Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Duck & Waffle, London

Duck & Waffle.

A very hip, very trendy, very famous spot in London.  Notable for many things, ranging from the views (up on the 40th floor of Heron Tower, highest restaurant in the city), to the hours (open 24 hours, 7 days a week), to the cuisine (not just including the signature Duck & Waffle), to the ridiculous advance reservations you need for any reasonable meal time (literally, at least a month out).

I've wanted to visit Duck & Waffle on previous visits to London, but was never able to plan far enough in advance ... several weeks wouldn't cut it.  Finally, on my most recent trip, I made the reservation the moment I booked my flight, nearly two months in advance.

We secured a coveted Friday evening time slot, for a group of 6.  I was quite excited, although still a bit skeptical that it would actually taste good, and not just be all about the experience.
Trendy Meal.
We tried a large assortment of items.  They sounded great.  The looked great.  Most were underwhelming, with, oddly, the exception of the duck & waffle, not something I expected to like, but, clearly a signature dish they have perfected.

Setting

Duck & Waffle is located in Heron Tower, on the 40th floor.  They have a private glass elevator that whisks you to the top.  To get to the elevator, you go through red ropes, must confirm your name, go through a X-ray, have your bags searched, and your water confiscated (seriously?).  It was a scene just to get in (that said, the view from the elevator was perhaps the highlight of the experience).
The View.
The view once inside is also impressive, but a bit hard to capture on my cell phone camera.  This is the best I have, sorry.
Bar.
The front area is a bar, very ... busy, both in decoration and in activity level.  I believe this area is for walk-ins only.
Round Room.
The main dining room is a stunning space, round, large glass windows on all sides.  Coveted seats are along the windows, but the middle seats are comfortable round booths.

Many of the window seats are intimate tables for two, couples enjoying dates overlooking the city.

We had one of two large wooden tables, right near the entrance, but also along a window.
Open Kitchen.
The side of the room that isn't glass is the open kitchen.  There wasn't that much to see though, as it had high counters, just, dishes flying out of the pass, constantly.

Cocktails

"This month’s list of cocktails comes from the recently launched first self-titled book by Rich Woods (AKA The Cocktail Guy). The Cocktail Guy is available to buy in the restaurant and includes brand new creations as well as some of his iconic drinks from both Duck & Waffle and SUSHISAMBA. @the_cocktailguy"
The cocktail menu was amazing sounding.  "I want like all of these!", I kept saying.

They sounded better than they were, and were *very& pricey.  Also, the staff kept trying to get us to buy the associated cocktail book.  Pushy, pushy.

 Our drinks didn't arrive until after multiple dishes.  Minus a few points.
Black Cherry Godfather. £14.
"Monkey Shoulder whisky, black cherry liqueur, dry essence, caramel bitters. Served short and over ice. The Black Forest gâteau of Godfathers."

For my cocktail, I finally decided on the Black Cherry Godfather.  The large ice cube in the center was impressive at first, until I realized just how small my actual cocktail was.  Sure, this wasn't a fruity drink nor mixed with much, but, uh, it was less than a shot, seriously.  Other drinks were similarly thimble sized.  Minus a point.

It tasted like whisky, sure, but I didn't detect the black cherry nor caramel tones.  It was highly lackluster.

At nearly $19 USD, this seemed ... ridiculous.  I know I was paying for the view, and the creative cocktail, but, seriously?

I also tried my companion's "Peanut, Rye & Dry".

"Rye whiskey, peanut butter liqueur, dry Vermouth. A rich, nutty and dry cocktail. Served short and over ice."

It was actually incredible, the most memorable part of the night.  The peanut flavor was just crazy.  Liquid ... peanut.  I loved it, but didn't order it, too disgruntled at the slow drink service and prices.

Food

But we were (mostly) there for the food right?

Overall, everything was well conceived, decently executed, and well presented, but really failed to impress me.
Menu.
The menu is broken into 5 sections: Snacks, Freshly Baked Breads, Small Plates, For the Table, and Sides.

Everything is designed to be shared, and arrives as it is ready, a fact that the staff told us several times, warning us that things might not come in the order we expected.  Which was basically true, our main dish showing up halfway through the small plates, the bread coming last.

Small Plates

The largest section of the menu is small plates, about 15 choices in all.  These were the dishes that sounded the best to me, and luckily my fellow diners agreed, so we focused on order on this section.

