I first heard about Duck & Waffle from a friend who has excellent taste in London dining (thank you, Rachel!), and when I looked up their website, I thought it would be the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion that was coming up in my calendar. Now, let’s be clear about this, if you want to get a table high in the sky, you need to book in advance, and I’m not talking a week or two. These tables are in high demand. As one of the few 24-hour London restaurants, I couldn’t resist trying the midnight dining experience, but even a table for two at this ungodly hour required booking over a month in advance. But by golly miss molly, it was worth it.
Based on the 40th floor of Heron Tower, Duck & Waffle is surrounded by various bars and restaurants in prime location for city workers. So, my thinking was that we would go for a few cocktails to pass the hours before our 11pm booking. Originally, I had chosen The Drift for its wide range of drinks, however, due to a private event this was unavailable. So, having explored a few places round Liverpool Street station, some much nicer than others, we finally came across the Old Bengal Bar which I can now highly recommend if you’re in the area. It’s a chic place bursting with character in its historic 18th century warehouse setting. At 9.30pm, it wasn’t too busy, there was an acoustic guitarist accompanied by a soulful singer playing in a corner, a couple of groups enjoying the mild weather outside, and then a few people scattered around the room. It was exactly what we wanted, and the cocktails were divine. Priced around £9.50 each, they’re typical London prices, but in comparison to the horrendous £8.50 ones we had in a rather less tasteful location nearby, the extra pound was well worth it.
10.45pm crept up on us and we made our way to the base of Heron Tower, where a sizeable queue of people stood, hoping to enjoy the heights of Duck & Waffle and its neighbouring restaurant on floor 39, SushiSamba. Having jumped this queue with our reservation (a great feeling, I assure you), we ascended the building in the glass lift located on its outside wall especially for these two restaurants. It practically zooms up into the air and as it ascends, the astonishing panoramic view of London forms – not something for those with fear of heights. As we entered Duck & Waffle, we were greeted by an incredibly polite woman standing in front of the rather small, but plentifully stocked, bar who guided us to the main restaurant. Passed over to the next charming member of staff, we were showed to our table right next to the window as I had originally requested in the booking. I’m not saying this happens to everyone, but I was absolutely delighted that we had secured this prime spot looking out over the busy noise of London, where buses resembled no more than miniature toys on its bright streets.
So, the food. There was so much choice, even though we had moved on to the late night menu, but we eventually made our decision. First up, the acclaimed bbq-spiced crispy pigs ears (pictured above). Presented in a brown paper back and sealed with the Duck & Waffle logo, these delectable morsels were a cross between glorified pork-scratchings with the flavour of Razzles crisps – a winning combination. For £5 they provide ample for two and have you licking your fingers to enjoy every last morsel.
We then shared the foie gras crème brûlée with buttered roasted lobster and toasted brioche (£16, pictured above – sorry about the poor quality). My mouth is watering again at the thought. Arriving swiftly after order, the foie gras, according to my French culture expert, Rémi, was ‘how the French do it – this is how it should be’. He was referring to the almost cream-like texture of this dish. Forget the thicker, paté form it often takes (as delicious as that is), this foie gras simply melted on your tongue – the crème brûlée topping absolutely perfect, the crispness providing a welcome contrast to its sublime counterpart. I longed for more lobster, but this was an equally good accompaniment. The brioche formed the solidity that the dish necessitated with all its melting-goodness. I would say we could have had one each on reflection, but then the main was coming, and as we both enjoy a good dessert, the one starter to share was plenty.
And so, we finally reached the restaurant’s eponymous dish. Duck & Waffle: crispy leg confit, fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup (£17 each). Having been warned that the mustard maple syrup was very sweet, so taste before you pour, we approached the dish tentatively, but there was no need. The dish could almost qualify as a main and dessert in one, which I consider quite an achievement. On the savoury side, the confit duck – a crisp skin was broken to succulent, tender meat, which Rémi to his horror declared was better than the majority of confit canard he enjoyed during his year in Toulouse, its culinary home. The egg maintained its shape but had a soft yolk that was absorbed by the soft, fluffy waffle underneath. The syrup, enjoyed either alone with the waffle (hence my dessert comment) or as a complimentary sweet edge to the duck’s saltiness, in my opinion, was the element that joined these unusual parts together. I have to admit, its mustard taste did not come through for me, though I suspect it was used to knock the sweetness of the maple so the flavours would blend together, as they did.
By this point, it’s safe to say that we were happily full, and I’m sure we could have left it there. But like I said before, we enjoy a good dessert, and it’s not everyday that you dine with such a view, so we gave in to our indulgent thoughts and ordered the Torrejas (£11) with maple caramel apples and cinnamon ice cream. Designed for two, this Spanish-version of French toast was quite a heavy choice to go for after our starter and main, but the thick slice of bread soaked with delicious flavours and spices was delicious. The cinnamon ice-cream was subtle in comparison to others I’ve savoured, but with all the different tastes coming from the torrejas itself, it passed as a suitable accompaniment. Our plates were cleared once again, and we sat back with the last of our champagne (it was a celebration, after all), heartily satisfied and soaking in the glorious midnight view.
If you’re looking for somewhere that’s a bit different, but that guarantees fine quality food at a very decent price considering your location (it’s the alcohol that will drain you), Duck & Waffle is the place to go. The buzzing atmosphere, the open kitchen filled with baseball-capped chefs who never stop, the almost acrobatic cocktail bar staff, the charming service and, of course, the breathtaking view (don’t forget your picture with the Gherkin – though slightly more difficult to attain at night), all combines to make it an unforgettable dining experience – and that doesn’t even include the food.
Considering that Duck & Waffle enjoys a constant flow of people 24/7 and rave reviews to match, it’s surprising that there aren’t more luxury 24-hour restaurants in the city. But having finally enjoyed the dizzying heights of this fantastic restaurant, I’ve got the taste, and I’m sure to be back before the year is out. The private room overlooking the Gherkin is certainly appealing for a group of 12 or so – if you’re interested we were quoted rates of £500 for breakfast, £1000 for lunch and £1500 for dinner. Tempting. For now though, I must remember to start booking a table if I want to go in October…
(Couldn’t resist that pun.)