Food review: Blending trend and tradition at The Ugly Duckling
There is nothing ugly at all about The Ugly Duckling, just outside Wellington. Painted an almost duck egg blue, it is as welcoming from the outside as it is inside.
I think I know where the idea for the name came from . . . The Ugly Duckling is a fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. And the story tells of a little bird born in a barnyard who suffers abuse from the others around him until, much to his delight, he matures into a beautiful swan, the most beautiful bird of all.
Perhaps that’s where the owners got the idea from when they took on what was once The Bucks Head pub, then renowned for real ale. It was refurbished some years ago and thoroughly modernised. But it didn’t lose all of its pub charm.
The main building dates back to 1810 and is now a charming blend of both contemporary and Georgian design.
It truly is a blend of new and old, of trend and tradition, of heritage and modernity. Exposed brick walls and sturdy fittings are brought to life by Edison lightbulbs, leather chairs and impressive interior design.
So, a Hans Christian Andreson fairy tale?
It is light, airy and spacious and is open plan but with distinct areas for dining and a small bar area for drinkers where dogs are welcome. There is also a large conservatory and when the weather is nice there’s a pleasant garden with plenty of tables and benches.
In the bar there is a large selection of lagers, real ales and wines from around the world along with the usual selection of spirits and soft drinks. You can just enjoy a drink and a snack from the grazing menu or go into the main dining area for the full works.
Good steaks are something that The Ugly Duckling does well and indeed its website says: “Steaks are our passion and we source the very best quality locally. We cook our steaks over our charcoal grill ensuring our meat is tender and juicy with all the flavours locked in.” They don’t mess about with good meat, as indeed they don’t with many of their dishes on offer.
Simple nibbles including olives, bread and hummus are offered are offered. And the main menus feature lovely staples such as Buttercross farm pork & leek sausages, mash potato, autumn vegetables & onion gravy and treacle glazed ham, egg and triple cooked chips. As well as slightly more exotically described plates.
There’s a special lunch menu from which you can take one course for £10, two courses for £13 and three courses for £16. Or you can take the main menu option.
Three of us went out for a catch-up lunch on a very busy Saturday afternoon and the service was almost spot-on – they forgot to bring the water and we had to remind them twice.
But that was all we could find fault with.
So to the food. Two of us chose off the lunch menu and one off the main. And so between us we shared out a platter of homemade breads, herb butter and olives, halloumi fries and a hummus starter with flatbread.
There was a nice selection of different breads with spot-on herb butter and juicy olives. The hummus was light and creamy and the halloumi fries went in a trice! Nice and crisp on the outside (no sign of grease) and melting on the inside.
Next my friend Cathy had the fish and chips, which she’d had on previous visits and could not resist again. The batter on the fish was perfect and inside the flesh was brilliant white – a very good sign of quality. The chips were also nice and crisp on the outside and fluffy inside while the homemade mushy peas with a hint of mint were the ideal accompaniment. A bargain at lunchtime with a starter for just £13.
Partner Clive opted for the main menu duck – duck breast with triple cauliflower; roast, pureed and crisp, blackberry jus and dill oil.
A veritable feast – he said the duck was tender and velvety and the combination of cauliflower with a variety of textures was delicious. Let’s say there was nothing left on his plate.
I had the sesame chicken which came with jasmine rice, red chilli and soy glazed pak choi rice. Several pieces of juicy chicken in a light sesame coating with the rice cooked just so. And it’s not always easy to cook rice well whichever recipe you use, as I know to my cost. Another excellent value main course on the lunchtime special.
Cathy and I were full to the brim but brave Clive headed into the desert menu and demolished a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream.
A hero to the last and a food coma avoided thanks to a double espresso.
Staff, apart from the water incident, couldn’t be faulted. From the meet and greet as we came through the door, to the food and drink service and the goodbye at the end. And that is such a pleasure because so often it is not the case.
I have been disappointed in the lack of meet and greet in several establishments over the past 12 months, and the meet and greet can often swing a mediocre meal into a better experience or vice versa.
And then there’s the lack of care from staff about whether customers are being served well and enjoying their experience. I know some customers can be truely horrendous when there is no need, but come on the majority of us aren’t that bad.
However that is not the case at The Ugly Duckling. The waiter did actually seem concerned that the water had been forgotten. We didn’t get a curled lip and a harsh, “oh all right!”
The place was buzzing with all sorts of people; families, friends, a group of walkers, celebration tables and us three enjoying that catch-up.
And we did enjoy our relaxing lunch. There was no rush to clear us out when we had finished our coffee, we were left to let our food digest a little and re-group!
What more could you ask for? But if you decide to take up my recommendation, book as it does get very busy.
We hadn’t but staff managed to squeeze us in.
This place is certainly a swan and no ugly duckling.