TIME was when I ordered duck breast in a restaurant the waiter would lean over his notepad and say in hushed tones, to prepare me for the bloody spectacle to follow, “We serve our duck pink here, sir.” Ah, those were the Eighties when customers expected all meats to be incinerated.
Of course, chances were it would appear anything but pink, perhaps pinkish but very often grey.
There were two possible reasons. First was inept over-cooking. Secondly, when a duck breast is thinly sliced and fanned – the juices running out to add resonance and depth to your sauce – oxidation quickly sets in and pinkness fades.
Now I have not been having a lot of luck in the duck department while eating out lately and I’m wondering if there’s been a cheffy twist in fashion I have not yet caught up with.
On two recent meals chefs have treated duck like steak, serving it up as thick, bloody, chewy, inelegant tranches of meat. Perhaps they are worried it will go grey. Worse, each time the breast retained a sliver of gristle or cartilage from where it was attached to the breastbone. Inexpert butchering: I wonder whether they have the same supplier?
This last was at the otherwise excellent Silver Plate training restaurant at Sheffield College (I go back far enough to remember it as Granville) which is well worth that proverbial detour if you want a more than decent luch or dinner.
The £25-a-head Wine and Dine evening had rattled through splendidly: excellent canapes which included a dinky little falafel; smoked eel, perhaps not Capstan Full Strength but with just a whiff to balance against delights such as a soft-boiled quail’s egg and a first class cabernet reduction; then hot mackerel fillet strips partnered not with the more usual gooseberry (not yet in season) but rhubarb puree, which is. It delivered just enough tartness on the palate.
Our table of four chortled happily, praising the precision of level three students under the guidance of chef-lecturer Neil Taylor.
Then we had the duck.
It was described as: “Caramelised duck breast (with) glazed pear, truffled gnocchi, celeriac, duck parfait emulsion.” Which sounded lovely.
Sadly, my duck was nowhere near caramelised and the skin was flabby. It was lukewarm at best and a bit of a chew. Oddly, the taste was fine but that strip of ligament prevented me cutting it up properly and I gave up wrestling with it. In Man versus Duck there was only one winner and it wasn’t me. By contrast my wife’s duck was cooked to grey.
A pity, because the other elements were fine: the pear delicate, the gnocchi generously truffled, the foam tasted good (Heaven knows what a duck parfait emulsion is) while the jus was excellent.
But if the central element is off kilter it doesn’t work. A double pity, because the wine pairing in our wine flight (£10 a head), was a little stunner. Look out for Poderi Parpinello ‘San Constantino’ from Sardinia.
The duck apart, the kitchen’s handling of ingredients was impressive. Our dessert, Opera Gateau, a French sponge classic looking like a little like a Tecnhnicolor liquorice allsort came with roast pineapple (makes a change from grilled) with a malty ice cream.
But I don’t want this to be one big grouse: beside, I am going back later in the year, virus permitting.
I want to add a word of praise for the breads, particularly the focaccia and light-as-a-feather rolls.
Just as important in a training restaurant are the front of house staff. They were a delight. I like the way my serviette, accidentally dropped on the floor when I went to inspect the facilities (sparklingly clean by the way), was replaced on my table shaped like a cardinal’s hat.
And our server fielded our grumps over the duck well. It appeared we weren’t the only table. We were promised extra petit fours (petit eights?) but it didn’t appear we did, looking at other tables. But coffees were deleted from our bill.
If you want a different take on this meal check out Craig Harris’s review here as he was sitting at our table.
Not every meal out works 100 per cent but I do know one thing – next time I order duck I’ll get it in writing how the chef cooks it first!
*Because of the corona virus the Silver Plate has now closed until at least after Easter.**The restaurant lighting is a curious pink so my photographs came out in a bilious colour. These pictures of dishes have been taken from the restaurant’s Twitter feed.