If you’re a bird, I’m a bird
Like a trophy wife, Duck and Waffle is designed to please. Its wraparound London views, quirky transatlantic menu and 24/7 opening hours do much to entice the masses of London. Located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, a glass elevator transports diners up to the restaurant at a breathless rate of less than a second per floor. The smooth ascent propels you to one of the highest points of the London skyline, sending your insides all aflutter.
Although I don’t intend to mount any peaks by natural means, straddling the London skyline in less than a minute feels pretty awesome. The bar area offers views looking down at the Gherkin, and then further into Canary Wharf. Through the bar is the dining area, laid out so that looking in any direction gives a view of the city.
This being said, the best experience is still to be had at a table up against the glass. Ours is a generous, thick cut, wooden wedge of a beast looking out onto the sprawling west end, with the BT tower glinting on the horizon. Buzzing on the release of endorphins from the lift up and general light-headedness of the higher atmosphere, the anticipation of the night takes hold.
With appetites suitably whet, the half a dozen signature duck and waffles to arrive are met with hungry delight. This dish is a playful riff on standard Southern American fried chicken with waffle. At Duck and Waffle, each plate bears half a waffle, a confit leg of duck, fried duck egg and a pouring jug of mustard maple syrup. The crowning piece of the ensemble is the duck, with crackling skin under which is tender flesh. The combination of this with waffle and glossy yolk is excellent to start.
Soon the realisation hits that one egg yolk is not enough wetness for this dish, especially when that yolk is semi-hard. I want to be able to stab that egg and have its golden yolk haemorrhage into the waffle, but alas, all I am given is a meagre amount of bleed. At this point, the services of the previously sidestepped maple syrup are engaged. Although the syrup is studded with mustard seeds, I still find it too sweet as a believable accompaniment to duck. The dish is reasonably tasty, yet it is not the best the menu offers.
The accolade for the best dish on our table goes to the modest sounding pearl barley with wild mushroom ragout. Swollen grains are layered in a herbaceous slick of goats curd and topped with a 63 degree egg. This process of cooking sees the egg poached in a 63 degree water bath, and then tossed in a hot pan for a crisp white. The resulting yolk has good liquidity, ripe for the puncturing. The cumulative taste is of downy yolk dribbling into nutty, almost floral layers of flavour.
A bountiful offering of a whole baked seabass stares balefully at us while we sup from its flawlessly moist flesh. The creature is butterflied open and stuffed with a cacophony of salsify, jerusalem artichoke and trompette ragout. A softly spoken companion gouges its eyes out and stares at the resulting gunk on her breadknife, and order is restored.
Meatballs of wild pollock are served in a wrought iron dish, with a light furring of parmesan. Under this is a cloudy lobster cream, whose flavour is mostly of milk. Unfortunately, a fish scale has managed to find its way from raw fish to cooked fishball. This, however, is not the worst dish.
Sticking out like a sore thumb is the ox cheek doughnut with apricot jam. The doughnut is a hefty ball of bread which contains a disproportionately small amount of meat. The predominant taste is of dense bread, and accompanying apricot jam is tangy in a jarring way.
Even though stomachs are now full to bursting, the mention of mint oil and steamed orange sweet things is highly persuasive. The mint oil lifts a baked Alaska into the stratosphere of one of my favourite dishes. Its cross section looks something like this: crisp peaks of meringue, gooey soft meringue, vanilla ice cream, back to meringue and then a pool of strawberry liquor and that brilliant mint oil. Heaven.
Desserts are not done by halves here. The steamed orange pudding is a porous sponge fully saturated with syrup and grand marnier. This sits in a moat of custard, zigzagged with orange syrup. Yes, it is a level of sweetness that will give you diabetes just by sniffing its vapours, but this kind of unapologetic sinfulness is something that every dessert should flaunt.
Ending the extravagance with more extravagance seems like the thing to do. Petit fours of coconut marshmallow, dark chocolate truffle, white chocolate crisp and milk chocolate covered peanuts do justice to the luxury of the experience.
Even though food and service could be improved, Duck and Waffle is an extraordinarily good time. Reasonable prices for the enjoyment and ambience (£50 per person) ensure that the night is an utter success. Leaving down the elevator gives the same feelings as our arrival – that of euphoria and the giggles.
Tube: Liverpool Street