[Stanhoe, Norfolk] Duck Inn

There’s something of a fine line between places that are dining pubs and places that are restaurants in buildings that used to be pubs. The Duck Inn just about manages to stay in the former category, retaining a small bar area for drinking. But let’s be honest, most of the space is given over to diners and no-one is coming here for a swift half of mild and a game of darts.

There’s a short menu of Modern British food that’s clearly seasonal and, often, local, supplemented by a handful of specials. This really is food you want to scoff and it’s not easy to make a choice from the menu. Soup of the day was courgette, pea and mint – bang on for early June and perfectly seasoned. It comes with two big chunks of bread – white and wholemeal – that makes it a substantial offering. Cod cheeks formed the basis of the other starter, cooked in a creamy broth, along with leeks and slices of chorizo. It was delicious and could only have been improved by the use of a spicier chorizo.

From the specials menu, a generous serving of ox liver, quickly cooked so still pink and very soft. This is classic cooking with shreds of pancetta, chunks of onion, mashed potato (enhanced with a little smoke flavour), Hispi cabbage, still just crisp and gravy. A cheffed up version of liver and onions if you like. I loved it – it’s just a really good plate of food.

Like many restaurants we ate in during our week in North Norfolk, the Duck’s menu majors on seafood and nothing more so that a fillet of hake, enhanced with local Brancaster cockles and brown shrimps. There’s potato beignets, light as you like, and the Hispi cabbage. So simple but it works so well.

We often pass on dessert, feeling they are rarely worth the calories. But, when we’ve eaten two courses as good as these, you just have to give it a try. Their own version of Eton Mess was lovely – a mix of cream, meringue and mixed berries. Great in itself but the little drizzle of lemon curd round the edge of the plate just lifted it. Across the table, there was a chocolate brownie – rich but not overly sweet. Shards of honeycomb provided a welcome contrasting crunch. And a vanilla ice cream, also not overly sweet, brought it together.

It’s a comparative rarity that we both enjoy three courses without nit-picking at something that hasnt quite been right, but this was a pretty much faultless meal, with friendly and attentive service. They deserve the accolades they’re attracting and their success means they are shortly to open another pub somewhere nearby. We wish them well.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold