There’s been far too much talk of weight loss and high fibre and firming up flabby bits of late so it is time we went back to some full on indulgence in these pages.
Duck & Waffle is about full on indulgence.
You will find Dan Doherty’s baby perched atop the Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, boasting for some time to be the highest restaurant you could shake a fois gras crème brulee in. The views of the city, and beyond, are brutally fantastic from all angles at D&W and can be enjoyed from the bar and restaurant, but slightly more exciting than this panorama from your table is the sub-60 seconds trip up there from ground level via glass elevator. It’s a fun little ride, and a clever touch as one is almost guaranteed to be slightly giddy and giggly on arrival at the top. You are there, you have arrived and you’re happy about it. To quote a co-diner ‘I feel like Batman’. It’s fun in daylight and really pretty at night though make sure you have something to hold on to when you’re coming down after a big dinner and a cocktail or two……
The bar is something of a mixed metaphor in décor terms with plush and stainless steel seating and graffiti motifs but there is a kick ass cocktail list and a reasonable amount of seating to enjoy the view over the top of your negroni- or more likely something a little more exotic involving pickles, smoked stuff and a sprinkling of unlikely booze-food pairings. I have just checked the cocktail list and seen the Manhattan Roast which reminds me that I need to be in central London very soon for anything at all that means I might pop in for one of these.
So the bar is good, and lively at the expected times but fear not if you don’t love a crowd as the bar, like the restaurant, is open 24/7. Gimmick? Perhaps. I have no idea how busy it gets in the wee small hours or at half ten on a wet Wednesday morning but expect crowds most evenings and for weekend brunch and lunch services. Infact if you want to eat there then diary a time to give their reservations team a call exactly 2 months in advance as they don’t open booking any earlier than that, and if you leave it much closer you may well struggle to get in.
So we have a great bar, wonderful views, weird cocktails and a rush for tables. Not enough to entice you there? Oh right, food!
I’m being far too glib because the food at Duck and Waffle is spectacular and despite their blurb about simple small plates and family style serving for the table make no mistake- this is a dining event. Posh, but somehow playful. D&W is your demure middle aged aunt who wears fine lace and pearls but also makes guff jokes and says ‘bonk’ a lot.
Dining traditionalists will still have some classic choices to keep them comfortable with a raw bar, roast chicken and ice cream and biscuits making menu appearances alongside some much more daring efforts and food trend favourites. There have been several notable dishes from my visits. Like the Oxcheek Donut- yes, an actual donut with sugar and jam and everything. And beef. It really works. The signature dish of Duck and Waffle is a favourite of mine- sweet waffle, confit duck leg, fried duck egg, sweet mustardy sauce. Looks alright on paper and you feel like you should order one as you’re there but upon delivery it turns out to be something very special. Two types of richness with a fatty meat middle then soft sweet pillow of waffle all pulled together with the punch of the mustard maple syrup and the wonderful crispy egg. I could eat this for any every meal, as could you as this is one of the few menu items available at all times. If that’s not enough for you how about the aforementioned fois gras (the guilt) crème brulee? A delinquently rich and creamy custard with savoury depth beneath a full traditional sugar glaze, best served dolloped onto a lump of glittery pork-scratching-bejewelled brioche bun. Do I sound like a tosser yet? I feel like one and I have to say that on presentation of the crème brulee I thought it was a step too far, just a bit too much. It’s paté for heaven’s sake. Only it isn’t- it is possibly the most confusing and satisfying culinary invention I have ever come across. It’s delicious and weird and once again here you are, giggling over your dinner.
As you can imagine, this is certainly not a menu devoid of opinion splitters as seen in some kind of white fish balls in sauce that I could not get on with at all and many a vegetable dish refused by our carnivorous party due to simply not wanting to waste belly space on fibre. I do think it’s important to note that vegetarians are more than catered for here and not a token goats cheese tart in sight- top points to the asparagus with perfectly executed runny egg, the coal roasted beetroot is firmly on my list for next time.
Desserts will change periodically but offer hot and cold, old and new, weird and traditional delights like Baked Alaska and a magnificent blondie to be devoured in an animalistic fashion after spending a solid half minute oohing over the delicate floral presentation beside it on the plate. Beautiful. The desserts are not easy to share, from an emotional point of view!
Service is friendly and casual, I’ve found staff approachable and knowledgeable, more than happy to explain how to get the best of the menu for your party including staggering the arrival of your sharing plates in the best combinations. This shouldn’t be an achievement, but it is worth mentioning because high end city eateries have been known to employ front of house staff who are evidently intellectually and culturally above their general class of diner and not afraid to express it. None of that at D&W. Lack of formality may upset some but it makes for a more relaxed (but certainly not sloppy) experience to this foodie and no doubt to better tips for those working the laid back smiles and red shirts.
As you may expect, this is not budget dining in any sense. Cocktails come in from fifteen quid and up but you can still get in a damn good amount of dinner for less than sixty quid a head if you are
stingy sensible with the wine. Because there is a hell of a wine list and when you’re high on all the truffled negronis and crispy pigs ears* you might be tempted to go off the rails and treat yourself to that Bordeaux halfway down the reds list. Just really watch it when you need another one. There are certainly options and you don’t have to break the bank but the danger is real so either go resigned to a massive splurge or keep a track on your spending as you go. I think this is the only meal where I have ever seen my poor old Pops visibly blanch upon opening the bill- because it’s all just so good so sod it we’ll have another one of those. And that. And a round of coffees, thanks.
Obviously you don’t have to go for the re-mortgage late night extravaganza and painfully stuffed lift ride down. Their breakfast menu looks wonderful (I’m coming for you, duck congee) and the brunch taster menu is well worth being the kind of nob who says ‘brunch’ for. City types could sneak in some sobering treats from the late night menu on the way for the last train home from Liverpool Street or slip in to wait out the two hour dead zone for the first one tomorrow. There are so many reasons to go, but you don’t really need one other than that it is there.
Am I being too positive? I don’t think so. Yes there were the weird fish balls and one of the few times in my life I have ever sent back a gin and tonic (the barman was having a bad night it seemed). These blips seem to be exceptions that prove the rule that I have a heaving, fat bellied crush on Duck & Waffle. I love it. Even as I sit here typing this up when I should be doing day job stuff I am grinning from ear to ear. My colleagues probably think I’ve finally snapped and am spending the company millions on foam peanuts before handing my notice in. But this is the point- D&W is about snickering while you bunk off Friday work chores. It’s about splashing out your sainsburys budget on a couple of fat cocktails on a school night as you look out for the Food Blogging Twitterati in the bar. It’s about dressing up then kicking back and digging in to the plates on the other side of the table and passing the bacon and date nibbles and talking a bit louder than you might in other such establishments. It’s a laugh. It’s brilliantly done and that is the triumph at D&W. Yeah there’s a view and a cocktail made from pea soup but that doesn’t mean you have to be all uptight about it.
*seriously you really have to have the crispy pigs ears, especially good if you are just in for a sneaky drink.