HOW come you’re so busy today?” I ask the waiter, when we arrive at this place to take up our 2:15pm reservation, the only free slot on a Sunday lunchtime. “Just because the food’s so good,” he shrugs.
Donald’s, Duck’s at Kilspindie House, Aberlady
Lunch for two, excluding drinks,
And, just like that, the bar was raised. Even more so since this hotel has recently taken on a new head chef – Paulo Nicolas Airaudo, formerly sous at the Michelin-starred Danesfield House in Marlow.
This place has combined its foodie operations – the smart Duck’s restaurant and Donald’s bistro, under the banner of the latter – to offer a fine-dining menu, as well as pub-grub classics. Most diners were eating from the more casual list, with plates piled up by good-looking battered fish, burgers and steak.
I was so hungry, my stomach was making noises like a backfiring sea lion. So, how we laughed when my starter – foie gras and smoked eel – arrived. It was, officially, the smallest portion I’ve ever been served (either that or the table was very far away). There were five incisor-sized chips of eel, dripped with foie gras and dotted by pale green apple purée. Indeed, it looked and tasted beautiful, but if you mushed everything that was on the plate into a single bolus, it’d be the size of a pandrop. And it was £12.50. Twelve Pounds Fifty.
Unless the chef is the size of a Sylvanian Family character, this felt like a statement – nay, a challenge.
Our scallop dish (£8.65) was more substantial, with two small fishy gobbets, a smear of cauliflower purée and tiny pickled florets of this veg. But it’s a bit like when a car goes past at 200mph. Was it a Ferrari? Maybe, but it was all over too quickly to tell.
We’d been pre-warned that mains needed side dishes to bulk them out.
My main featured a matchbox-sized piece of sous-vided lamb fillet (£19.50). It came with artfully placed cubes and julienned strips of carrot, a smudge of smoky aubergine paste and some nano bonsai of broccoli. Like Tom Cruise, it was beautiful in every way, apart from in its diminutiveness. Thank heaven for two giant bowlfuls of burnished, plank-sized chips (£3 each).
The theme continued with the monkfish loin (£16.25). What tiny loins monkfish have. Still, it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean. It did taste beautiful, along with a delicately spiced and russet-coloured chickpea paste, which was punctuated by crisp commas of pancetta.
It’s just a shame that the fish was totally raw, transparent and gelatinous inside. We complained, and the tetchy waitress “double checked” with the chef. He did a post mortem to confirm that, indeed, the patient wasn’t yet dead, and they took it off the bill. Our cutlery was slammed down henceforth.
I had a crème caramel of normal dimensions for pudding (£6.70). It was silky and vanilla speckled, with loads of syrupy jus and a strut of what tasted like a compacted ladyfinger biscuit on the top. Across the table a large coaster of raspberry and bramble cheesecake (£6.70) was a sophisticated baked version of this gateaux – almost savoury, with an egg-cup’s worth of blood-coloured and tart berry jus on the top.
Nice puddings. But Airaudo is a strange fit for Duck’s. It jarred to pay £12.50 for a nouvelle cuisine-sized dish at this place, with Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town circling on the stereo and rugby on the big screen in the adjoining lounge. It’s not like their overheads include white linen, silver service and a household name in the kitchen.
Next time, like the others filling this restaurant, I shall order fish and chips, or take a microscope.
As an addendum: at the time of going to press, Donald’s at Duck’s is planning a new chef/direction. Watch this space.
FOOD 7/10, AMBIENCE 6/10; TOTAL 13/20
• Donald’s, Duck’s at Kilspindie House, Main Street, Aberlady; 01875 870682, www.ducks.co.uk