming patrons, each with expressions not dissimilar to those of shoppers beating crowds into Boxing Day sales. This is clearly a culinary hot spot.
The Hungry Duck, formerly Twenty Three at Berry, was opened in 2008 by David Campbell and his wife, Nicole. Campbell, who owned the Book Kitchen in Surry Hills, trained under Neil Perry and has worked in the kitchens of Tetsuya Wakuda and Kylie Kwong.
His passion for organic and local produce led him to Berry, where he and his family live on a farm.
Their restaurant, in a former timber shop, uses organic produce and most is sourced locally. Cosy and elegant, it is decorated in off-white and black tones with wooden floors, Asian-inspired artwork and a long, padded banquette hugging the left wall. Cutlery is chopsticks and, as each dish is designed to be shared, we each have a small bowl and plate.
Inside seats 45 and outside are communal tables to fit 24 in a protected and heated area.
Service is swift and thoughtful. Our well-informed waitress is brusque but other staff are warm and chatty.
We select the five-course banquet at $45 a person. It seems an excellent way to meander through a wide-ranging modern Asian menu divided into seafood, poultry, vegetable and Schottlander pasture-fed wagyu beef from Gerringong.
We also add the duck three ways, a dish that seems to sum up Campbell's passion for duck, with its spring rolls, rare caramelised breast and crispy Sichuan peppered leg.
First up is yellowfin tuna sashimi with fresh Tasmanian wasabi. The raw fish's melty excellence, along with the wasabi's zing, renders us silent in appreciation.
Next comes tender steamed kingfish pieces paired with a vinegared chilli broth and lemongrass, followed by the duck three ways. The golden spring rolls are plump and juicy without being oily. The slices of breast are pink with a perfectly crunchy edge and the peppered leg, which falls away from the bone, is spot on.
A braised wagyu beef dish arrives and the waitress explains it has replaced the banquet's red curry of duck. We're happily ducked out, so the fragrant and tender brisket, flavoured with pickled blood plum, star anise and cinnamon, is a bonus.
The six or so staff members toil like the clappers. Every table is full and the noise levels rise. Campbell works the floor too, delivering the banquet's tempura zucchini flowers with aged soy and citrus.
This is judged the dish of the night - exquisite little bulging sculptures inside delicate coats of airy batter. Our final dish, a kaffir and Tahitian lime tart, balances citrus and sweet in dapper fashion.
We're sated but not stuffed and, before the two-hour trip home, take an amble through the Hungry Duck's large and lush vegetable garden in the backyard. Between the rows of rhubarb, spinach, kale, cresses and Asian greens, we realise the Hungry Duck's uniqueness - it's a restaurant with big-city qualities that works best in a small country town.
Good. Share plates $8-$34, dessert $12, five-course banquet $45 a person, nine courses $75.
Duck three ways - duck spring rolls, rare caramelised breast and a crispy Sichuan peppered leg.
- 02 4464 2323
- Cuisine - Asian
- Prices - About $120 for two plus drinks and service, About $120 for two plus drinks and service
- Opening Hours - Weds to Mon from 6pm