Cards on the table, a big regret in life is that I was never able to fulfill a childhood fantasy and become an explorer - be the first person into that jungle-filled valley to discover a lost civilisation. Show them the light and be there when they realise what they have been missing in their bare-bummed jungle paradise: Calvin Klein underwear, the internet and social media.
It's probably linked to growing up in the time of Neil Armstrong and Indiana Jones and not being able to distinguish reality from fact.
I do have some family history in exploration. My great, great grandfather, Charles de Boos, who worked for the Sydney Morning Herald in the mid-1800s, was the first white man to walk the northern beaches of Sydney up to Barenjoey point. Sure, it's not much, and he spent his time living in fear and shooting various harmless native fauna and livestock from the early settlers' farms, including some poor farm dog, but this family story has always intrigued me and in my mind puts me in the same pond as the offspring of other famous explorers like Hillary, Cook and Armstrong.
So I applaud those who fearlessly go where no man has gone before, and here at Wild Duck on the Kingston foreshore I sit, reflecting on that pioneering spirit. Wild Duck quietly opened its beautifully carved door six months ago in the Giles Street extension, surrounded by not much here but quiet apartment buildings. Owner Jack Zhong also has the family-style Jasmine House in Gungahlin, and leapt at the chance to be among the first here.
When you get past the front door, it's all moodily Asian: lantern-like lighting, private rooms and a few booths around the edge, heavy of the teak, sultry, you could say. There's no one particular Asian cuisine in mind. Chinese would be the overriding theme, but you also get strong South-east Asian flavourings like lemongrass, coconut and rice paper, and the odd trade spice like cumin and pepper. The food seems to also carry this urban street-food feel, lots of little parcels and other finger food.
Xinjiang lamb skewers ($14.90) gives you an idea: three stubby, skewered sections of lamb fillet with dry spices burned into them, heavy on the cumin and chilli. Very nice, loads of flavour and warming heat. The lamb is tender and its own flavour still shows through the fragrant marinade. On the side, a refreshing cucumber and yoghurt salad awaits to polish the palate of any lingering heat. Nice one. The only downside is that there are four of us and only three skewers - they should have offered to match serves with seats.
Likewise with the other entrees, unless you come here in multiples of three or have the banquets, you may have some negotiating over who gets the food. You could imagine it being a problem at that power lunch with some alpha males thrown in, but luckily, we are of the same family, so we can share three serves among four.
Roast duck rolls, clearly a place that calls itself Wild Duck and flies the Asian flag would have these and there's not much that could dissuade me from my belief that they are proof that God loves us and likes to see us happy. These are $15.90 for three and come with all the trimmings: cucumber, hoisin and spring onion.
Lotus root and pork parcels ($14.90) has a nice exotic ring to it, described as slices of young lotus root layered with lean pork and fried in tempura batter. The youngest at the table described them as being like chicken nuggets. I could see where he was coming from, they did have this commercial, fried feel.
The last of our suite of entrees to share is particularly brilliant: scallops with XO conpoy chilli ($16.90), three huge, dis-roed scallops, really plump and seared top and tail with a little arrangement on top being the dried scallop and chilli sauce which give purpose and zing to the plump mollusc.
The wine list is a great example of a newly put together list that has enough choice and is quite good value. Printhie's entry-level chardonnay ($8 a glass) is both well priced and almost local, being from Orange. A bottle of Te Kairanga 2010 Pinot Noir, at $32, seems almost retail pricing. Get into it before they realise they can charge a motza for wine like this.
Our first main is ''lamb shank in golden sands'' ($29), a take on sang choy bow. The lamb has been slowcooked, shredded and tossed through toasted, and quite golden coconut. Also, there's the salty addition of black beans and some garlic to add its own pungent presence. This is an unusual dish, you plonk a few spoons into the crispy lettuce bowl, very coconuty, too much so was the first thought, but then it grows on me and I'm left with a fresh and tantalised palate.
There are a few pork options. Yu xiang ($28.90) sounds the go - a little mountain of shredded pork, bamboo shoot and wood-ear fungus all doused in the yu xiang sauce, which is a tasty brew of vinegar, chilli and garlic. There's good heat here, a warming rich meaty arrangement with the piquant overlay of vinegar and the fried mantou bread is a nice twist, giving the feel that you've grabbed the dish from a sidewalk vendor.
I'm feeling quietly taken with this place. They've put a lot of thought into the design and menus, and service is personable. So I'm liking Wild Duck lots as the last plate arrives, a simple concoction of beef ribs with glass noodles ($29.90), a slowfoodist's dream: long-cooked beef ribs, silky in texture with a peppery caramelised exterior, on noodles that have been dredged in a beefy sauce. It looks and acts very much like an Italian slowcooked pasta dish.
Address: 71 Giles Street, Kingston foreshore
Phone: 6232 7997
Owners: Shan Gao and Jack Zhong
Chef: Wei He
Hours: Monday to Friday, noon-2.30pm, Monday Saturday, from 5.30pm
Licensed: Yes, plus BYO, corkage $10 a bottle
Vegetarian: One entree and one main
To pay: All cards except Diner's Club
Wheelchair access: Accessible throughout, including disabled toilet
Seats: 80 inside
Wine list: 2/4
Value for money: 2/4
11 something went wrong. 12 not so great tonight. 13 fine for a cheap and cheerful, not so for a place that aspires to the top end. 14 good. 15 really good. 16 great, when can we move in. 17-20 brilliant. The stars are a quick reference to the key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.
Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au