How many ducks must needlessly suffer to sate Dan Doherty’s ego?
Following the colossal success of Duck & Waffle a ‘local’ version of London’s highest restaurant has recently opened behind Piccadilly Circus. If the ‘local’ tag is anything to go by – this new space is specially targeted at the fourteen people wealthy enough to boast a Westminster postcode. Looming over the square mile – on the 40th floor of Heron Tower – the original Duck & Waffle’s panoramic views across the city, punctuated by the phallic glass erections that pierce the skyline, are an attempt to deter from the average food served. From my seat at the new restaurant, I can see Tiger Tiger and Pizza Express. After dinner, I can’t help but feel that I’d have found greater satisfaction with a slapdash Sloppy Guiseppe and warm bottle of Peroni.
At Duck & Waffle Local, the menu seems far more accessible than the original, peppered with a medley of dishes that showcase Chef Dan Doherty’s penchant for rich comfort food, in a far more suitable manner, while the service is casual and efficient. The service is so efficient, in fact, that our main courses arrive before we’ve even finished eating our starters. The whole experience is so rushed that I almost expect to be asked to stack the chairs on the table and turn the lights off on the way out. Joining a number of favourites from the original restaurant (namely the signature Duck & Waffle, albeit cheaper here) – a number of new dishes are on offer. Though some vegetarian options are available, the main courses’ meat offering is exclusively rooted in waterfowl. To quote John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty: “well, if you don’t like duck, uhhh, you’re rather stuck.”
Elsewhere, the drinks offering asserts the curious stupidity of offering four wines on tap – one red, white, rose, and “bubbles”. There is also the infuriating prefix of words like ‘Millennial’ to describe the Mojito, or a ‘Breakfast Fizz’ with a burnt toast reduction that smells like the warning signs of having a stroke. A slightly smoky Negroni made with a black olive infusion tastes like Pizza Hut’s ‘Super Supreme’, and a saccharine white basil spritz looks as though scooped from a pond in January. As for the food, the duck jam doughnut is a colossal sphere of stodge, stuffed with slow-cooked duck meat. The duck is fine, but the doughnut is coated with a sickly Wheat Crunchies-style seasoning, discordantly paired with a pool of cloying orange reduction. Ordered out of sheer curiosity, foie gras crème brûlée favours controversial foie gras (the duck variety, of course) whipped and topped with a layer of burnt sugar. The combination of liver parfait and sugar is less terrible than expected, but the foie is bland and tasteless: a complete waste of high quality ingredients.
Far better is the BBQ crispy pig’s ear – the only non-duck meat dish here. Served in a brown paper bag with a synthetic wax seal, strips of pig’s ear have pleasant crunch and depth of sweet/salty flavour, like gussied-up Frazzles. Recommended over the signature Duck & Waffle, duck breast Schnitzel is a contemporary riff on a classic Austrian dish. Fortuitously, the pounded duck breast isn’t overcooked, which makes it somewhat easier to overlook the breaded escalope’s soggy bottom. The meat, alas, is bland and flabby. The duck burger, here, would be great if it weren’t piled to resemble Trump Tower. This would be fine, if only the tiny serving plate had the space to accommodate toppling the burger to eat with cutlery. Indeed, the duck leg inside is cooked very well, but it’s so unsuited to the harsh coleslaw with its taste of nine-volt batteries, or the topping of dried noodles, unleashing a bitter taste of teenage poverty.
Spears of al dente tender stem broccoli, on the side, are a peculiar anomaly, delicious with slivers of fried garlic, chilli and a restrained implement of crème fraiche. Quinoa, on the other hand, parodies a bowl of compost – underdressed, bone dry, bleak and arduous to swallow; it’s one of the most unremittingly vile things ever to have passed my lips. Duck fat fries are plastered with unpleasant rosemary salt and ultimately like chicken and thyme-flavoured Walker’s Sensations, without the refreshing zing of lemon. With so many crisp references, the majority of the (allegedly) savoury dishes seem best suited to a petrol station forecourt, juxtaposed to a central London diner or Square Mile skyscraper.
Desserts are clearly the sole forte at Duck & Waffle Local. Three waffles are available, either hot and fluffy or cold and wrapped like ice cream cones. ‘The Full Elvis’ is, quite fittingly, a heart attack on a plate, but strangely sating. A sweet waffle is fleecy and topped with delights of smooth peanut butter, strawberry jam, refreshing raspberries, a caramelised banana half, cream and ice cream. Elsewhere, the ‘Caramelised Banana’ dessert is aesthetically similar, with banana, sickly hazelnut chocolate spread (Nutella by any other name) and vanilla ice cream.
On the way out, I notice a stack-a-box filled with innocent duck legs, awaiting the wrath of the kitchen, and want to cry. Duck & Waffle Local has its moments, but the view from the sky-high original is clearly the real unique selling point. On the ground, alas, the entire concept is simply absurd.