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Mar 21, 2013 10:15 AM
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[Ambleside, Cumbria] Drunken Duck

Probably the best known (although not necessarily the “best”) of the dining pubs in the South Lakes.

There’s a good looking Modern Brit menu for dinner and a much more restricted one for lunch. Which was a shame as we were there for lunch. There were “knife and fork” dishes but, in truth, the sandwiches looked the best bets.

There was a roast pork barmcake. Good solid bread which held its shape. And excellent pork – presumably slow-roasted so that it fell apart, almost as American style “pulled pork”. There was sage and onion stuffing. And a little watercress garnish. And a really good apple sauce – a tad sweeter than I’d make at home but it worked well.

The other sandwich – the American “Reuben” – was on toasted rye bread. Stuffed in between, although not in American portion sizes were salt beef, Emmenthal, sauerkraut and gherkins. A goodly dollop of horseradish cream was served separately in a little bowl. It was ideal for dunking the chips.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the almost ubiquitous “fat chip”. Why can’t places serve chip sized chips? And these were the fattest fat chips I’ve come across. Absolutely enormous. But, what chips!. Perfectly crispy on the outside. Perfectly fluffy inside. Just properly cooked chips – with not a mention that they had been fashionably double or triple fried.

This was the sort of good lunch that reminds you that you want to have lunches much more often.

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  1. On our last trip to the area we stayed right down the road from the Drunken Duck but didn't eat there. So I was anxious to read your report. That Reuben might be cause for another road trip!

    I had very odd chips yesterday in Paris. The shape made me think they had been scooped out of the potato with some strange gadget. They were tasty but nothing as good as what we have here.

    6 Replies
    1. re: zuriga1

      Well, we had a most satisfactory long weekend at the Duck. Short version is, better to stay than to dine, though the latter is perfectly acceptable. Longer version...

      The setting is just glorious. It's high on an ancient(but quiet) crossroads above Ambleside and looks down the Langdale Valley. There are picnic tables that take full advantage of the view. And suicidal ducks wandering across the road, to hilarious effect. It's an old hostelry that has been Farrow and Balled, but still has character enough to withstand it. There are rooms in converted outbuildings round the back, in which we stayed. Very comfortable, great service and views, and a very pleasant residents' garden with its own little tarn for sitting by, and a snug lounge. Our daily breakfast was rather fine, though I did miss black pudding/kippers as options.

      We dined in a couple of times. I think the problem is they're stuck in a sort of no man's land between gastropub and faine daining. I kind of wished I could have just got a stellar ham/egg/chips. But instead the owner sent the chef off to Noma to see what great looks like, and he's come back with some rather odd ideas and a lack of attention to detail. A kipper scotch egg with homemade brown sauce was lush (see, gastropub is perfectly ok in this setting!), as was pigeon breast with beetroot and hazelnut. Grilled mackerel with cucumber, pickled shallot, sweet ciceley et al was a bit of a watery mess as the cucumber hadn't been salted/drained. I had a lentil dahl with sweet potato and coconut which showed a dab hand with spicing, but then another time the spiced cauliflower heart with dahl and onion pakora was a bit bland. Most disappointing of the bunch was stone bass with an advertised cockle, lemongrass and sea herbs broth. The fish was done well, but the broth was lemongrass-less, but full of unadvertised mussels, pakchoi, cucumber and samphire. Really weird combo. Like someone had raided the contents of the bottom drawer of the fridge. Oo, this is green, it'll do.

      If I were them, I'd commit, either to great gastropub fare, which would be FINE, and probably what the crowds want, or get in somebody amazing and go all Michelin. As it is, I just feel really sorry for the poor chef who's being asked to do something obviously out of his comfort zone.

      That said, will definitely be back, as it's an excellent base, and the pub's gorgeous, but food-wise will only partake of the breakfast/free (for residents) afternoon tea.

      1. re: helen b

        I've probably said this before......but, whilst the Duck is the one that gets the mentions, I reckon the foods better at the Punch Bowl, Crosthwaite and, possible at the Brown Horse, Winster. The former is more gastro, the latter "proper pub food".

        1. re: Harters

          It's odd, because I think they part-own the Punch Bowl. Hey ho. I think there's also some connection to Chester's in Skelwith Bridge which provided a fortifying tea and tiffin after a longish walk, in a very pretty setting indeed, with an hilariously London-targeted gift shop!

          I forgot to say, one of the bewildering things about the Duck is the brevity of the evening menu, in which half the options are veggie. Was actually rather tricky for us both to find something we wanted to eat. I don't imagine there's a strong correlation between veggies and their target audience. I guess it's another Noma-ism picked up. Veggie dishes are fine when your name is Redzepi and you can do amazing things with a single leek. But not here.

          The lunch menu, by contrast, looked much more pubby - soups and pies and the sarnies you mention above.

          1. re: helen b

            I believe the Punch Bowl folk own the Plough at Lupton, just on the eastern side of the M6, which is another decent scoff. More pubby than the others.

            1. re: Harters

              I think they used to own the Punch Bowl but it's now changed ownership. We ate at both the duck and bowl a few years back (six?) and where underwhelmed by the duck but loved the bowl. Can't recall the detail but I think the duck missed for similar reasons but the bowl was more pubby.

        2. re: helen b

          Don't you love the versitility of the English language? In this case the verb "To Farrow & Ball". Viz:

          "It [the Drunken Duck] has been Farrow and Balled" means the pub has been decorated in tasteful, muted colours.

          Whereas "I have been Farrow and Balled" means that I have been bled white by the expense of putting on the walls at the insistence of my wife, paint that appears to have been made from crushed caviar.

          Ho hum.