Stepping into a glass lift, and suddenly being propelled upwards at a rate of knots, as the city streets, traffic and people below rapidly contract into dizzying; eye-straining miniature is definitely a thrilling way of reaching your table for lunch.
The doors opened and we spilled out onto the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, I turned to see ‘E’, her face displaying a mixture of shock and abject terror, back to the wall, clutching a handrail, wordlessly staring downwards into the void with the concrete cityscape spread out below, right on the other side of the glass.
It seems that unbeknownst to even her, extreme heights don't agree, and it took some gentle persuasion with a combination of claw hammer and crowbar to prise her grip off the rail and steer her into the relative normalcy of the restaurant itself.
Seated and with ‘E’ calmed somewhat, we took in the room. There’s no denying that it’s pretty frigging spectacular with views of London spreading out into the distance on three sides, even on the drizzly grey lunchtime we visited, it was impressive.
Reading through the menu prompted a quick tactical discussion on what level of greed would be appropriate here. Seeing as it was a bit of a treat for us, we'd been working hard the previous week, we rapidly agreed on going obscene with the ordering.
Starting off with some good Rosemary and Garlic Bread, nothing spectacular about it, but definitely no bollocks dropped either.
‘E’s’ Raw Sea Trout, sparingly dressed with olive oil, Amalfi lemon and some micro basil, arrived perched atop a Himalayan Salt Block. It’s the first time I've seen these particular serving ‘plates’ used. Apparently they can be either heated or chilled, hold temperature well and the salt in the blocks season whatever’s placed on them. Pretty enough, but I suspect in the long term these could well become as ubiquitous and ultimately naff as slate. The trout, simply treated, was delicious.
From the snack menu, Battered Sausages with Mustard were good, meaty and herby with a nice sharp mustard dip.
Mackerel Tartare, Pickled Cucumber, Smoked Vodka and Crème Fraiche was nicely made, fresh tasting and delicious. Happily it was a pretty hefty sized portion as well, with the accompanying chargrilled bread for dipping.
The Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut is a work of genius. Easily the best thing I ate. A cricket ball sized globe, dusted with what tasted like a combination of sugar and sweet paprika and stuffed with shredded oxtail meat. On the side for dipping, apricot jam. The taste and texture really threw me, the doughnut batter, which I automatically associate with sweet flavours encasing savoury meat but then there’s the sugary-paprika coating just to mess with my head. The accompanying jam was sour, and tempered the sweetness perfectly.
‘E’s Hake Fillet with Haricot Bean Ragout and (apparently) Romanesco surprisingly threw a bit of a spanner in the works. The piece of fish was perfectly cooked, the ragout tasty – but ‘E’ head down; poking around with her fork in an almost archaeological fashion couldn't find any evidence of romanesco (which, as you no doubt know, is a strangely fractal looking variant of cauliflower). We decided to put the question to a waiter, who hurried off to the kitchen to investigate. He returned saying that there had been a problem with the vegetable delivery and this particular ingredient had been omitted. Fair enough you might think, but later in the meal a different staff member mentioned that the spectral romanesco had indeed been present, but mixed in through the sauce (it definitely wasn’t). All of this made ‘E’ and I speculate whether the menu was spelt incorrectly and ‘Romesco’ sauce was in fact being misrepresented here.
Putting mystery cauliflower shenanigans aside for a moment, I’d decided that it was required that I ate the restaurant’s signature dish of Duck & Waffle. It’s labelled as ‘for the table’ so presumably not really designed for solo dining, but as ‘E’ is a pescetarian I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Waffles, piled up with a crispy confit duck leg and a fried duck egg with mustard maple syrup for pouring. Tucking in with abandon, and instantly feeling my arteries begin to harden I could see why it’s a dish made for sharing. But, I'm a terrifically greedy bastard, and it was delicious, so I ate it all anyway, albeit struggling limply with the last few sickly sweet mouthfuls.
Strangely, cauliflower reared its knobbly head again, towards the end of the meal. We'd ordered desserts and the sommelier appeared presenting us with dessert wines matched to our choices ‘compliments of the chef’ as an apology for the head scratcher that’s now listed on Wikipedia as ‘the romanesco enigma’. I'm not entirely sure whether the apology was for the lack of said brassica, the confusion our innocent enquiry elicited, or the fact that the menu quite possibly should have read ‘romesco’ instead. In any case, the chef correctly sizing us up as borderline alcoholics and acting under the wise principle that booze makes everything better, salved our befuddlement nicely.
Warm Chocolate Brownie with Peanut Butter Ice-Cream and Crunchy Caramel didn't really do it for me. I thought the brownie a bit dry, the whole thing a bit too sweet. The individual elements didn't really come together in the bowl, despite being basically a deconstructed Snickers. Maybe I’d just ate too much sickly-sweet when gorging on duck and waffle earlier.
However, torrejas (Basically a Spanish version of French toast) with caramelised apples, cinnamon ice-cream and swimming in caramelised sauce was absolutely frigging-off-the-chart-good. Cheesy grins and thumbs-up all-round.
Duck & Waffle doesn't take itself too seriously, despite it’s central, city ‘spank the expense account’ location. It’s actually good fun.
The menu itself is interesting, studded throughout with particularly filthy treat dishes, which if you’re anything like me when it comes to ordering, may lead you down an incredibly unbalanced route of sickly cholesterol heavy sweetness. Saying that, the Spicy Ox Cheek doughnut is a thing of beauty and priced at £5 is an absolute must-try.
Service was generally excellent, although front of house was a little bit brusque for my liking and the sommelier was perhaps a bit, and I hesitate to say this, (as he was undoubtedly a nice guy) over-friendly, at one point holding us in lengthy conversation, oblivious to our rapidly cooling food which we couldn't begin eating, out of sheer politeness.
Duck & Waffle is not perfect, but I liked it a lot anyway. It’s worth booking just to appreciate the breathtaking journey to the top and the astounding views over London…oh and that doughnut!
Duck & Waffle
Telephone: 0203 640 7310