There are only two kinds of people who take a late lunch in the City of London; City boys celebrating a deal by getting plastered and older men taking their nieces to lunch.
I was sitting across from a family tableau. A tuberculous looking man on the plus side of sixty was lunching with his niece. She was an attractive blonde, dressed in the slightly slutty fashion that some young women choose for family occasions. The woman’s uncle was obviously keen to glam up her wardrobe. Next to their table was an extravagant pile of gift-wrapped presents.
First came a pigeon blue box containing a pair of earrings. She squealed in delight and put them on, admiring herself in a pocket mirror. The next present was a pair of Christian Louboutin heels. More squeals as she tried them on and traipsed prettily around their table. By this time the entire restaurant was watching the charming family scene unfold. The next gift was from Myla, known for its stupidly expensive lingerie. She picked up a lacy camisole. “Go on, try those on too” growled my companion.”
We never got to see the niece in her lingerie. They both had to interrupt proceedings to answer a call of nature…
We were at the Duck & Waffle, Europe’s highest restaurant, forty floors up the Heron Tower. As our couple returned I wondered whether being forty stories high would qualify you for the mile high club. I couldn’t figure out the niece – perhaps she was an ordinary young feminist having lunch with her uncle. I’ve dated several feminists. They know a lot about relationships and sex having read many books on the subjects. The problem with most feminists though, is that they don’t own any pretty underwear.
The Duck & Waffle is a restaurant struggling with its identity. It sounds like a pub, stays open 24 hours a day like a diner, yet aspires to be a fancy restaurant serving occasionally brilliant but sometime plain weird British food. The staff is inconsistently trained and dressed in cheap black Novotel inspired uniforms with nary a natural fibre. The food and wine prices are expensive, but not unusually so for this part of town. Small plates are around £10 (US$16) and larger plates “for the table” range from £17 to £38. The wine markups however are sometimes obscene. My companion recognized an inexpensive Springfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc priced at £58. It costs £10 at Waitrose. They also appear to have problems with corked wines – twice I’ve had to send bottles back. On one occasion the sommelier proffered the explanation that other bottles in the case had also been corked. Oh good! The service in the bar was so bad that on one occasion I was there people were getting up and leaving after thirstily soaking in the view.
The views are the reason to visit this restaurant. It starts from the moment you enter the elevator that goes up and down from the 40th floor, faster than a whore’s drawers. It is a slightly giddy, occasionally stomach turning, but strangely pleasurable experience. Once you get there you’ll struggle to find the entrance.
Eventually you walk around the toilets and discover the bar and the restaurant. The views are jaw dropping. You are reminded that London is still a mostly low-slung city. The décor is unremarkable, but that’s okay because the view dominates. Being forty floors up you can literally see for miles. I took my mother there recently – it’s a great place to take visitors to London.
The cocktails are inventive and good. I had a deconstructed Bloody Mary called the Essence of Mary. It was clear and golden in colour, with a garnish of sun dried tomato. It was fabulously spicy and evocative of a Bloody Mary, yet lighter and cleaner in flavour.
The Spring Negroni is made with Bombay Sapphire gin, red vermouth (Antica Formula), Aperol, lemongrass and pomegranate. The drink is bottle aged and tastes lighter than a regular Negroni with pleasant lemongrass on the nose..
The Roasted Cosmopolitan was a revelation. It is made with Grey Goose Citron vodka, triple sec, cranberry conserve, lime and…roasted bone marrow seasoning. A sprig of rosemary tops the drink – its powerful fragrance adds to the perception that there is beef in the drink (rosemary is frequently used in beef dishes). The drink tastes richer and darker than a cosmopolitan and yes, it does taste vaguely beefy!
The food is variable with some outstanding dishes and some disappointments.
The spicy ox cheek donut was delicious. It’s dusted with cinnamon, sugar and parika with apricot jam on the side. The flavour is reminiscent of a Chinese pork bun with a spicy kick in its tail. The restaurant’s signature dish is called the duck and waffle. It consists of a leg of confit duck and a fried duck egg served on a waffle with maple syrup. It works. The foie gras “all day breakfast” consists of a brioche lathered with homemade Nutella, bacon, foie gras with a quail’s egg on top. There’s mini meatballs of black pudding to accompany with dots of brown sauce. The saltiness of the bacon, the richness of the foie gras and the sweetness of the nutella work well together. At it’s best the food is clever, inventive and fun.
Other dishes were less successful. The grilled tiger prawns with fennel were undercooked. Strong Parmesan sauce and too much tarragon overwhelmed the delicate flavour of Pollock “meatballs” with lobster cream. Charred corn on the cob with jerk spices, dusted with sweet desiccated coconut was truly awful. The sweetness of the coconut overwhelmed everything else – the dish was left uneaten.
In a town where choices for late night dining are limited to bagels on Brick Lane or Lebanese on Edgware Road, the Duck & Waffle offers a sophisticated alternative. The restaurant tries too hard to be taken seriously. Go for the view, and because it’s fun.
Shopping List for a Favourite Niece
Christmas is coming. If you’d like to recreate the mile high experience here’s what to buy your favourite niece: Start with Tiffany earrings although Dinny Hall provides a boutique British alternative. Louboutin heels will make any niece stand up taller. Underwear from Myla will have her nicely ready to join whatever club you have in mind….