DUCK & WAFFLE
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Cost per person without wine: £44
MY HOUSE is what estate agents would euphemistically call “lower ground”, which translates almost exactly as “basement”. Outside the front door, running underneath the pavement, is a cupboard, which would, once upon a time, have been used to store coal. Now, it is filled with the detritus of my neighbours, who own the rather grander floors above mine.
Last week, upon opening my front door, I was faced with what appeared to be a particularly ugly chihuahua, which casually looked me up and down before sauntering into the cupboard. Only its tail gave it away: it wasn’t a chihuahua, it was a rat. A big rat. A dirty, smelly, disease ridden rat, lurking just feet away from my front door. I haven’t eaten at home since. Every time I start cooking, I have a vision of the rat and eat out instead. That rat is costing me a fortune.
This is, I admit, a bit of an over-reaction. One of the best places I ever ate was a street restaurant in Malaysia, where I was served steamed buns so light, I had to grab the table to stop myself floating away. Gigantic brown rats were everywhere, scurrying under the tables and running around the benches where dim sum were being steamed. After I’d finished, I noticed the staff were washing dishes on the street, right in the middle of the rat super-highway. It still goes down as one of my favourite dining experiences.
The point is, venue isn’t everything. At Duck & Waffle, though, it goes a long way. It is located on the 40th floor of the recently opened Heron Tower, from which you can stare down into the shadowy dome of the Gherkin.
The glass-fronted lift that takes you up goes at a hell of a speed.
“My eyes are popping,” said someone in the lift, before clarifying that they meant their ears, which is just as well.
The only restaurant in London with views to compete is at the top of the BT Tower, and that’s only open for special occasions after the IRA put a bomb in the men’s toilets in the early 1970s.
In any normal restaurant, our table would have been “the quiet one next to the window”. At Duck & Waffle, though, that window is a sheer drop of almost 200 metres, which is both spectacular and slightly terrifying. By the end of the meal, the window was filled with greasy hand smears from our bickering about which landmark was which (I was usually right).
I ordered one of the cheaper bottles of wine on the menu (which, at £40, wasn’t actually all that cheap), mostly because it was called Kung Fu Girl Riesling, and I’m a sucker for marketing. I asked the waiter why it had such a silly name. He didn’t know. He asked the sommelier, Christophe, who came and squatted by the table and told us a story about going to a wine tasting with the owner of the vineyard. The conclusion was: there is no reason at all. Anyway, he knows his stuff.
The menu – which is very reasonably priced, at £7-ish for small dishes and £11-ish for bigger ones – is a kind of pan-European tapas. First to arrive was the pig’s head, mostly because my guest said it sounded disgusting and I assured her it was actually very nice. She was right – it was like a fancy version of the ham you got as a kid, that came in the shape of a bear’s face. Then came bacon wrapped dates, which I ordered under duress (“they,’ll be too sickly darling, I assure you”). They turned out to be delicious (shows what I know). The crispy bacon was just smoky enough to offset the sticky sweetness of the dates. Scallops on apple with black truffle would have been better if the great big hunks of fruit hadn’t completely overpowered the subtler tastes.
The roasted essex beetroot was also something of a curate’s egg. The beetroot was nicely cooked, as was the goat curd, but we found ourselves sifting through for lumps of burned honey, which I’m still picking out of my teeth.
Roasted salt beef was a step up – like a posh beef jerky served with a fried egg on top, which tasted reassuringly unhealthy. Snaking tentacles of octopus with chorizo and capers were tender but, as it was served with the suction cups still on (delicious), there was also a layer of residual slimy skin (not so delicious). All things considered, I’d have served it sans suckers.
Desserts (torrejas and eton mess) were so-so but the real finale was a liquid one. At first glance, the cocktail list looked like it might have been considered the height of sophistication in the 80s: all Manhattans and dark and stormys. I ordered a sazerac, which was served with a blowtorch. Resident mixologist Richard then whipped out a block of charred wood and proceeded to set fire to it, while casually explaining the bar concept (new spins on classics). He then flipped my glass onto the wood, filling it with smoke, before pouring in the cognac, rye, amaro and bitters. Truly excellent.
Over the table, a dark and stormy was served in a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag, which made my guest look a bit like a New York hobo fallen on particularly good times, especially with the endless expanse of the city unfolding behind her.
And this is the real reason you come to Duck & Waffle – with a view this good, you can forgive the slightly lacklustre food.
On the way out, tipsy from the cocktails (OK, drunk from the cocktails), we rode the lift up and down three times like kids at a themepark. You can’t do that in Noma.