“ Cusisine: Modern European / Location: Coach House, Swan Road, Lydney GL15 5RU „
Last year, whilst on holiday in the Forest of Dean, the Ugly Duckling in the village of Lydney came highly recommended as somewhere to go for a treat. So, as a way of signing off our holiday in style, we decided to book a table there on our last evening.
The Ugly Duckling is very easy to find and well signed. As you head down Lydney high street towards Gloucester, it is on one of the side streets on your right hand side. A sandwich-board style sign placed on the pavement helpfully gives you plenty of warning that you are there, making it rather difficult to get lost. The restaurant has a small car park at the rear, but if this is full, there is also a free car park less than five minutes' walk away.
At first glance, the restaurant exterior does not look anything special, housed as it is in a fairly non-descript building. Indeed, had it not been recommended in several different guide books, we probably wouldn't have given it a second look.
One glance at the menu, though, shows that it is well worth considering; full of obviously high quality ingredients and a good use of local produce, it makes the restaurant sound very appealing indeed. It's very clearly far better than your average high street restaurant, but it's also not overly fussy or posh, or one of those eateries that places half a pea in the middle of a plate and charges you £30.
The menu system was also slightly confusing. If you go in the evenings, you choose from the a la carte menu. However, we were also able to choose from their "Spring into Summer" menu which is only available on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The latter offered a range of different dishes at a fixed price, whilst the a la carte had separate prices for each dish. You can't mix and match between the two, so you need to decide which of the two menus you will choose from. This did mean that there was a lot of choice available (which is both good and bad) and also made it slightly cumbersome to choose, as you had two big menus per person on the table!
The restaurant does have some slightly strange opening times which you need to be aware of. Presumably because it is in a relatively low-key location, it is not open every evening. Instead, it opens from Tuesday-Saturday from 10.30am-3pm for coffee and light lunches and on Wednesdays-Saturdays from 6pm in the evening; it doesn't open on Mondays at all. So, if you're planning a visit, you need to make sure they are open when you want to go.
On entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a very pleasant member of staff who showed us to our table, presented us with the menu and brought our drinks, before leaving us alone to decide what we wanted to eat. This was fairly indicative of the way we were treated all night. Staff were friendly, helpful and polite; they were always available if you wanted anything, but they were not constantly in your face. This all made for a very relaxing atmosphere.
The layout of the restaurant itself also enhanced this relaxing dining experience. Initially, we were surprised at how small it was - probably only around 20-25 tables, set out for parties of varying sizes. However, this did mean that there was plenty of space between tables, which so you didn't feel like you were sitting on top of other diners or being forced to listen to their conversation. The restaurant made very good use of the space available, and the whole place had a light and airy feel. This, combined with the tasteful décor, made the interior was as appealing as the menu!
Of course, the most important part of any dining experience is the actual food and the Ugly Duckling certainly did not disappoint. For starters, Mrs SWst had a tomato tart, produced using local tomatoes, whilst I selected the baked Somerset goat's cheese with cider caramel. Delicious doesn't even come close to describing how good they were and the concentration on high quality, local produce was obvious. Portions were also of a reasonable size, so that you were left pleasantly sated, without feeling stuffed - exactly what a starter should be.
The best was still to come, though, in the shape of the main course. Mrs SWSt chose the duck (an unusual choice for her) and it was cooked to absolute perfection, still moist and slightly pink; it was so good that I almost regretted not having it myself. Thankfully, my Slow-Roasted Belly Pork with an Apple and Smoked Bacon Stuffing with a caramelised onion sauce was equally good. Indeed, if I ever went back, I'd be hard pressed what to choose, knowing how fantastic both dishes were!
The main course was served with a range of seasonal vegetables and, whilst the portions were not huge, they were sufficient. They were also cooked to perfection - slightly crunchy to the bite and retaining all of their natural flavours. We also ordered a side order of hand cut chips, and this was perhaps the one disappointing aspect, since there were not very many. They arrived in a small finger bowl, which probably contained no more than 20-25 chips which did not go very far between two of us. In fairness, that's probably a portion for a one person, so it was our fault for not having one each!
In addition to the high quality food and pleasant dining atmosphere, it was the extra touches that made the Ugly Duckling just that little bit special. Whilst we were looking at the menus, we were provided with a small bowl of lightly spiced popcorn (sounds slightly odd, but proved delicious). Before the starters appeared, two fresh, warm (and utterly gorgeous!) cheese and chive rolls were delivered to our table, whilst the meal was rounded off with two very nice, home made chocolates. OK, so these little "free" extras are already factored into the overall cost of your meal, but they were nice little extra touches which really made you feel welcome.
When it came time to pay for the bill, I was pleasantly surprised. I was thinking it was likely to be somewhere in the upper £50 range; in fact, it cost just a smidgeon under £50. OK, we only had two courses and coffee, and having a dessert would have pushed the price higher, but I felt the bill was reasonable. Clearly, it's more expensive than some restaurants, but the quality of food on offer gave good value for money.
The only real drawback to the Ugly Duckling is that it's just so damn far away from where I live! If I could, I would happily go back tomorrow for another meal. Sadly, as I live over 150 miles away it's unlikely I'll ever get the chance ever to return. If you ever find yourself in Lydney (and assuming it's open!) treat yourself to a visit: it's well worth it.
The Ugly Duckling
© Copyright SWSt 2011