71 Giles St Kingston, ACT 2604
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 12 Noon–2:30pm, 5:30–10:30pm ; Sun 5:30–10:30pm|
|Features||Licensed, Wheelchair access, BYO, Accepts bookings, Private dining, Groups, Vegetarian friendly, Degustation, Gluten-free options, Events|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 6232 7997|
I remember when the Wild Duck sat seemingly alone here in the Kingston foreshore, a restaurant that looked then to be a lit-up place surrounded by darkness. But as the foreshore has come to life, with restaurants and bars aplenty, the Wild Duck has friends and neighbours, possibly even passing traffic. Those years in the nascent foreshore might have been good for this restaurant, making it work for its clientele, with the result that service is good and everyone is making a big effort to make things work for us.
The WIld Duck has a serious wine list, with a sensible choice of local wines and proper coverage of the country's main wine areas with a decent range by the glass. The New Zealand Kemeu Village chardonnay is round and soft, classic full-flavoured chardonnay in the New Zealand style and always good to drink.
Wild Duck is not quick-feed Asian; it's where you go for dinner out, with a cosy set up – in our case, a booth seat.
The menu is appealing and for some reason - unexplained given it essentially tastes of nothing much - we are always drawn to the tofu dish. Here, it's "Shao Lin" tofu puffs ($15.90), named after the monks. It's tofu three ways. The "puff" is a fried croquette with made of delicate ricotta-like whipped tofu and grated carrot. There's a "cinnamon caramelised tofu" which is fried and served cold, and tastes less of cinnamon than those more complex Chinese spices. And a simple square of silky tofu in soy, served in a little square dish that presents a kind of engineering challenge trying to get at the soy. This dish is not entirely cohesive nor sophisticated but it is perfectly enjoyable.
The Balmain bug dumplings ($17.90) are big, with bouncy bug meat inside a wonton-like wrapper. There's decent structure in these dumplings, which are reasonable, if again lacking sophistication. We're a bit disappointed in the pickled ginger which reminds us of the ginger from a pack.
We had expected the pork belly in lotus leaf ($31.90) to arrive wrapped in the lotus leaf, but it comes served on top – presumably cooked in lotus leaves then unwrapped for serving. We really like the sticky rice, darkly spiced, that's served under the belly, which itself is melty and likeable, served in four squares. It has been slow-cooked with three kinds of soy sauce, rock sugar and mixed spices, we're told.
The Massaman beef cheek curry ($31.90) is good, with heat and coconut, and squares of taro, which we love. It's dressed with fried onion, which we also like. It feels slightly odd eating a curry this wet from flat plate with a fork – you kind of chase it around the plate a bit, and it needs the roti bread that we order to soak it up.
We also order fried mantou bread ($3.50), which comes weirdly served in a steamer, despite being fried. This treatment loses the fluffiness you get from a steamer, which would perhaps be preferable.
The seasonal vegetables ($9.90) alongside are simple, crunchy and good – bok choy, lotus root, broccoli, baby corn, carrot, snowpeas and mushroom.
Black sticky rice with "coconut custard" ($15) is served with a soft meringue, segments of blood orange, fairy floss and baby mint. Always a sucker for rice puddings, I like the warm, simple sticky rice and smooth coconut cream, and the tart blood orange.
Creme brulee comes with ginger and lime sorbet. The brulee is flavoured by ginger, which I like, although served chilled which is common with creme brulee but never seems quite the point to me. The sorbet is fresh and slushy.
The desserts have been a good finish to tonight's meal, and we prolong the moment with Chinese tea. Strangely, since we both ordered tea, they bring two big separate pots, which seems a little silly but hey, I can drink drink a lot of tea.
We've had an enjoyable evening at the Wild Duck and leave feeling positive. It hasn't reached heights of sophistication and some of the dishes have felt a little misconceived, but there has been an effort in the food, an attention in the service and a relaxation in the set up which has felt laudable.
Pro Tip: BYO available; $17 a bottle.
Go-to Dish: Pork belly in lotus leaf, $31.90.