A restaurant on the 40th floor of a shiny city skyscraper, with all of London spread out like a sparkling map below, could probably just let the view pull in the punters. But at the Duck & Waffle, the view (admired through wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows) is secondary.
While the view is amazing, the food is even better.
Of course, if you are plugged in to the food twitterati, are an avid reader of London restaurant blogs or just read a newspaper restaurant critic’s column now and then, this is old old news.
Duck and Waffle, with chef Daniel Doherty at the helm, opened in August 2012 and it received rave reviews from the get go. It still does, long past that “first impressions” period, confirming that it and Doherty are both definitely more than a flash in the pan.
At just 29, Doherty is clearly a Rising Star; indeed he was named just that by Tatler in their 2013 Restaurant Awards announced this spring. In the Backstory bio on the restaurant’s own website, I smile as I read how his mother, doing the laundry one day, found an application to the Academy of Culinary Arts Scholarship in the pocket of his jeans, quietly filled it in and submitted it without telling him. Aged just 16, Doherty won one of just 28 scholarships (out of 2000 applicants) and so embarked upon the balancing act of attending classes and taking exams whilst also working an apprenticeship under Herbert Berger at (Michelin starred) 1 Lombard Street. He considers Berger his mentor, and Berger has described Doherty as his protégée. The rest of his resume shows a quick rise from chef de partie to head chef. Depsite being so young, Duck and Waffle is not the first restaurant Doherty has opened, having developed the menu and opened The Old Brewery in Greenwich a few years ago.
At Duck and Waffle, Doherty has a large and well-oiled kitchen team working with him to produce his innovative dishes. The menu changes regularly, though a few signature items like the foie gras all day breakfast and, of course, duck and waffles, remain available.
At the top of the menu are a few snacks. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it!) I was the only one who liked the bbq-spiced crispy pig ears (£5), with their bacon-rind-like chew centre contrasting with crunchy puffed skin in spicy coating. Served in a paper bag with a (sticky backed) “wax” seal, the presentation was pretty cute!
From the Freshly Baked Bread section of the menu, rosemary & garlic (£6) also had a mixed reaction. All three of us liked the flavour, and I particularly adored the caramelised sweetness of the whole roasted garlic cloves, but we all agreed that the bread was a touch undercooked, making it a little claggy in places.
We only ordered one item from the Raw menu section, the fillet of angus beef / foie gras / truffle / pecorino (£15). This was just perfect. The beef was a deep ruby red and its inherent meatiness was beefed up by umami rich pecorino, buttery foie gras and the headiest truffle I’ve eaten for a while. I made “wrong” noises, eating this. Yeah, I know.
The rest of our choices were from the Small Plates section, as we eschewed the large For the table dishes and Sides so we could try more different things.
First a bowl of fresh mozzarella / granola / sage / honey / amalfi lemon (£10) which was somehow one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Of course, the quality of the milky mozzarella was excellent. But the combination of textures and tastes was the thing. The little crunch of insanely thin strips of candied lemon zest gave the perfect high note. I could eat this every single day.
Pearl barley and wild mushroom ragout / goat curd / 63 degree hen egg (£11) was simple, hearty and made special by the quality of the ingredients (and proper cleaning of the wild mushrooms). Oozing egg yolk is always good.
Essentially devils on horseback, bacon wrapped dates / linguica sausage / dandelions salad (£9) were stuffed with a rich sausage meat filling, in place of the usual sweet chutney or cheese. The combination of meat and fruit is one I really like, and it worked very well indeed in this dish.
The only word for foie gras creme brulee / butter roasted Scottish lobster (£21) is decadent. Add insanely rich, utterly delectable and almost too much for three people to finish and you’ll start to get the idea. Served with toasted slices of brioche.
I ordered the spicy ox cheek doughnut / apricot jam (£10) because, as I just mentioned, I love the combination of meat and sweet. In fact, the doughnut had only a soft beef stew within, served with a sharp rather than sweet apricot sauce on the side. Pleasant but, for the three of us, lacking the wow factor of a number of the other dishes.
A little full, we refused to miss out on desserts. First to arrive was the poached peaches / tarragon creme fraiche sorbet / white chocolate & pistachio biscotti (£9). Simply poached with lots of flavour, the peaches were well matched by the intensity of flavour but light texture of the sorbet. For me, the rock hard biscotti were superfluous, though perhaps others welcome the contrasting crunch.
As is the way with olive oil cakes, pistachio & olive oil cake / english raspberries / rose-scented chantilly cream (£9) was a dense, rich, moist cake, green from the nuts. The cream transported this dessert to the realm of 1001 Nights, with fresh raspberries the perfect foil to all the sweetness.
My favourite of our desserts was definitely the vanilla baked alaska / strawberry consomme / mint oil (£9). Although it looked like an alien life form, it was actually a classic baked alaska, lifted by a fresh strawberry sauce and a surprising but rather wonderful light mint oil. That hint of herb really was a genius touch.
Although the first couple of dishes I’ve listed didn’t quite hit the heights and we didn’t fall hard for the doughnut, everything else really impressed. The meal was a fabulous feast of tastes and textures, beautifully presented and served with warmth and friendliness.
Duck and Waffle is a great choice for a special occasion, though it’s not so expensive that you can’t just go along because you fancy some great food.