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In the fickle world of 2013 East London, food is fashion – and fashion conquers all. Duck & Waffle sits at the pinnacle of this very trendy scene – both in a literal sense – it is located on the fortieth floor of the Heron Tower in EC2, immediately above its sister restaurant, the atrocious Sushi Samba – and figuratively too – there are few things as currently on-trend as re-purposed British food or gimmicky dishes, and the ‘Duck scores a big greasy tick in both of these boxes.
Despite being open for the best part of nine months, it’s taken me this long get up there (didn’t want to appear too keen, now, did I?). Duck & Waffle is perfectly and sadly typecast as a Hipster-Restaurant – and right from the first minute the place smacks of being too cool for school, from the island-like, inside-out, poorly guarded dispense bar that is an advert for drunken theft attempts and that done-to-death ‘reclaimed-rickety-wood-poverty-chic’ look that graces only the most select places in the East where comfy seating might make you forget to part with your cash. Underfoot, you are walking on tiles which my mate described as “like the floor of a public toilet”.
In such an establishment, the food needs to conquer all: it almost succeeds. Head Chef Daniel Doherty’s vision for the ‘Duck is for a place where “the unparalleled views are a mere afterthought to the cuisine”. With a concept steeped in gimmickism, this was always going to be a big ask, but the 27-year-old Doherty has created a modern European menu which is whimsical and appealing to his fellow Gen X-ers and Y-ers in a precisely-executed, immature kind of way.
One cold March afternoon, we took Brunch (Duck & Waffle is open twenty-four hours, offering breakfast, brunch, all-day and late night menus) and started with a stodgy but flavourful flatbread, swollen with goats cheese and cherry tomatoes. A paper bag full of crispy pigs ears stole the show, spiced with BBQ powder to the point that we could only think of one thing – Frazzles. These were best eaten with the eyes closed – they are very ear-y in appearance and we encountered more than one pig’s hair on the way to an empty bag.
Duck & Waffle’s namesake dish was a trip back to university – its concept smacked of raiding the Tesco ‘reduced to clear’ shelf before whipping up culinary chaos in a shared kitchen to a group of drunken first years’. Surprisingly the concept of sweet-on-sweet, juicy duck leg confit with Belgian waffle worked a little too well. The dish is served with a perfectly-fried duck egg and ‘mustard maple syrup’, which tasted like regular maple syrup with the added inconvenience of picking mustard seeds out of your teeth for the rest of the day.
Desserts are basic but invoke only the fondest memories of childhood, such as (yet more) waffles, served with Nutella and bruléed banana, as well as the best – and only, I dare say – deep fried Mars Bar in London, freshened up with a dose of smooth malted ice cream. The chef thoughtfully presents you with the wrapper, just to remind you that you’ve just spent seven quid on a chocolate bar.
Drinks are much more grown up. Duck & Waffle’s own take on the G&T (just add yuzu) “smelled like petrol” but had a sweet and ginny taste to die for, whereas their Cosmopolitan is given an adult tinge of roasted bone marrow for a wonderful smokey flavour. Less successful was the Belo Martinez, akin to paint stripper with a unhealthy dose of Navy Gin and ‘Antica Formula’ (bloody hipsters – please just call it sweet vermouth) and belo bitters. Not even the presentation (in a cocktail shaker with a truffle on the side) could stop my friend from leaving it almost untouched.
Despite there bering a lot of things for the two of us to catch up on, a large part of lunch was spent staring out of the window. Even if Duck & Waffle were to stop serving childish food and strong liquor, people would still pay for the sweeping views of Shoreditch and beyond to the north, Canary Wharf to the East and pretty much the rest of the city to the West. Service was patchy, yo-yo-ing between turbo-fussy and vanishing off the face of the earth, but I spotted waiters gazing out of the windows on at least four occasions, so I guess they have a pretty good excuse.
Duck & Waffle is centre-stage to a quirky set of restaurants bringing sexy back to London eating. Unfortunately, it over-zealously buys into this concept, making itself slightly more pretentious than the skinny-jeaned waistoids hanging outside Rough Trade on Brick Lane. However, style-over-substance is averted at the eleventh hour with a seriously well-cooked, creative and nostalgic menu which is surprisingly good value – at least until you start on the cocktails and wine (there’s always money to be made in alky-hole). The food is – and always will be – second to the unbeatable views – not just for a restaurant, but anywhere in the city.
Fashion is fickle, and I doubt the ‘Duck will be cool for ever. Fashion is also instantaneous, described by Andrew Bolton, a curator of the New York Met as an “immediate expression of one’s values and state of mind”. Sat at the top of the Heron as snow blustered up the side of the glass, my values were resonating “good food is good food, wherever and whenever” and my state of mind was sitting somewhere between “I can see my house from here” and “I want to come back at 3am, blind drunk after an evening at Underground Rebel Bingo and eat a spicy ox-cheek doughnut” And how many restaurants around town can provoke those kinds of thoughts?
Brunch for two, with a few cocktails and service, came to £hundred-and-twenty, but with mains from £fifteen for the duck and waffle to £thirty for steak – you don’t need much more to have a good time and the view is chucked in for free