Originally published 2015 (some alterations for clarity have been made)
I know that Duck and Waffle has been going for a while now and reviewed left right and centre, but its often worth going to a restaurant after the initial impetus that it launches on, as that’s when you get the real service, the service they give as standard when not under a microscope. It’s also worth going at the non-peak times for the same reason. Said level of service should of course be just as it is at peak times and when the microscope is on them, after all, the price doesn’t drop.
So last Thursday I headed to Heron Tower in the City for a special lunch with my boyfriend. We chose Duck and Waffle on the basis that the food combinations looked intriguing and I seem to constantly be crying at the lack of innovation on menus these days. Then of course there was the view, I usually give restaurants up tall towers a miss as the food is invariably over priced and poor, they seem to think that when you’re dining above a certain altitude you forget how to taste and what good value is. This said the prices on the menu were about right for any good restaurant at any altitude and the reviews were almost universally positive. Almost inevitably we were both left feeling entirely unsatisfied by our experience, and resenting every penny it cost us.
We of course arrived at the entrance on the ground floor looking forward to the late lunch I’d managed to secure at a weeks notice, unfortunately the enthusiasm for the meal ahead did not last past this point. The two that greeted us at the desk in front of the dedicated elevators managed to be nothing if not dismissive of us. I think it was on the basis that we were not going to Sushi Samba the floor bellow Duck and Waffle. This would be slightly understanding if they worked for Sushi Samba, and maybe they did, but in this case that’s no excess at all. The two restaurants are owned by the same company, so the two restaurants and their staff are not in competition. But this was nothing, nothing I tell you, compared to what wad to greet us after the lift ride to the restaurant.
Having wondered through a long dark winding corridor, already somewhat miffed and predisposed against the staff, with no reception desk along the way, we came out into the bar area with its views out towards Stratford one side and the city the other. Again at this point there was no member of staff let alone actual reception desk to welcome you, all there was was a large table in the centre of the small room which clearly served as the bar and had glasses hanging down over it so that you could not see to the other side of the room. Wondering in I spotted what looked like a reception desk, though it was unmanned, resulting in us waiting for anyone to arrive from inside the restaurant to deal with us. No body in the bar, not even their head barman who was in the bar and seemed to be too busy hugging and chatting away to the woman had come up in the lift with us and clearly a friend, bothered to come over and offer help. Instead we waited, and we waited, and we waited some more until eventually two turned up at once (perhaps they run their staff according to London busses?). Then we had to have them take their time and acted as if this was a hardship for them and that they were doing us a real favour. Finding our reservation seemed to take an age. I thought she was waiting for our table to be ready, but that clearly wasn’t the case as the restaurant was half empty as it transpired when we were finally shown in by another more friendly member of staff, who, when I asked if we could have the table by the window that was free rather than the one she showed us to, was good enough to let us have it.
Decor wise the restaurants is laid back and modern, after all that’s the food and really a restaurant up a tower is all about the views. View wise, when you’re up one of the tallest towers in the city, what view do you expect to see? The City? St Pauls? Not I’m guessing the ‘delightful and picturesque’ lands of Tower Hamlets and Hackney laid out before you to survey, because I’m afraid that’s what we got and what a majority of diners will have got given the direction the restaurant faces, for the good views you need to be in the bar, but even then they are partly blocked by other towers. You could see the Olympic park but that did little to improve the view and some will be able to see Canary Wharf but really the best view in the pace is from the glass lift that whisks you too, and thankfully from the restaurant, the views out towards Westminster are superb and at the end you have the best view of them all, the exit.
Food wise the menu followed in the recent trend of not clearly setting out starters and mains. Instead it started with breads and raw fish, small plates and then plates for the table (because of course the other dishes are all designed to be eaten on the floor). Of course the latter limited selection of dishes were the main courses, but non-really took our fancy so we ordered their homemade artichoke and parmesan bread, two raw fish – Yellow fin Tuna, and Cornish Mackerel, and two small plates to share, the roasted octopus, and the foie gras crème brûlée.
The first thing to come was the violet artichoke and Parmesan bread, which can’t be faulted. It was a base of dough (it called to mind the dough used for garlic bread at Pizza Express) topped with the cooked artichoke and finally melted Parmesan. As I say it really was good and one of the best of these types of bread dishes I’ve had.
The Yellow Fin Tuna with avocado, balsamic reduction and foie gras was next to be served. I have to say that I’d forgotten that it came with foie gras and it was so indiscernible as a flavour and I can only surmise that the mouse like sprinkling over the dish was foie gras and created either by shaving frozen foie gras on it or by using a spray gun to cover it in foie gras mouse. This aside the tuna was perfectly fresh with the balsamic and avocado puree going nicely with it. It did lack some oomph which could have been sorted with a bit of salt and the inclusion of a wedge of lime. The mackerel with its rhubarb, kohl rabi and fennel herb was, I fear, a mistake. The mackerel was not raw and texture wise put one in mind of eel rather than mackerel, it did go well with the rhubarb, even though the two are well suited, but the extent of the bones (unforgivable) and the kohl rabi’s painful tingling affect on my tongue made the dish unpalatable.
The Octopus came next, a dish that I was looking forward to having as it was the first recipe by Duck and Waffle I’d ever read and I was fascinated by the use of a daikon radish to tenderise the octopus rather than the usual boiling. It clearly works well as the octopus was beautifully tender (assuming they did use the daikon). It is of course a classic combination octopus, chorizo, potato, capers and lemon. All was done very nicely and the clear twist from the norm (other than the tenderising method) was that the lemon was cooked in with the dish, rather than the juice just being squeezed in, meaning it had that bitter lemon flavour you get from cooked lemon pith. The only problem with it was the same as with the tuna, it was executed with out a fault but left you with the impression that something was missing flavour wise. But ones thing’s for sure, you couldn’t say the same about the foie gras crème brûlée. Its problem was that the buttered lobster that topped it, despite being perfectly cooked it was entirely indiscernible thanks to the rich toffee like flavour of the brûlée and the rich butteriness of the toasted brioche. Indeed the overwhelming taste was foie gras covered in toffee. Not nice. I couldn’t help but think it was the type of combination an oligarchs kid might come up with as a university student, pissed and hungry staring into an empty fridge save for the lobster and foie gras left over from earlier in the week.
I have spoken about the service when we first arrived, but I should say something about it during the meal. The staff seemed friendly and all busy doing things, but none of the things they seemed to be doing was looking after the diners, the only interaction with them seemed to be the taking of orders and the delivery and clearing of the food at the tables. I not saying I want lots of engagement from waiters but more than them putting food down and immediately walking away would be nice as some sort of acknowledgment that you’re more than just cattle there to be fed and bled of money.
As a final word I would say that our experience at the restaurant left us somewhat empty in spirit. The service wasn’t overtly rude, it couldn’t be given how non-existent it was and when there was interaction it was limited and uninterested in your presence there. While the food may have been was well prepared and had flavour, but they were either awful flavours (in my view) or left you feeling flat and unsatisfied just as the view did. I’m sure if you’re a regular they are probably very friendly and good with you but following our experience we will be becoming such people.
Update (April 2019)
Almost as soon as I tweeted my link to this review, it was liked, and possible retweeted by, the Duck and Waffle twitter account, so confident were they that it was going to be a glowing review. Hours later they actually got round to reading it and deleted their tweet. Since then Duck and Waffle has continued to thrive, even opening Duck and Waffle Local in the St James’s Market development serving a similar menu.