Restaurant Review: 'The duck is juicy, while the skin is squabble-over-worthy'
Duck, 15 Fade Street, Dublin 2 (01) 671 8484
The Asian woman sitting opposite me does her best but, in the end, she can't contain herself. I'm guessing that she's a regular, and that it's not the first time she's seen a newbie make an eejit of him- or herself with the chilli sauce that sits ever so innocently on every table in Duck - a 'Hong Kong-style deli' on Fade Street, in Dublin city centre - alongside its innocuous sweet chilli and plum counterparts.
"You need to be careful," she says, cracking up, but it's too late. The damage is already done. I'm coughing and spluttering, my eyes are streaming and my face is red. The chillies got me just at the back of my throat and I look like a fool.
My son is mortified, but his friend Caroline - one of the gals behind the popular @dublinachos Instagram account, a scholarly examination of the nacho culture of the capital - is kinder.
It could, she says, happen to anyone.
On a Friday lunchtime in the run-up to Christmas, Duck is heaving. There's a queue out the door and a wait of about 10 minutes to get served.
Nobody seems to mind. The (mostly male) cliente have the look of regulars about them, and we reckon that there may be some prudent planning involved in the selection of Duck as a good place to have lunch prior to a big night out: the portions are huge and look as if they will provide optimum soakage.
I'm at Duck to rectify a shocking omission from my CV.
Prior to today, I have never - whisper it - partaken of a spice bag. (I know, it's a terrible admission for an Irish food critic to have to make. But I feel better for having shared my shortcomings with you, dear reader.)
Anyway, a few days before my visit, up popped a posting by Kwanghi Chan about a new duck spice bag at Duck, using his patented ChanChan spice-bag mixes. For a limited time only, it said. Chan is a Hong Kong-born, Donegal- raised chef who worked for a number of years in the Michelin-starred kitchen at the Cliff House in Ardmore alongside Martijn Kajuiter.
Then he was in charge of the food at Söder + Ko (which was always more about the drink than the food and where the Scandi- Asian concept did not really take off, no fault of Chan's; it has since been replaced by Nolita) and more recently he has been developing a range of Hong Kong-style hot sauces for retail and wholesale. If you watch TV3's Six O'Clock Show, Chan will be a familiar face.
When we get to the counter, the duck spice bag is first on our list of dishes to order, and we add duck spring rolls, some barbecued duck and sticky barbecue pork (char siu) and a bowl of wonton dumpling soup.
For what is effectively a streetfood set-up with some rudimentary tables and chairs, and a few stools along one side, it's good to see that Duck sources its primary ingredient from Silver Hill in Co Monaghan, where the Steele family has been in the duck business for more than 50 years. They have evolved an initial flock of just six birds into their own exclusive Silver Hill breed, known for its quality, flavour and consistency.
The duck and the other roast meats on the menu are cooked in a traditional 'bullet' barbecue oven, where they hang upright while they cook - which apparently helps to maintain flavour, taste and texture - as heat spirals from the bottom to the top, circulating around the meat and helping to create a crisp, tasty skin.
Whatever about the science of the cooking methodology, the meat that results is pretty fine: the duck on the bone is juicy, while the skin is squabble-over-worthy.
The pork has good flavour too, but I don't spot any provenance information about that.
The spring rolls are good without being exceptional in the way that can sometimes happen when they are very hot and crisp and there's a synergy with great dipping sauce - but perhaps that's my fault in gauging that chilli sauce so badly.
My lunch guests tell me that the spice bag is excellent in comparison to others they have encountered, and it is definitely tasty - with deep-fried shards of duck, skinny chips, green and red peppers, scallions and chillies all tossed together in the ChanChan mix, which majors on Korean hot pepper. There are some sesame seeds in there too, and the whole is a seductive combination that's perhaps appreciated even more after a feed of pints.
The only real disappointment is the wonton noodle soup, made with wontons that are flabby and bland (the filling is indeterminate) and a broth that comes out of a branded drum of powder in the kitchen.
The regular menu at Duck is short, with a couple of specials each day. The location within a couple of minutes of Grafton Street makes it a handy and economical pit-stop for anyone in need of sustenance as they face into sales shopping.
I liked Duck for its honesty and lack of pretension, and can see why it's as popular as it is. Try it while that duck spice bag is still on the menu. The bill for lunch for three - lots of food - plus a couple of Diet Cokes and a jasmine tea came to €40.30.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
A small portion of roast meat with either boiled/fried rice, noodles or Asian vegetables costs €7.45. Add two duck spring rolls and a drink, and your bill will be €11.50.
ON A BLOW-OUT
If you shared a portion of aromatic duck pancakes and one of duck spring rolls, followed by half a crispy roast duck and a portion of char siu pork, with a side of vegetables and a bubble tea each, the bill for two would come to €49.70.
THE HIGH POINT
It's tasty, filling and cheap.
THE LOW POINT
Underestimating the chilli sauce.