Last week, upon opening my front door, I came face to face with a chihuahua, which casually looked me up and down before scampering into the neighbour’s shed.
Then its tail gave it away: it wasn’t a chihuahua, it was a rat. A huge rat. I haven’t eaten at home since. Every time I start cooking, I have a vision of the rat and eat out instead. That rat is costing me a fortune.
I’m not sure why this particular rat has got under my skin; one of the best places I ever ate was overrun with the things. It was a restaurant in Malaysia that opened onto the street, where I was served steamed buns so light I had to hold on to the table to stop myself floating away. Gigantic, greasy rats were everywhere, scurrying under the tables and running around the benches where dim sum were being steamed. After I’d finished, I noticed the staff were washing dishes right in the middle of the rat super-highway. It still goes down as one of my favourite meals.
The point is, venue isn’t everything. At Duck & Waffle, though, it goes a long way. It is located on the 40th floor of the recently opened Heron Tower, from which you can stare down into the shadowy dome of the Gherkin. The glass-fronted lift that takes you up goes at a hell of a speed.
“My eyes are popping,” said someone in the lift, before clarifying that they meant their ears, which is just as well.
The only restaurant in London with views to compete is at the top of the BT Tower, and that’s only open for special occasions after the IRA put a bomb in the men’s toilets in the early 1970s.
In any normal restaurant, our table would have been “the quiet one next to the window”. At Duck & Waffle that window is a sheer drop of almost 200 metres, which is both spectacular and terrifying. By the end of the meal, the window was filled with greasy hand smears from our bickering about which landmark was which (I was usually right).
I ordered one of the cheaper bottles of wine on the menu (which, at £40, wasn’t cheap at all), mostly because it was called Kung Fu Girl Riesling, and I’m a sucker for marketing. I asked the waiter why it had such a silly name. He didn’t know. He asked the sommelier, Christophe, who came and squatted by the table and told us a story about the owner of the vineyard. The conclusion was: there is no reason at all. Anyway, he knows his stuff.
The menu – which is reasonably priced at £7-ish for small dishes and £11-ish for bigger ones – is a kind of pan-European tapas, and the quality varies greatly from dish to dish.
First to arrive was the pig’s head, which was no better than the ham you got as a kid that came in the shape of a bear’s face. Next came bacon wrapped dates, which were delicious, the smoky meat offsetting the sticky sweetness of the dates. Scallops on apple with black truffle was a minor catastrophe, with big chunks of fruit completely overpowering the subtler tastes.
The roasted essex beetroot was fine, although I’m still fishing lumps of burned honey out of my teeth, but the snaking tentacles of octopus with chorizo and capers was virtually inedible, coated in a thick layer of slimy skin, which the chef should have known better than to leave on. Roasted salt beef was like a posh beef jerky served with a fried egg on top, which tasted reassuringly unhealthy.
Our desserts (torrejas and eton mess) were unremarkable, unlike the cocktails, which would have been considered the height of sophistication in the 1980s, all Manhattans and dark and stormys. I ordered a sazerac, which was served with a blowtorch. The resident mixologist then whipped out a block of charred wood, set fire to it, flipped my glass upside-down and filled it with smoke, before adding the booze. It slipped down like a dream. The dark and stormy was served in a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag, which made my guest look a bit like a New York hobo fallen on good times, especially with the endless expanse of the city unfolding behind her.
And that’s the reason you come to Duck & Waffle – it has a really nice view, which allows you to at least partially forgive the lacklustre food.
On the way out, tipsy from the cocktails (OK, drunk from the cocktails), we rode the lift up and down three times like kids at a theme park. You can’t do that in Noma.
First published in City A.M.