They say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and I tend to agree. Nevertheless, while it’s not considered ethical to review a restaurant when you haven’t paid for your meal, I threw my journalistic standards to the wind (just for a day you understand) and happily agreed to have lunch at Le Canard – on the house.

I met Bruce and Pieter, promoters of the QC parties, at the restaurant at the invitation of Chet – Le Canard’s very charming and occasionally flapping Maître d’Hôtel (and ‘toy boy’, he says) – on a cloudy day during which it threatened to rain throughout. We sat outside in the small garden area but were anointed with no more than a drop or two.

Le Canard, offering French and international cuisine, is considered by many to be one of the finest restaurants in Joburg and is regularly featured on numerous “top tens”. Its long and impressive list of celebrity diners – as evidenced by autographed photographs gracing a wall inside – include Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela and a smattering of European, Middle Eastern and African royal families.

The 16 year old establishment (Chet’s been there for 13; always a good sign) is located in Sandton on Rivonia road in a restored house – which also once doubled as a brothel – near encroaching McDonalds and office buildings. The owner (and Chef Patron), Freda Appelbaum, had been described to me as a real character and is, incidentally, one of only four woman in the world to be conferred the esteemed title of ‘Disciple of Escoffier’. I got to meet her later.

The menu is extensive – there’s a great deal on offer – including such delicacies as fritters of calf brain and steak tartare, and the obligatory escargot and lobster bisque. We took our cue from Chet, and my recommended starter was a Prawn Retro salad (R82.50). It was a prefect entrée – small and light with sufficient substance thanks to the two large prawns complimented by a sweet avocado mousseline (a kind of hollandaise sauce). We also ordered a few oysters for the hell of it, which were fleshy and quite tasty. The Iona Sauvignon Blanc added more terrific layers to the course’s pleasant freshness.

Seeing as Le Canard means “The Duck” in French, I though it appropriate to try the house signature dish. The duck leg (R110) is described as “caramelized with honey, sherry vinegar, duck jus and a hint of orange rind with potato dauphinoise”. I was offered a selection of apple, citrus, au poivre (traditional black pepper, garlic and red wine), berry and chocolate sauces to accompany the leg. Although I was surprised at the sweetness of the chocolate sauce, it made perfect sense considering that I was eating duck. While some prefer their watery fowl more on the pink side, I found the leg to be appropriately well-cooked to my taste; the skin crispy and the flesh tender. Quite delicious.

Bruce declared his Rothschild Platter (R185) – with mini fillets of veal, beef, ostrich, venison and lamb – to be “fabulous; perfectly done and well-rested”. The Paradys Kloof Pinot Noir went down well with both the duck and the meat.

Desert was the weakest course. It may have pleased some palates, but I found that the exaggerated sweetness overpowered the subtler flavours. My trio of chocolate mousse – described as a “Symphony of White, Dark and Milk Belgian Chocolate” – was actually rather one-note, the chocolates virtually indistinguishable from one another. Bruce’s Crepes were also overly sweet and drowning in their alcoholic sauce.

We were finally introduced to Freda after the meal. She ambled over to our table and sat down with a huff. She immediately proceeded to grill Bruce and Pieter – about a party which they were planning to host at the restaurant – as if they were naughty boys. She’s a no-nonsense woman with a wicked sense of humour who knows exactly what she’s doing. As she left our table she turned to me and said, “It had better be a good review. We’ve thrown critics out before”.

Le Canard is undoubtedly a quality establishment and if you’re in the mood for rich, largely traditional cuisine with a strong French leaning and excellent service, you can’t really go wrong with Sandton’s famous “duck”. You might expect a certain stuffiness at such an eatery, but I felt quite relaxed and at ease.

Does Le Canard, live up to its acclaim? That depends to some extent whether this kind of cuisine floats your boat – I’m admittedly and unashamedly keener on more contemporary styles of cooking. Whether the high prices are justified by the quality of the food is also something that can be debated: Personally, I’m unsure. But consider that you’re also undoubtedly paying, to some extent, for the prestige and history of the establishment – the experience.

Well, perhaps not a rave review, but, I think, a fair one. Now let’s see if Freda ever lets me through those prestigious doors again.

Le Canard Restaurant is open Mondays to Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturdays for dinner. 163 Rivonia Road, Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg. Tel: 011-884-4597.

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