Duck and Waffle; even from deepest, darkest Italy, with limited phone reception, these were the three words that flooded my Twitter feed every time I managed to get a bar of reception. If there's anybody on the planet to escape the hype thus far, Duck and Waffle is The Place to Be. Set on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, it's a restaurant and bar serving up both modern British food and stunning views of the Big Smoke.
Normally I miss these trends. By the time I get around to visiting it's not even a case of the ship sailing, but rather more like it leaving the harbour, being decommissioned, and later being revived as an overpriced tourist attraction on the quayside. Not that I'm bothered, a good feed is a good feed, no matter how many others have eaten there before you, and I'm far too lazy and disorganised to be a cutting edge trend-setter.
But then last week the stars aligned; I was up in town for a visit to the Aquatic Centre, and needed a Sunday lunch stop en route to the Olympic Park. Enter Duck and Waffle, with its convenient booking policy (no long queues or knock backs at the entrance) and small plate dining, meaning (theoretically) we could sample lots of different things without falling into a postprandial slumber by the humid pool side.
Walking through the bar area we came to the main dining room, an open plan space featuring round booths for larger groups in the middle, with smaller tables around the edges of the room. The views, even on a muggy and grey August afternoon, are pretty stunning, with vistas reaching from Wembley to Tower Bridge, via the Olympic Park and Canary Wharf. Our table was in a plum spot, with great, uninterrupted scenes of the Gherkin and straight down the River Thames.
From the snacks menu the cod cheeks and pig's ears. Already these seem to have garnered a bit of a cult reputation, and with good reason. The cod chunks (cheeks, not tongues) are like springy, flaky fish nuggets, squeaky fresh and served with a zippy tartare and a bottle of Sarson's. The ears (described as a sort of super-Frazzle by our waiter) were strips of crunchy, fatty porcine heaven.
The cocktail list is short but sweet, comprising of three, ever-changing twists on classic drinks. Our waiter, who turned out to be a real hoot, found out the day's choices for us; a Hendricks sorbet G'n'T, a fig and chocolate infused Manhattan and a whisky sour with a truffle foam. The Ewing and I chose the last two, with the Manhattan for me and the sour for her.
The presentation was a nice bit of theatre, with my Manhattan being presented as a bottle of smoking liquid. The cocktail itself was deep and fragrant, smelling like Christmas with its notes of dried fruit and spice. The Ewing's was an interesting contrast between the heady truffled foam topping and the clean and zesty sour beneath.
A good mound of nicely fatty rabbit rillettes came with a sweet beer chutney and was studded with pistachios. Great for scooping up with thick slices of toasted bread.
Scallops with Granny Smith, lime and black truffle. These were big, bold flavours that somehow managed not to overwhelm the sweet, slippery slices of bivalve. The Himalayan salt block they were served on, as well as looking rather pretty, also cleverly served to season each mouthful.
Octopus with chorizo and lemon. A lovely, classic combination; the octopus was butter soft and worked beautifully with the fatty salty chunks of sausage and sharp-sweet citrus pieces. I cunningly ordered this thinking the Ewing wasn't a big cephalopod fan, sadly it turns out I was wrong and we fought to the last tentacle.
The all day foie gras breakfast, another menu item that has received plenty of interest. This features the unholy sounding combination of crispy bacon, fried quails egg, black pudding balls and foie gras, served on a slice of french toast topped with Nutella. It's crazy, but liver and chocolate spread works (just about).
There's no doubting it's a rich plate of grub and, for once, the Ewing was more than happy to share. It's also a bit of a bargain, at twelve quid (yours for a tenner when they first opened), and definitely worth trying, even if just for the novelty value and the lovely black pudding morsels.
Now, I'm a huge fan of big flavours, and would quite happily dine on a salt lick while drinking saline solution, but most of our plates seemed on the verge of over seasoned and lacking in vegetable elements. The salad/side orders didn't offer a big selection in the way of greenery either, with the likes of olives, peas with smoked bacon, and summer vegetables with ricotta salata not giving much respite from the sodium chloride assault. Thankfully our waiter was ready with the iced water refills, but my palette did start to feel slightly dessicated by the end of lunch.
Although getting dangerously full by this point we were craving something sweet and there wasn't a chance we could leave without at least looking at the pudding menu. In a role reversal I plumped for the choclate brownie while the Ewing picked the peach melba.
The brownie was superb; dark, dense, nutty and sitting on great, unadvertised, slab of toasted marshmallow, surrounded by shards of honeycombe. I liked the peanut ice cream a little less; it wasn't bad, but it did taste a little wan and slightly grainy. This was a serious pud, and definitely for those possessing a very sweet tooth.
The Ewing's peach melba was a nice twist on the classic, featuring a Sicilian peach of a bed of sponge, topped with vanilla ice cream, and strewn with candied almonds and raspberry sauce. I enjoyed this a lot, and took every opportunity to dig my spoon in, hoping to get some much needed vitamin c from the fruit. The Ewing was less enamoured; she enjoyed the flavours, but apparently the combo of cake and ice cream is less than desirable to those with sensitive teeth. Being a sensitive wife, I did offer to finish it for her, but she ploughed manfully on and polished off the lot with out too many problems.
Normally the higher you go the further your expectations fall, but the surprising thing about Duck and Waffle was how ungimmicky it actually felt. Despite ticking all the 'right' boxes; quirky entrance, great setting, small plate sharing menu, fancy cocktails; the end product actually delivered. Food was tasty, the prices fair (watch out for booze though, cocktails were £12/13 and the wine list starts at £25 a bottle and careers quickly upwards) and the service friendly and laid-back. Our waiter particularly was lovely, happily stopping to chat to us and offering to take photos.
With plans for round the clock opening, Duck and Waffle seems the perfect vantage point to watch our great City at work or at play. Just make sure to take your Berocca.