Restaurant Review: The Wild Duck, Ewen in Gloucestershire
What makes a pub a pub, one might ask? Is it the dark wood panelling, roaring open fires, and flowing banter as the bartender pulls pints of cloudy ale for the local lads? The faded memorabilia – old muskets, sepia photos and token taxidermy – pinned to the walls? Or the snacks, perhaps: the salted nuts, pork scratchings and obligatory pickled onions?
It’s hard to pin down the subtle charm of the British boozer and there are countless factors at play when considering what makes a really good pub. However, without question, you know immediately when you’ve stepped inside of one.
As we skid through the gorgeous Gloucestershire village of Ewen and into the icy car park of The Wild Duck one foggy Sunday afternoon, it’s clear this particular pub is no half-pint affair: A beautiful old Cotswold stone structure, surrounded by foliage that threatens to engulf it. Half a dozen tweed-clad country folk tumble merrily out of the hobbit-sized front door as we approach.
A warm glow from the burgundy walls and the babbling of happy revellers greet us inside (wood panelling, check; open fires, check). We head straight to the bar and order two pints of Elmers. It’s an excellent pale bitter from The Flying Monk Brewery, and is enthusiastically recommended by a bunch of ‘Ciren’ lads (from the Royal Agricultural University in nearby Cirencester) who’ve also settled at the bar. Other terrific local offerings on tap include Hooky, a subtle golden bitter, and Dunkerton’s Cider. Those of lager persuasion will also enjoy a refreshing pint of Flensburger.
After another drink and a spot of eavesdropping, we wander through to our table. The intimate dining room is all low, sloping ceilings and rickety beams; wonderfully characterful without verging on twee. The menu is a mouth-watering mix of hearty and chefy creations, and diners here are utterly spoilt for choice.
After quizzing our lovely waitress, Amy, I go for the sumptuous Wild Duck rarebit to start. It comes laden with wild mushrooms, lashings of truffle and a prize duck egg with luscious yolk dribbling all over the toast. My brother Hector, who is something of an expert when it comes to pub grub, veers off-piste and orders half a pint of juicy shell-on North Atlantic prawns, which come in a tankard with a big dollop of mayo. He’s not disappointed.
The mains are no less tantalising: Pan-fried calves liver with mashed potato and streaky bacon; whole roasted partridge with cavolo nero and soft polenta; and local venison haunch with salt baked celeriac haunch and kale. Following much deliberation, I opt for a crisp and delightful duck salad with cucumber, bean sprouts and red chilli to offset my gluttonous starter, while Hector chooses chicken Milanese, oozing with garlic butter, sprinkled with parmesan and served with locally-grown purple sprouting broccoli. Our bellies already full, we gallantly embark on pudding, where a flakey, perfectly executed apple tarte tatin with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream stole the show.
In our quest for a ‘really good pub’, we have succeeded. The Wild Duck distinguishes itself from the pack with restaurant-level sophistication while retaining a wonderfully laidback country pub ambience. The food is delectable, the drinks still vaguely affordable, and it’s a haven of low-key merriment that should be applauded.
Address: Drakes Island, Cirencester GL7 6BY / 01285 770310