The thing that nobody tells you about Duck & Waffle – well, nobody told me at least – is that the lift is made of glass. Completely see-through, 100% transparent, crystal-clear glass. Which means having to travel some forty floors, stomach-lurchingly fast, in a diaphanous death box.
I wasn’t prepared for this fact and only discovered it as I was roughly shoved into the damn thing by six squealing women (my friends), whizzing upwards in a terrifying trajectory of doom – and by then it was all too late. I stood with my face pressed up against the doors and my eyes squeezed shut until the horrific ordeal was over, ignoring the shoulder pulls and taunts of “look, Izzy, look, it’s beautiful!” while silently screaming GET YOUR GODDAMN HANDS OFF ME AND DO NOT SPEAK ONE MORE WORD UNTIL WE’RE ON SOLID GROUND.
So this was how I made my entrance to Duck & Waffle, shaking and limping thanks to jelly legs and an unrelated incident from earlier that day – something to do with a fitness DVD and overzealous burpees (damn you, Jillian Michaels).
We were seated at a large table right by the window. Sigh. More glass. I plonked myself in the middle – flanked by protective bodies just in case, I don’t know, a particularly strong wind battered and broke through the building and I needed protection. We were served by an overly-affectionate waiter, who might have been a bit lecherous (my friends are hot) but also might have just been just trying to contain the general amount of screeching coming from our table (my friends are loud).
The menu is impressive – I have to say for a self-proclaimed foodie, I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t know what to expect, but I’d describe it as a mix between European tapas and larger, more traditional favourites like lobster and whole chicken. It took an excruciatingly long time to lock down what we all wanted without spending a fortune – which meant I lost out on tasty sounding delights like the spicy ox cheek doughnut and settled for the less impressive sounding (and tasting) roasted octopus.
We started off with the coal charred aubergine, which lay on a bed of sumac yoghurt with cumin, garlic and grilled naan. Now this is probably just me, but when something is described as coal charred I expect it to be hot. It wasn’t. It was cold, and when served with cold yoghurt gave the dish an overall sliminess. There was a pleasant smokiness to the aubergine flesh but they’d removed the skin – missing a trick methinks – giving it the immediate appearance of a tentacled sea creature. Which leads me nicely onto our next dish – roasted octopus with chorizo, potato, lemon and caper – coming in at a hefty £13 (most of the small plates hit the £10 mark).
Unfortunately, this was my least favourite dish of the night. Again – it was cold, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t deliberate this time. There was little evidence of the promised citric kick to cut through the grease. The octopus was chewy – although I’m not a big fan of octopus anyway – and I am violently against eating cold potato of any kind. So I didn’t. My friend E (she’s a proper writer) summed both dishes up perfectly: “the aubergine and the octopus were bland but bitter in their disappointment.”
But it does get better – our next dish was the bacon wrapped dates, which came highly recommended but a bit icky sounding – thinking of those little shriveled bowel-movers dates normally come as. These, however, were true things of beauty, arriving cosy and tucked up like little pigs in blanket. One bite revealed intense layers of flavour – with a crispy, salty kick from the bacon backed up with a rush of treacle sweetness from the dates. The linguica (that’s Portugese smoked sausage to me and you) and oozy manchego provided an intriguing texture and background note. We ordered three portions – and then we divided them into quarters because everyone was fighting over them. Go here for those alone – I’ve not tasted anything like it anywhere else.
Another surprise hit was the n’duja & gruyere bread, which arrived finger-scalding hot. We couldn’t help but tear into it straight away, the dough airy soft and topped with a rich meaty ragu like only your mum can make ( n’duja is spicy, spreadable pork from Italy).
Then we finally made it to the star of the night – the duck and waffle, with crispy crispy leg confit, fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup – at a very reasonable £17 ( the other table plates come in at £30 plus).
The entire concept of eating a breakfast waffle alongside confit duck should be baffling but I’ve had chicken and waffle before – at Rita’s at Birthdays and, more recently, Bird – and I was prepared for that weirdness. I was ready.
Texturally, there was a delightful squidginess to the whole thing, with fluffy waffles sitting under juicy shreds of melt-in-your-mouth meat and shards of crispy skin. The duck egg looked like one of those plastic toys you got as part of a kitchen set when you were a kid – and that’s a good thing. It was unnervingly beautiful, and the yolk alone was as rich as any hollandaise sauce. Quite frankly, duck eggs shit all over chicken eggs. At least at Duck & Waffle they do. The maple syrup was good but not the stand out component, which is just as it should be – just a sweetly subtle undertone, letting the duck sing (or quack?).
Four of those later, and we were about to ready to move onto dessert. We’d been recommended the dark chocolate brownie sundae with peanut crunch – again a reasonable £10 – and we all split a portion between two. Apart from J, who lost out on a partner in an ill-timed toilet break and bravely soldiered on all alone because, well, someone has to do it.
I’m not a fan of chocolate desserts but this was a perfect marriage between the huge bittersweet hunks of brownie, with the palate-cleansing smoothness of the ice cream and the salty kick of the peanut crunch. Divine in taste and texture – although I would recommend sharing lest it become too rich (especially after that artery-clogging main).
I should at this point just drop in a little mention about the wine list because it is OUTRAGEOUS, and not in a good way. You get the feeling this is where they make their money – serving overpriced booze to sozzled bankers 24 hours a day. Bottles were an average of £60 with the cheapest red coming in at £29 and the most expensive, a Burgundy, at £800. Naturally, we chose the cheapest – a 2011 Legato, Nero d’Avola from Sicily.
I’m only just beginning what I hope will be a long and passionate affair with red wine, having previously let the curse of red wine teeth hold me back (so much catching up to do). I thought this one was particularly delicious – smooth, soft tannins and great legs (I once read a Keith Floyd book on wine. I shit you not. I can’t remember any of it but I like to pretend I can).
To be honest, it’s rare to impossible for me to have a glass of red wine I don’t like – luckily I’m of the ‘soft and fruity’ persuasion and the less expensive bottles are usually just that. Basically I’m a cheap date. The other half of the table got the house white and I can confirm that too was decent – so don’t bother paying silly money for something that will probably taste exactly the same.
Overall, the bill came to about £350 for 7 people, including service. I didn’t leave bursting full – but I was pleasantly satiated (probably a normal person’s fullness. If I’m not in pain then I’ve failed). Would I go again? You betcha. I want at the ox cheek doughnuts and pig cheeks (I like cheeks). And the oysters. And some more n’duja bread. And more bacon wrapped dates. And the Torrejas (spiked French toast OHMYGOD). And the pistachio and dark chocolate macaroon sandwhich. Heck, maybe some lobster while I’m there…
Next up: Rita’s.
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