Ducks Restaurant at Kilspindie House Hotel
Review by: Nigel Duncan
Ducks at Kilspindie House has recently introduced a new head chef, Allesandro Grillo, and a new sous chef, Alan Contigiani, adding a new dimension.
The Italian-born duo both have experience in Michelin-starred kitchens and Allesandro looked to his roots when he created a new menu for the atmospheric restaurant.
Flavours from his native country are included in the menu which offers fine dining in an intimate, relaxed and unstuffy environment.
Ducks is delightfully different, possibly taking a cue from proprietor Malcolm Duck whose unique front-of-house style, coupled with a quirky sense of humour, makes this a memorable place to dine.
Feast your eyes on this note in the menu which said: “Here at Ducks we have a simple code when it comes to cuisine and hospitality, fresh, flavoursome, home-made food, a warm welcome and a relaxing, enjoyable stay. We source the finest quality East Lothian ingredients and produce everything in house. Chef Grillo is simply a joy to work with (so he tells me!).”
Could Ducks live up to the billing? The restaurant’s position in the picturesque, laid-back village of Aberlady, within minutes of some of the finest sandy beaches in Scotland, and in the shadow of world-famous golf links, including Murifield, home of the 2013 Open Championship, gives it a head start.
But Ducks is so much more than a comfy retreat. It is a restaurant with surprises and delectable twists to excite the taste buds.
So to the dining room. If I said the colour scheme was green – yes, bottle green in some areas – it may be off-putting to some.
However, think again. Offset with linen tablecloths, the candle-lit, 26-cover dining room with a flaming fire, plus golfing memorabilia and pictures, including water colours, of the surrounding area, was like taking a nostalgic walk back in time.
We went on a chilly, Tuesday evening, driving through fog on the 25-minute trip from Edinburgh. Not the best of starts, but we chilled out in the cocktail bar, brushing shoulders will locals, some in for a pint with their dog or on the way home from working in the city. We also noted the extensive range of whisky and that was simply explained.
Ducks have recently been welcomed by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society as a partner bar so guests have the opportunity to sample 16 distinctive single casks which are usually only available to Society members and their guests.
The intriguing á la carte menu at award-winning Ducks – recently awarded 2 AA rosettes for its culinary excellence - sources much of its produce locally.
Most restaurants do so, what makes Ducks different? There were five starters the night we visited. Pumpkin and ginger steamed winter vegetable soup, steak tartare with lime cure, pear and mustard seasoning, cod Mantecato with roasted potatoes, Cerignola olives and chives plus lemon sole three ways and chef’s salad.
Sole three ways was delightfully different and inventive, wrapped around Jerusalem artichoke and beetroot, butternut squash and thyme, salsify and basil and with a celery and orange sauce. The basil twist was particularly effective.
Pam and I were both intrigued by the salad. It included Alexander Grass, turnip, beetroot, fennel, pineapple, clementine, pomegranate and sea buckthorn sauce.
It took her down memory lane as she enjoyed the pomegranate when she was at school. I will not say how long ago that was. It packed a mouth-watering punch and the turnip, cut in thin strips, sat well and was lifted by the colourful mix. What’s more, the balance of the flavor was a delight and the clementine exploded in the mouth. This augured well.
Creativity is the name of the game for Allesandro. There were five main offerings, two meat, two fish and one vegetarian.
I was drawn to the duo of quail by the potential. Roasted, cider cooked apple, lightly fried, filo nest, tempura vegetables and sweet red vinegar sauce.
Pam picked carved sirloin of beef. The dish worked splendidly, the succulent meat complemented by the much under-valued kale, wild mushrooms and roasted Royal Kidney potatoes.
The vegetarian option was savoy and red cabbage parcels, Basmati rice, Gorgonzola cheese with a saffron sauce, or cannelloni of sea fish with chickpea and rosemary sauce with seaweed or fillet of halibut with roasted tomatoes, black olives and seasonal vegetables.
Malcolm believes in Allessandro and it is easy to see why. Take the desserts. Traditional apple strudel with vanilla ice cream, sacher torte with mint sauce, white chocolate cheesecake with raspberry jelly, parfait of hazelnut, pistachio and walnut with honey sauce, Granny Smith bavarese with cider jelly and chocolate or rhubarb crème brulee.
There was also a selection of cheeses including Scottish - Isle of Mull cheddar, Dunsyre blue and Lanark white – were available.
Yes, it’s tough being a food critic, we were spoilt for choice.
Pam couldn’t resist the temptation of the crème brulee and my lactose intolerance directed me towards the apple strudel. This one had a twist, thin slivers of apple were smothered in a delicious Jamaican pepper and caramel sauce.
Coffee came with handmade petits fours. My allergy meant chef created a pineapple alternative which was interesting.
Neighbouring Donald’s – named after Malcolm’s father - serves bar/bistro style food along with real ale, 50 to 60 malts and diners also have access to the extensive wine list which includes bottles with a price tag into four figures.
Alternatives in Donald’s range from a cup of soup and a sandwich to a 40-day matured fillet steak from well-known Buccleuch Estates and it is designed for relaxed meal after, possibly, a walk along the beach. The area is also popular with birdwatchers.
Both restaurants are within Kilspindie House which has 26 bedrooms all en suite with free wi-fi and flat screen TVs. Longniddry Station – which is on the main East Coast rail line from London to Edinburgh - is only 18 mins by train from the centre of Edinburgh with a free bus pick up so there is every reason to touchdown at Ducks.
Ducks Restaurant at Kilspindie House Hotel
Main Street, Aberlady, East Lothian, EH32 0RE
+44 (0)1875 870 682