Ellie Dyer and photographer Rudi Towiro see whether a revamp at The Duck has made it fly.

Earlier this year The Duck had a makeover. The restaurant’s interior was warmed up with hanging lanterns and wooden latticework, and a consulting chef was brought in from Australia to spice up the menu with Southeast Asian flavours.

Six months on from the launch of the “New Duck”, the time seemed ripe to examine whether the transformation has met the bill. Having visited the restaurant a couple of times before, the changes to the interior are a big improvement. The atmosphere is more welcoming with expanses of polished dark wood lifted by colourful art works and a gentle hum of conversation creating a bistro atmosphere, even on a relatively quiet Tuesday lunchtime.

The friendly and attentive staff quickly presented us with a paper menu featuring classic Western dishes, with hints of Asia dotted throughout. Gin-cured salmon ($5), for instance, was matched with lime wasabi mayonnaise and a marinated ginger watercress salad, while a duck leg confit ($8.50) was offered with Vietnamese nuoc cham dressing.

To start, we opted for the burnt butter sautéed pepper mushrooms with truffle oil ($4.50) and the crisp skin grilled pork belly confit ($4.75). The mushrooms proved one of the best dishes of the day, containing at least two types of fungi decorated with cress and doused in a buttery sauce. The woody mushrooms had a delightfully peppery after-taste, complemented by the tangy cress, and the large portion size provided great value for money and would have easily served two.

The pork belly confit was also generously sized, with two large rectangles of rich meat resting on a bed of cauliflower purée. The flavour was great, with the delicate pork and fat layers having a melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Our first main dish was hand-made potato gnocchi with slow-braised Australian beef cheek ragout ($7.50). The ragout was a stand-out element, with hunks of tender meat falling apart on the fork. The tomato and carrot-laden sauce created winter warmer comfort food, but the accompanying potato gnocchi, though admittedly a tricky thing to perfect, seemed a tad under-seasoned and a bit too firm. Although, its plainness did serve to highlight the excellent accompanying sauce.

Given the restaurant’s namesake, we couldn’t leave without sampling some duck: this time a seared breast with pumpkin mash, roast shallots and cranberry veal jus ($14.50). The meat, cooked to medium, was delicious and tender, and I also enjoyed the bed of spinach and sweet onions. However, the pumpkin flavour in the mash was drowned out by what I thought was butter and proved overwhelmingly sweet, which put the dish’s balance out of kilter.

Overall, the kitchen produces some excellent flavours and the setting is fabulous. The menu is also good value considering the large portion sizes and the relaxing, stylish surrounds.

49 Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh
Tel: 089 823 704.
Open daily from 8am to 3pm and 5.30pm to 10pm