Food Review: The Duck Inn
PUBLISHED: 09:33 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:33 02 August 2016
Â© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2016
From the paintings that grace the walls, to a menu that celebrates local land and sea, discover a north-west Norfolk masterpiece
It is a good sign - though a touch frustrating - when a restaurant is fully booked, on a lunchtime of no particular consequence on the calendar. But with a few days to go to our visit, the team at The Duck Inn juggles the tables and manages to fit us in to a second lunch sitting. Could this eaterie in a pretty little village of just a couple of hundred people in north-west Norfolk really be so popular? We set off to discover why.
Stanhoe was never a large community, but in recent years, like so many Norfolk villages, it has gradually lost many of its amenities, school, shops and Post Office However its remaining pub, once The Crown, was given a major refurbishment in 2009 and reopened as The Duck Inn. Four years later it was bought by Ben and Sarah Handley. The couple had met when Sarah was a teenage waitress at The Lifeboat at Thornham, which was run by Ben’s parents.
Ben built himself a good reputation around north Norfolk as a chef, and in the years that have followed their move to Stanhoe, he has built on that as the chef patron and leader of the very competent and creative team at The Duck, which has twice been a finalist in the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards. An important part of the Best Restaurant category in the awards is the ambience and welcome at location - The Duck certainly has got this right.
We are greeted with a smile and offered a drink and the menu at a table in the bar area, while we wait for our table to become free. It gives us the chance to settle into the surroundings - scrubbed wooden tables with pot plants and crisp white napkins, sunlight streaming into a collection of bright, relaxed dining rooms that are busy with couples and family groups, plus larger parties of women celebrating together. And on every wall there is art - whoever chooses the paintings for The Duck has a good eye for the county’s land and seascapes - which helps set the tone of this very Norfolk restaurant.
A look through the menu underlines that the team at The Duck understands the produce of this blessed corner of the country . . . seafood from Simon Letzer of Brancaster Staithe, meats from Arthur Howell of Wells, micro veg and edible leaves from Nurtured in Norfolk, near Dereham, mushrooms from Clive Houlder at North Creake. This is fresh, local and seasonal at its best - and the menu changes frequently to make best use of all three aspects.
We moved to our table to enjoy our starters of mackerel with pickled veg, and a ham hock terrine. Both were good sized portions (the couple next to us opted for just starters and dessert, and seemed to have a filling meal from the two courses). The mackerel was delicious - light, not overpowering and matched well with the vinegary pickles; while the pressed ham was succulent and moreish.
I had opted for halibut for mains, while my daughter went for the pan-roast sirloin of aged Norfolk beef, which came piled high with onions and a selection of rich, earthy mushrooms, plus a pot of skinny fries - a hearty but ever so delicious meal. The mushrooms were a delight in themselves but the steak was perfectly cooked and scored highly for its deep flavour. My seared halibut was beautifully moist and tasted so fresh, a real treat.
How ever would we find room to sample the dessert menu? With options like lemon posset and sticky toffee apple pudding on the list though, we were soon convinced to try. I am so pleased we did - my banana cream profiteroles were melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous, worth the trip on their own. My daughter went for the complete indulgence of the 70pc chocolate brownie, black pepper honeycomb, vanilla fudge and crème frâiche - how many sweet sensations fitted into one dish!
We’d driven from one side of the county to the other to visit The Duck - so was it worth it? Most definitely, and we will be retracing our steps again soon for more of Ben and his team’s delicious culinary artistry.
The Duck Inn, Burnham Road, Stanhoe, near King’s Lynn, PE31 8QD; 01485 518330; www.duckinn.co.uk
Expect to pay
Lunch: Mains from £9
Starters from £5
Mains from £9
Desserts from £6