You know those restaurants which you deify? They’re not pretentious, they’re manned by fun, friendly people, they look damn cool from inside, and their food is mind-blowing. Well it’s one of those that I’m about to write about. It’s not often that you find them, and even rarer that you can afford to return, but all in all, they need to be cherished.
The restaurant in question is Duck and Waffle, found hidden away in the heart of the city of London. I say ‘hidden,’ but if you know where it is, it actually sticks out like a sore thumb. A very welcome sore thumb…
Being on the top of one of the tallest buildings in London is of course a ticket to pretentiousness. It’s handed to the managers on a plate: location tourists will completely lap up, which means you can charge them through the eye, nose, teeth and ears, however – in order to justify this extortion – the food must look even showier than the elaborate starry skyscraper views customers are drooling over. And all this view-lusting will hopefully mean customers won’t notice that even Thumbelina wouldn’t be full after consuming the entire plateful. Ingenious.
Well this is apparently the approach that the restaurant beneath – Sushi Samba – has taken. And that’s why we shot straight past it in the great glass elevator that transports you up the Heron Tower, right on up to Duck and Waffle, on floor 42.
You’re immediately transported into a cool, American cocktail bar. Handing in coats, we walked straight to get cocktails. One arrived in a steaming barrel, the other transported you into a field of truffles whenever you raised it to your mouth..and yet it tasted of lime. A mind-twister, if ever I saw one.
Our dinner table – in the next room – was right beside one of the glass walls, looking out over the Gherkin and the Shard. Beside us was the working kitchen, open to the rest of the restaurant, so we could all inspect exactly what was going on. There’s something particularly clean about having a kitchen open to the customers. It sort of breaks down the fourth wall, welcoming customers onto the stage. Not only does it set the scene beautifully; it also shows that the restaurant has nothing to hide. An added bonus is that loud chefs aren’t able to shout at the people working under them, because if they did, they’d have angry human rights activist-customers stepping straight in. So there were no raised voices.
Between us, we ordered the BBQ-spiced Crispy Pigs Ears; the Bacon-Wrapped Dates; the Yellowfin Tuna with Watermelon, Balsamic and Basi; the beautiful Scallop, Apple and Lime Ceviche; and the Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut. Their signature dish is of course the ‘Duck and Waffle’, though I’m ashamed to say we didn’t try that. It looked pretty grand, however: Crispy Duck Leg Confit atop a Light Waffle with a Fried Duck Leg and Mustard Maple Syrup (portioned on large plates for a very reasonable £15). However, everyone around us seemed to be ordering that, so we were able to perve on their meal, and get all the benefits whilst opting for the ‘tapas-like’ menu ourselves.
The pigs ears appeared in a rustic paper bag, great for casual snacking. The dates (with their secret chorizo ingredient) were just completely out of this world; they get ‘man of the match’ for me. The scallops arrived on a ‘salt block’, and we were required to rub each along the block, to intensify the flavour. And finally, that ox cheek doughnut: though weird in principle, it worked so incredibly well. Sweetness meets smokiness. Perfection.
Including wine, and a brilliantly graffitied birthday pudding (they’d overheard that it was my birthday; a nice extra touch), the meal came to about £50 a head. Reasonable and delicious. It was basically a Heston-meets-height experience, but an accessible one for those of us who aren’t quite in the position to be able to afford heroic Heston…
And the best part? That this understated restaurant is open 24/7. Next stop: a breakfast right up at the very top, sitting at a table in Duck and Waffle, watching the sun rise over sleepy London.