The Spotted Duck

April 18, 2017

My latest review for the Leicester Mercury – a fine dining opening for hard-core foodies. Will be interested to see what Leicestershire makes of it:

The Spotted Duck
61 Leicester Road
Mountsorrel
Leicester LE12 7AJ
0116 237 6571

It’s been a while since we’ve had a really ambitious, fine dining restaurant to review. The last was probably John’s House in Mountsorrel which of course has gone on to win Leicestershire’s first Michelin star. And it’s hard not to think that the runaway success of John Duffin (just try getting a weekend booking) has influenced the opening of The Spotted Duck just a few yards up the Leicester Road.

This handsome new restaurant is a vehicle for the talents of Johnny Prince, a Leicestershire-raised chef who has worked stages – short work placements in kitchens – at some of the nation’s top restaurants including Hambleton Hall and the three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey. Still in his early 20s, he has been making a name for himself locally as a private chef and teacher.

The Spotted Duck now offers him further career progression. He is undoubtedly aiming high – it takes some chutzpah to create a very slick, glossy website with your own name and declare your “boundless ambition” and an aim of becoming the world’s youngest chef to hold two Michelin stars.

If that makes you think the restaurant might be horridly flash, fret not. This is a not just a beautiful, calm and elegant restaurant but the food is unpretentious and driven by quality ingredients and seasonality. For example, three of our dishes last week featured local wild garlic at its absolute stunning best before the plants flower.

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But let’s get this straight from the beginning. If you’re looking for good hearty food and measure value by the number of roasties or the size of your naan, you may not be satisfied here. Maybe pick one of the many other splendid options we write about here every week. However if you’ve got the money ( three courses a la carte will be around £40 a head plus drinks) and are interested in seeing what a talented young chef does with fine ingredients then you will want to get along.

You’ll find a restaurant done out in smart greys, furniture with a rustic feel, nicely-chosen art work and a Bang and Olufsen sound bar giving out a smooth soundtrack. There are smartly dressed staff who float around being quietly effective. Chef Johnny seems to have effectively moved his pass out into the room and he is a very focused presence at the end of the bar area finishing plating and briefing staff.

We start with some very fine bread – lovely spongy white and rye sourdough with heavenly truffle and balsamic butter. This great start continued with an amuse of raw mackerel pieces with aerated pork skin and a charred cauliflower emulsion – a good combination of flavours and textures.

The dishes that followed all focussed on top quality ingredients given a chance to sing. My pigeon breast, cooked sous-vide I think, was extraordinarily rich and gamey and came with lightly charred onions, wild mushrooms, a punchy mushroom puree and some of those wonderfully fierce wild garlic leaves – a real forest medley. Then there was a single hand-dived scallop from the East Coast of Scotland, impeccably cooked, accompanied by a Granny Smith and celeriac purée and little crumbed cubes of “pig’s head” meat. These sweet and succulent little beauties were one of the highlights of the night.

My main course was poussin and lobster – the crustacean simply poached, the chicken simply roasted. The breast was wonderful, the leg possibly a bit overdone. There was a superb layered potato cake giving crunch and flavour, there was a fine, sweet carrot purée and a huge – too huge for the dish – barbecued onion that threatened to overhwhelm the other ingredients. Individually items were fine but for me they didn’t really all come together – I couldn’t really work out where it was all going.

More coherent was the loin of lamb with wild garlic. Firstly the loin itself was completely sublime – tender, pink and subtly infused with rosemary. The look it brought to my partner’s face was a joy to behold. Then it was matched with some crisp and fatty breast meat, a herby salad of pearl barley and quenelle of tapenade-style olives.

My desert was a white chocolate and cardamon mousse. This was sizeable, rich and delicious though picking holes I’d have been happy with a tad more spice and the mousse was very slightly grainy. The fresh mango and mango sorbet with it gave acidity which cut the richness of the mousse. My partner’s beef suet sticky toffee pudding had the richness of flavour you’d expect but a lightness you might not. The caramel sauce was superb.

The wine list is still relatively short at the moment but I suspect will build. We had a glass each of a house Pays d’Oc and Argentine Malbec – both were good enough to think it wasn’t really necessary to spend more.

The Spotted Duck was full enough on a Wednesday evening to suggest wording is spreading fast about the place. It’s not surprising – here’s a good-looking young chef with all the skills plus a rock’n’roll name and a flair for promotion. It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops.

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