Named "Gastropub of the Year" by the 2008 Fate awards, this restaurant certainly lives up to all expectations.
Situated in the quiet town of Holywood, the Dirty Duck is stunningly located, with massive windows on the second floor panoramic restaurant (the bar is downstairs) ensuring that everyone gets their share of the beautiful view over Belfast Lough. This also means that the restaurant is airy and bright, the combination of leather booth seating and tables creating a spacious, relaxing atmosphere. The decor is unobtrusive and contemporary, letting the view act as the masterpiece.
The staff are friendly, professional and unfazed by the chaos of having a full house of families with small children. This means that the atmosphere never feels strained or on the verge of pandemonium, as can happen in some very busy restaurants. And it is very family friendly. There are highchairs available and a separate kids menu that took its inspiration from the ideas of children in Holywood Primary School. A rather genius idea which means that the menu doesn't just consist of burgers and chips, but instead treats such as cod goujons with mushy peas, sausages with champ and tomato soup with cheesy garlic bread. Two courses cost £4.50, with dessert consisting of strawberry and vanilla ice cream.
Now that the kids are happy, you can turn your attention to the rather extensive and appealing main menu. The choice is impossible. The Dirty Duck is renowned for seafood, but also steak and the locally famous sticky ribs. With the owners perhaps anticipating indecision on the part of their diners, you are able to order many dishes such as the salads and chowders as either a starter or a main.
The seafood chowder comes highly recommended and for good reason – smooth, creamy sauce envelops full flavoured chunks of fish and prawns with seasonal vegetables. Also recommended are the sausage dishes as they use high quality local sausage – Marco's Mooha is a veritable feast that consists of two sausages absolutely bursting with flavour, creamy champ with gravy, buttered cabbage and, to top it all off a delicious cut of thick, salty bacon. This banquet on a plate costs just £8.25.
In addition to traditional pub food, there is a selection of rather more gourmet dishes. Poached salmon with new potatoes, asparagus and a lemongrass and basil veloute anyone? Or a rack of soft lamb that falls off the bone, with fresh, perfectly cooked greens and carrots, soft fondant potatoes and a rosemary jus that is a sensation for the taste buds. These kinds of dishes, under the "Main Courses" category on the menu, will set you back from £11.50 for the pork belly to £16.75 for a ten ounce rib-eye steak with all the trimmings.
The prices for the main courses are extremely reasonable considering that the ingredients are clearly of very high quality and the portions are huge by anyone's standards. However, where the expense comes in is in the desserts and starters, which cost between £5 and £6. £5 for a fairly ubiquitous selection of desserts – things like apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding and selection of ice creams - does seem quite expensive.
However, this is the only point on which the Dirty Duck loses a few points. In all other ways the owners have followed the recipe for "Perfect Gastropub" to the letter – from a varied and interesting menu that is simultaneously traditional and hearty to efficient, but not overbearing service, The Dirty Duck comes so close to offering the perfect dining experience.