We skipped the "Snacks" section (even smaller bites than "Small Plates"), but, I was certainly tempted by the bacon wrapped dates or the bbq crispy pigs ears.  Still, I was happy with our selections, we ordered nearly every small plate I wanted to try, 
SPICY OX CHEEK DOUGHNUT. £12.
"Apricot jam, smoked paprika sugar."

Ok, ox cheek may not be something I generally get excited about, but a savory doughnut sounded pretty awesome.  Plus, reviews rave about this.

It was a giant (seriously, huge) donut hole.  I tried to describe it to my fellow diners before we ordered, assuring them that one would be fine for our group of 5, but "donut hole" and "shareable" are hard to reconcile.  It was indeed easily sharable, and really, quite impressive when it was set down in front of us.

The doughnut itself was coated in paprika sugar.  I loved the flavor in that coating.  It was crispy on the outside, sorta doughy on the inside, but I didn't actually like the doughnut that much.
SPICY OX CHEEK DOUGHNUT: Inside.
And stuffed inside it?  The shredded ox cheek.  This was good, fine, savory.  Pulled pork would probably be more of a crowd pleaser, but I like that they did something different.

The sauce was a sweet apricot jam, like the exterior sugar, very sweet.  Too sweet for me.

Definitely an interesting dish, and I like the idea of it, and the sweet and savory combo, but, I didn't care for this.  One diner liked this, the others lacked enthusiasm but ate it.  Not in anyone's top three.
ANGUS BEEF TARTARE. £11.
"Pickled onion, mustard, marmite egg yolk & dripping croutes."

Next up was tartare, which I actually skipped, as I don't generally care for tartare, and I was still awaiting my drink ...

No one rated this a favorite either.
FOIE GRAS CRÈME BRÛLÉE. £13.
"Pork crackling & marmalade brioche."

Ok, now we were getting somewhere.  Was this the reason we were there?  Well, maybe.

You know how much I love foie gras and creme brulee, so, this was entirely up my alley.  Add in a pork crackling coated brioche (!), and clearly, I had to get it.

The creme brulee was perfection in terms of execution.  Super crispy top, very creamy.  Great caramelization on the brulee top.  They nailed this aspect of it.

The brioche was warm, soft sweet, decent enough.  The pork cracklings were on top of this, which gave it some crunch.

As much as this was executed well, it didn't wow me.  The foie flavor wasn't that great, and really, I had much, much better foie gras at Frenchie the night before (stay tuned!).

It was the favorite for one diner, third for another.
CELERIAC CARBONARA. £13.
"Pancetta cream, truffle rapeseed oil, confit duck yolk."

Next, there play on a carbonara, with shredded celeriac instead of noodles (channeling the ever trendy zoodles).

I didn't really taste the pancetta cream, but the truffle flavor was strong and good.  The confit duck yolk yielded appropriate food porn when it was cut into.

But overall, another meh for me.  One diner rated it their favorite.
'NDUJA SEARED OCTOPUS. £12.
"Whipped yellow lentils, fennel, green sauce."

Now we were getting to one that I was excited about.  I adore seared octopus, and please, who doesn't love 'nduja?

The presentation was great, topped with shaved fennel.

But ... the octopus lacked any of the smoky flavor I was hoping for.  The lentils kinda took over, and I don't like lentils.  And I'm not sure where the 'nduja was hiding.

It was the favorite of one diner though.

Freshly Baked Breads

I knew that Duck & Waffle specializes in fresh breads (not standard breads at all), so I insisted we get one of these.  There were many fantastic options, like a 'nduja & gruyere one (!), but, we went for my top pick, the cornbread.

We were warned when we ordered that this would take a while to prepare, and come "out of order", so we weren't surprised when our bread was the last item to arrive.
MAPLE GLAZED CORNBREAD, HARISSA YOGHURT. £7.
Like most dishes, the presentation was great, served in a hot cast iron skillet, on a wooden board.

A very hot cast iron skillet.  We had to be very careful serving this and passing it around.  I don't think a restaurant in the US would dare serve something like this, as I'm sure someone would burn themselves and sue.

The cornbread was great.  It wasn't anything like traditional cornbread though, it was really moist, filled with herbs, and full kernels of corn.  I loved the maple glaze, the maple flavor was strong, and it was nicely sweet.

The harissa yoghurt was on top, along with a few slices of jalapeno, but I mostly avoided it, choosing to enjoy the sweetness.  I think it would have been amazing with maple butter or something instead ...

Still, one of the better dishes.

