Eamon Barrett enjoys some nice cooking in Wexford’s The Duck Terrace, but wonders why everything takes so long to arrive.
Marlfield House in Gorey, County Wexford, could hardly be called a fledgling success – Mary Bowe has been welcoming the great and the good through those ornate gates for over thirty-five years now. Yet, in all that time, I’ve never visited Gorey’s most illustrious hotel - it always seemed too exclusive, too expensive, too posh. So, the addition of a new, more casual dining venue called The Duck Terrace, which opened in June 2015, offered an opportunity to finally pay a visit.
Located to the rear of the main house, The Duck Terrace has been created from some outbuildings and a potting shed and it’s obvious that no small amount of money has gone into converting these old buildings into a truly lovely dining room. It’s a long space with an open fire at one end and a conservatory at the other, a great high ceiling, some lovely old brickwork and doors painted that shade of elegant pale green that paint shops reserve for people who live in grand old houses. There’s an outdoor dining area also, paved with buttery sandstone and furnished with expensive looking wicker tables and chairs - all overlooking an impeccable vegetable and herb garden that also abounds with flourishing roses. Just over the primly clipped hedge, the swooping curves of the conservatory attached to the main house are visible. It all makes for a very pleasant place to be.
Settling into the plush surroundings we order a couple a cocktails and a bottle of prosecco while we peruse the menu, which is divided into duck themed sections. The menu reads well, hitting all the right buttons for the kind of food you want places as comfortable as this to serve. Under the heading ‘Beaky Bites’ there’s a selection of sharing boards – seafood; antipasti; or garden produce-based. From ‘Peckish Duck’ – starters to the rest of us – we choose a salad of warm black pudding with beetroot, Parma ham, whiskey dressing and baked baby apple, and bruschetta of vine tomato with garlic, thyme, mozzarella and basil pesto with tapenade.
Both starters are good, though I don’t get so much as a hint of whiskey in the salad dressing, but there’s no denying it’s pleasing food. It’s at this early stage that the first of the The Duck’s feathers become a little ruffled, as we’re midway through eating our starters, and the prosecco has already been poured, before the long ago ordered cocktails arrive. They’re very good but we feel rushed into drinking them as the table is now rather cluttered with glassware and the clumsy delivery of aperitifs halfway through starters is telling – a good restaurant manager would spot this kind of thing.
For mains, which take an age to arrive, I can’t resist the confit barbary duck leg with a warm salad of potato, spinach, orange, pine nuts, pomegranate and sesame oil. Again, this is pleasing food – the orange pieces being sufficiently piquant to cut nicely through the rich duck meat. Our other main course was the dud of the visit – Vietnamese salmon salad with toasted cashew nuts, sesame, carrot, coriander, ginger and Chinese cabbage that was utterly underwhelming and devoid of any Oriental kick at all. What’s worse it was €23.00, which is at the upper end of pricing for a Sunday lunch main course of any quality, never mind one as poor as this. On a subsequent visit (of which, more anon) this dish had disappeared from the menu, so perhaps ours wasn’t the only poor opinion of it.
From a selection of desserts (‘The Fat Duck’), we choose a frangipane tart and a rice pudding with summer fruits. There’s another long delay, and our empty cocktail glasses from earlier are still on the table. There seems to be a lack of sufficient staff to cope with a full restaurant, and there doesn’t appear to be anybody in charge. When desserts do arrive the rice pudding is the star, rich and creamy and dotted with vanilla seeds, a lovely compote of berries being the perfect accompaniment. The frangipane though, lacks that definite almond flavour and ends up being more like a poor bakewell. Coffees take another age to arrive and it’s a pity that poor service has repeatedly brought an air of anxiety to our table. As we leave we both comment that it would probably be a lovely place to go midweek when it wouldn’t be quite so busy.
So, two weeks later, I go back, this time with mother in tow, after we’ve taken a midweek walk around Courtown Woods. It’s a lot quieter and this time Laura Bowe is managing the room while the Matriarch of Marlfield, Mary Bowe is entertaining some friends at a nearby table. We order a soup and a chowder and some extra sourdough bread as we’re not intending to have a main course. It takes almost twenty minutes for the soups to arrive, and they come without the additional bread. Mother’s coconut and butternut squash soup is delicious and the small amount of bread that comes with it is very good. The chowder is eighty per cent salmon with a tiny amount of white fish but there is a good depth of flavour so the stock must have been good – it would have been nice to see some shellfish present in the bowl though. Halfway through we mention the missing bread, which is then brought with an apology and we are not charged for it. We share a single dessert of the rice pudding, which is every bit as nice as previously but – again – it takes an age to arrive and, let’s face it, like the soup and the chowder, it’s not like it can be made to order. We order two coffees but after another fifteen minute wait with nothing arriving, we’ve had enough and ask for the bill. We’ve had two bowls of soup and a single shared dessert and it’s taken well over an hour. When I go to pay the two coffees are sitting there on the counter, cold. Somebody had gone to the trouble of making them but just hadn’t bothered to bring them to the table.
I’m all for constructive feedback so I ask to speak to a manager to relay my experience of poor service over two visits to this lovely space but, despite waiting around, no contact can be made with anyone in charge. It’s such a pity when somewhere as lovely as the Duck Terrace is created, but the care doesn’t extend to managing it professionally. The young staff cannot be blamed for the lack of training and leadership – that responsibility rests with the owners.
The Duck Terrace