It’s not often you get to look down on the Gherkin – sorry, 30 St Mary Axe – but believe me, when you do, it takes a while for your brain to adjust. It certainly takes a while for your brain to settle after the 24 seconds of “OMG!” as you ascend to Duck and Waffle in the lift, feeling, I assume, somewhat like Charlie did in the Great Glass Elevator.
Once I’d got my breath back, I felt adventurous enough to look down across the city, onto the roof of the Gherkin, realised that I could see Tower Bridge lit up like a bright ribbon across the dark glass river…
…and then went on to enjoy some of the most interesting and fresh tasting dishes that I have eaten in a while. (That’s the ceiling of the restaurant at the top of the photo, perils of a place surrounded by windows, but I rather like the effect.)
Duck and Waffle is located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, just along from Liverpool Street station on Bishopsgate. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I can see why it is so popular. The view across the city is simply stunning, and the food more than equals it.
I think you have to be prepared to be adventurous, but you can also find food on their menu that is traditional and comforting.
I will say that yes, it is on the pricey side, so I would treat this as a special occasion restaurant. A dish of foie gras crème brûlée topped with butter roasted lobster would cost you £16, a 300g angus rib eye with pearl barley, heritage carrots and raw radish would be £35. Though I saw that dish being plated up as we walked out and oh my word...
Dan Doherty is only a young chap, 28 I think, and nicely inked. I do like a tattooed chef. He is also quietly unassuming, talking with obvious enthusiasm about the dishes that he is creating, but it’s obvious that this is about the food, not the man. Many chefs would do well to follow his example. I got the distinct impression that I could happily talk with him about flavours/tastes/matching ingredients for quite some time.
He started his career at the age of 16, in the Michelin starred kitchen of Herbert Berger's 1 Lombard in London. That must have been one hell of an experience for such a young man.
He greeted us both with the European double cheek kiss, spent some time catching up with Kavey, and then told us about the new dishes he’s going to be putting on the menu, and which old favourites would never come off the menu – duck and waffle being the most excellent signature dish. That pretty much does what it says on the tin. The tin marked EAT ME.
We took our time pondering the menu, whilst tucking into the bag of pigs’ ears. Yes. Ears.
Do you remember the very first time you ate a Frazzle? That hit of salt, sweet, smoke tang that took your tongue into a realm where the flavour shock was king? Back in the days before they took out all the E numbers, and reduced the salt and sugar for our own good?
That. In a brown paper bag, with a red wax seal. A mix of crunchy and soft spirals and sticks, just begging to be eaten. So we did. It was very hard to stop eating them, to tell you the truth. I know Jay Rayner swiftly ordered another bag when his ran out, and only stopped himself from ordering a third bag ‘out of shame’. I almost ordered another bag to bring home.
The first dish out was a new one that wasn’t yet on the menu, but one he wanted us to try as he was working on it. When a chef of Dan’s calibre says “You must try this.” you do so. Gratefully.
A devilled duck egg on a bed of paper thin slices of pig’s head, marinated in Korean spices, fruit and herbs. Before you all pull a face, the head is completely boned out, so you do not have a pig looking at you head on.
The egg was rich, slightly spiced so that you got all the creaminess of the yolk, without it being overpowered . The pork was tangy with citrus, and the slices so tender they almost fell apart as you took them off the plate. It was almost too tangy for me on its own, but it absolutely worked with the egg. We made short work of that, but as soon as we had finished out came our next dish.
Mackerel tartare with smoked vodka, cucumber, pickled apple and horseradish served in a gorgeous rock salt bowl. We had two small spoons with which to mix the fish, and as you mixed, it picked up the seasoning from the bowl.
I am not a mackerel fan but this...we tried the fish first with the cucumber, then with the apple, then on its own. I preferred the apple, but both ways were excellent. The smoked vodka is a definite presence but in no way does it take over. It’s almost background, and complements the freshness of the fish, but tones down the heat of the horseradish. Perfect.
That didn’t last long either. We might have actually devoured it without breathing.
The next two dishes were also served on beautiful pieces of pink rock salt;
Apple pieces topped with thin slices of raw scallop, lime and black truffle - utterly delicious, seasoned by the rock salt block and gone in seconds.
Watermelon pieces topped with yellow fin tuna, baby basil leaves and balsamic – I wasn’t sure this would work but oh, it really does.
Both dishes combined crunchy, smooth and salty perfectly, and were a brilliant palate cleanser too.
The next dish...I may run out of words.
Foie gras crème brûlée with butter roasted Scottish lobster. That description cannot do justice to the small bowl of smooth richness that arrived, accompanied by tender brioche toast. Even the word ‘rich’ would be underused here.
This was a deeply savoury dish, very creamy, easily spread on the brioche, with the richness tempered by the not overly sweet, dark crackled sugar on top. The lobster pieces were soft and buttery, but meaty enough to work with the fois gras and not lose the flavour battle.
This dish took us longer, as it was just so silky and mellow we wanted to take our time. We needed a rest!
Oh and then…then came pigs’ cheeks on cheesy polenta with a fried pickle.
I’ve never used luscious to refer to meat, but these deserved that word. The polenta and the pig cheek work extremely well together, and the pickle would have added that spear of sharpness, but I think the pickle slice needed to be thicker. It had merged slightly into its crunchy coating, so the tang was lost. The lamb’s lettuce acted as an excellent contrast to the meat though.
We had to have a rest at that point, because we knew what was coming next, and wanted to be able finish it!
Signature dish time! Duck and Waffle.
Confit duck leg, on a waffle, with a fried duck egg and mustard spiced maple syrup on the side.
I (wo)manfully removed the skin so we both had the crispy parts, then shredded the soft meat.
I don’t think there was much talking, but there was much dousing of the waffle with syrup. Salty, crispy, sweet, and perfect. A plate after my own heart.
We realised that dessert loomed. I know we could have demurred, but no. No.
Baked Alaska vanilla baked Alaska with strawberry liqueur and mint oil. I was not passing that up.
It arrived nestled into a large bowl, looking for all the world like a small alien lifeform. A small, tasty alien life form. It did not disappoint.
Perfect meringue, with crisp peaks and a soft underside. The mint oil drops worked incredibly well, and when mixed into the strawberry left an almost basil-like taste. Just the thing to mix with the proper vanilla ice cream within.
Oh, and then…and then…
Torrejas, with maple caramel apples and cinnamon ice cream. (the pink is from the overhead lights.)
Brioche, soaked overnight in eggs and cream (I think) and then fried. Like French toast, but grown up and made into pillows of sweetness. The ice cream had a nicely pronounced cinnamon flavour (hooray!) and the apples retained their tartness.
We stopped there, our stomachs reminding us that we still had to get home, and so could we please not eat so much that we fell asleep.
All in all, an utterly spectacular treat of an evening. I felt extremely privileged to try Dan’s new egg/bacon dish but yes, when a chef wants to share food that he is so enthusiastic about, you say yes, right? I was grateful to everyone, as they looked after us so well.
Go, and go soon, and take it easy in the lift in the way back down.
My thanks to Kavey for inviting me, and to Dan and the staff for making it a fabulous evening.
Lastly thank you to the City, for being so sprawlingly beautiful under the night sky.