For the Table

From the main dish section, "For the Table", we only got one item: the signature duck & waffle, but other choices were more pedestrian crowd pleasers: whole roasted chicken, whole roasted sea bass, bone-in rib-eye, uh, rabbit, and a vegetarian ravioli.

All designed to be shared, obviously.

We skipped the side dishes, just a salad or roast sweet potato.
DUCK & WAFFLE. £18.
"Crispy leg confit, fried duck egg, mustard maple syrup."

I've never really cared for duck.  I don't like eggs.  I had little hope for the waffle.  I figured this was mostly a gimmick, a play on chicken and waffles, and, well, people love fun concepts.

It turned out to be really good.  We very, very quickly ordered another.

I wish I had a better photo so you could see the full dish composition, but, there was a half a waffle, topped with a duck leg, topped with the fried egg, with a little pitcher of mustard maple syrup on the side.

The waffle wasn't particularly good, just a crispy waffle, no real distinct flavor, certainly not buttermilk.  But fine for a generic waffle.  I didn't try the egg, but, it did look nicely prepared.

But the duck.  Wow.  It was very, very, very good.  The best duck I've ever had, no question.  It was crazy crispy, so flavorful.  I have no idea how they prepared it, but, wow, it changed my view on duck entirely.

This was my and one other's favorite dish, and the second pick of another.

Desserts

I had high hopes for the desserts.

I'm a dessert girl in general obviously, but the dessert lineup in particular sounded fantastic.

However, of my group of 5, we had one person who wanted to abstain from dessert, one who wanted to order a personal dessert rather than share, and then two others who were willing to share with me, but wanted different items than I did. 

The other two wanted the exact same two items, and one of the desserts they wanted was explicitly very large, noting that it served two on the menu.  Hmmm.  And they didn't really want my top choice.

I begrudgingly agreed to get their two (one of which was my third choice), but also still got my top choice, leaving out my second choice (baked Alaska).  I knew that ordering 3 desserts (which the menu said would be for 4+)when there was only 3 of us who wanted it might be risky (only because I always feel compelled to polish off all the desserts), but, I was so unsatisfied I couldn't give up on ordering the one I wanted.
SALTED CARAMEL CHOUX BUN. £10.
"Smoked hazelnut cream."

First up was the one that the other two wanted, that I really could care less about.  I don't ever like choux pastry.

The choux was incredibly dark, something everyone commented on.  I guess this was the caramel?  For me it was still just choux, and not my thing.  It was topped with cream and shards of something.

On the side was hazelnut cream and hazelnuts.  The cream was very sweet and didn't taste smoky in any way.

It looked good presentation wise, but none of us liked this.
WHITE CHOCOLATE AND CHESTNUT MOUSSE. £9.
"Vanilla shortbread, clementine sorbet." 

Next, my pick, because I was a bit obsessed with chestnut since my time in Japan, chestnut mousse.

This was not what I was expecting, at all.  Where was the chestnut mousse? (A: hiding behind this all).  But again, a nice presentation.

The very base of the plate did have a chestnut paste, very flavorful and tasty, and it met my needs for chestnut.

But everything else ... meh.  The vanilla shortbread was an interesting texture, somehow very crispy and airy at the same time, but cookie/biscuits aren't really high on my list.  On top was clementine sorbet, and, well, I don't like sorbet.  The jelly cubes also seemed to be citrus, presumably clementine.

For a dish called "white chocolate and chestnut mousse", I was disappointed by how much of it was shortbread and sorbet, as those were really not what I was going for.  Overall, it was fine, but not great, not really what I wanted.

I was very glad we got the torrejas.
TORREJAS (Serves Two). £16.
"Maple caramel apples, cinnamon ice cream."

Next, my third choice, the torrejas.  This turned out to be the crowd favorite, and, my favorite too.

Compared to the others, it looked like a rustic mess.

Served in a square cast iron skillet, hot and fresh.  Two huge slices of french toast, a scoop of cinnamon ice cream, and some cooked apples sticking out awkwardly.  They weren't wining any presentation points on this one, but, it was the best tasting dessert we had, so, who cares.

The star was the french toast, super thick slices, really well caramelized (although borderline burnt).  It was super crispy, yet fluffy inside.  Warm and satisfying.

The cinnamon ice cream was pretty standard, creamy enough, and it melted in well.  The apples were decently cooked, slightly sweet.

Definitely a huge portion, and a bit hard for us to finish, but it was everyone's top pick for dessert, including the person who wasn't sharing with us, who went in for some of this too.
Duck & Waffle Local Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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