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Food review: The Duck at Campsea Ashe, Suffolk

Delicious food at The Duck, Campsea Ashe. Photo: @lilykadera on Instagram lilykadera.com
Delicious food at The Duck, Campsea Ashe. Photo: @lilykadera on Instagram lilykadera.com

What should a pub be? Good food and drink certainly, but a great atmosphere and a place to enjoy with your nearest and dearest are just as important. The Duck at Campsea Ashe has it all.

'We are a pub. A pub with excellent food, but a pub. Which means that, of course, you can just have a drink at the bar.' This was Ed Leigh’s parting shot to me as we finished our conversation at the round table (my favourite) in the bay window of The Duck at Campsea Ashe.

'Or just have a drink at a table, inside or out.' The juggling act that goes on behind the scenes to make sure everyone feels welcome at The Duck, whatever their reason for visiting, belies the relaxed atmosphere that pervades this stylish, comfortable establishment. And there is certainly atmosphere; this place is fun!

Great British Life: The warm, comfortable interior of The Duck, Campsea Ashe. Photo: @lilykadera on Instagram lilykadera.comThe warm, comfortable interior of The Duck, Campsea Ashe. Photo: @lilykadera on Instagram lilykadera.com

My opening paragraph has already touched on too many aspects that need way more detailed analysis, but that is part of The Duck's dilemma. Although not large, there's a lot to it and each part is done really rather well. Let me explain.

The fabulous mirrored bar with its gorgeous copper front has a sparkly feel reminiscent of a stylish cocktail bar. This sets the tone. The décor is laid back, shabby chic glamour, with comfortable furnishings, more mirrors and art deco lighting which, although bright enough, has a soft, warm glow to it. Somehow The Duck feels both elegant and comfortable; not an easy combination to achieve.

Our drinks and meal were served to us by the wonderful, engaging Sarah who could not have looked after us more beautifully. She was a font of all knowledge in terms of both the food and drinks menu, and was more than happy to discuss options as we all found it difficult to choose. But as Ed said, when you have a head chef like Jake, as well as his assistant Sam, who together create fantastic dishes that are frequently reviewed, it means people want more than one thing on the menu, and that is good.

Great British Life: Delicious food at The Duck, Campsea Ashe. Photo: @lilykadera on Instagram lilykadera.comDelicious food at The Duck, Campsea Ashe. Photo: @lilykadera on Instagram lilykadera.com

I certainly could have chosen more than one, but eventually settled on bang bang cauliflower with pickles, spring onion and sriracha mayo to start. It was absolutely delicious. After a full day of mental as well as physical exercise, I was ready for an excellent meal and this was clearly the right place to give me back my strength.

I also stole (from my dining friend) a taste of the heirloom tomato panzanella with buffalo mozzarella, which was also a treat. It was even harder to choose my main meal. Should I have spatchcock poussin with harissa new potatoes, tenderstem broccoli and chimichurri, or whole roasted plaice, gnocchi, samphire – which has a special place in my heart due to childhood beach holidays in North Norfolk – with shallot and chorizo dressing, or beetroot risotto, goat cheese, candied walnuts and rocket? And these were not the only feasts that took my fancy.

Food is so special for so many reasons. At its most basic level we obviously need it to live, but at a higher level it comforts, brings back memories, and bonds us as we share time eating and talking. The Duck provides an opportunity to give time to those we are with; time we can focus on each other whilst wrapped in aged, knowing walls that encourage laughter and heartfelt conversation.

This was particularly true for my husband and me; on this occasion as we were catching up with friends we hadn't seen for many years. It speaks volumes to me that we could all relax and roll back the years in a public space that also felt private enough to share our own jokes as well as more serious points of discussion.

However many times I am told that few interesting lives are lived on one easy trajectory, it is always good to talk with someone who proves the point yet again. Ed Leigh, manager of The Duck, has walked a convoluted pathway to its door. His background is a combination of many things, none of them food or drinks industry related, until the summer of 2021 when he managed a pop up restaurant in Aldeburgh.

Like many people who have good stories to tell, his career is diverse, from publishing to horse racing, property to telecoms, with a dabble in the cheese business along the way. As he says, it means he can talk about many areas of life (he has a huge passion for history) and when your work is essentially about social relationships, this is a handy talent to have. Add to this the ‘fun’ factor, an attribute with which Ed is also blessed. He wants everyone – staff and customers – to be having fun because that's what 'creates great atmosphere', and he is entirely correct.

Somehow The Duck is meeting the needs of locals as a pub to pop into for a bevvy or two, as well as a destination for an evening of excellent dining. Have I mentioned the convenience of the train station across the road? Utterly brilliant.

There is also scope to book an entire room for a celebratory meal or a private drinks party. It's this flexible, friendly, accommodating approach combined with consistently high standards of food and drink that is perhaps the hallmark of the growing, high reputation of The Duck at Campsea Ashe.

theduckcampseaashe.co.uk

From the menu (indicative)

Starters

Cucumber & grape gazpacho, toasted almond, sourdough £8

Smoked mackerel rillette, horseradish, pickled cucumber, salad, crostini £8

Beef tataki, crispy garlic, spring onion, ponzu dressing £8.5

Main

Roasted summer squash risotto, parmesan, rocket, pine nut £15

Vegetable yaki udon noodle stir fry, coriander, spring onion £15

Whole roasted lemon sole, gnocchi, samphire, cockle beurre blanc £17.5

Dingley Dell pork belly, braised cannellini beans, fennel, salsa verde £17

Chicken supreme, peas a la franciase, new potatoes £17

Minute steak, green peppercorn butter, roasted tomato, fries, slaw, salad £18

Puddings

Raspberry Bakewell tart, vanilla ice cream £8

Pistachio & olive oil cake, strawberries, clotted cream £8.5

White chocolate semifreddo, Disaronno poached cherries, chocolate crumb £8.5



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