The concept: Duck & Waffle on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower has become one of London’s most emblematic and beloved restaurants. Open 24 hours, it offers awe-inspiring views of the Big Smoke. Watching the sun set over the city as you look down on the Gherkin and St Paul’s is a thrill that’s hard to tire of – the cinematic grandeur of the view makes you feel like the master of your universe.
While it’s impossible to replicate the giddy joy of dining in the clouds at a street level site, Duck & Waffle’s rebellious little sister restaurant, Duck & Waffle Local in St James’s Market, Piccadilly, isn’t trying to imitate the original, but rather carve a niche as a destination venue in its own right.
Launched as part of an ambitious expansion plan on the part of its owners, the 120-seater site is quicker, cheaper and more casual than its older sibling, yet shares its irreverent sense of humour and easy charm.
The décor: The cavernous space is characterful in the extreme. With its waved, corrugated iron ceiling and mishmash arrangement of metal, brick and timber, it feels like walking into a boat maker’s workshop.
Jarring somewhat with the natural wood are cherry red lacquered tabletops and tiles in the open kitchen. Adding to its industrial character are low-hung filament bulbs, wine cages and random bits of farm machinery hanging from the ceiling.
The food: Dogmatic in his approach, executive chef Dan Doherty treats the humble duck with near-religious reverence here, making it star of the show on the menu, and the only meat on offer. Like the famous Fawlty Towers episode, if you don’t like duck then you’re rather stuck.
Fortunately I do, so I wasted no time getting stuck into some of the duck-shaped nibbles on the menu, bypassing the duck jam donut for fear of filling up too soon.
In the battle of the small bites, the deeply flavoured fried gizzards proved more moreish than the crispy duck necks, which, though delicious, were fiddly to eat offering too much in the way of bone and too little in the way of meat.
One of the highlights of the night was the duck breast schnitzel with tarragon mayo – a huge hunk of a thing offering a playful twist on the Austrian classic lifted by a cucumber salad and enriched by the mayo, which was so good, we kept asking for refills.
For those keen to balance their duck intake with some greens, the veggie-friendly dishes are thoughtfully considered. The most successful was a simple but irresistible side of grilled tenderstem broccoli with chilli, garlic and lemon crème fraîche.
The prettiest in presentation were the baked and pickled beets, with harissa, yoghurt and seeds, whose wonderful earthy flavour was somewhat drowned out by the fiery harissa.
Signature dishes: Fans of the original will be pleased to see the signature ‘duck & waffle’ dish make a cameo.
Formed of a confit duck leg resting on a waffle with a fried duck egg canopy and a cup of maple syrup to drizzle all over it, the dish offers the sweet-savoury marriage dream brunches are made of.
The star of the show though is the duck burger, which all burger fiends should order. Set to become one of London’s must try burgers, the patty is made from de-boned crispy duck leg meat, which is flung in a brioche bun then rammed with spiced slaw and miso mayo.
Juicy, tender, sweet, sour and salty, it hit all the flavour receptors and left me wanting to weep with joy and order another one.
The drinks: Cocktail iconoclast Rich Woods, head of cocktail development for Duck & Waffle, is keen to prove that drinks coming out of a tap can be as equally complex and clever as those shaken up by a barman.
He’s thus developed a small selection of ‘taptails’ made in batches in the basement, which are piped up to the bar above for speed of serve. Among the best are the Duck & Stormy, a playful twist on the classic made with Bacardi Carta Negra rum, lime, ginger and a coconut infusion.
My favourite by far was the Breakfast fizz, a light, appetite-whetting apéritif that blends Grey Goose L’Orange, pink grapefruit and the burnt toast infusion Woods created for his legendary ‘Breakfast with Hemingway’ cocktail.
The bottled Black Olive Negroni is a must for all Negroni lovers and cleverly captures the essence of black olive.
Who to know: He’s a busy man who divides his time between the two sites, but if you get lucky you might pick a night when Woods is behind the bar.
Brimming with knowledge and enthusiasm, he’ll regale you with stories of how he came up with the idea of his blue cheese and chocolate cocktail after raiding his fridge late at night.
Don’t leave without: Braving the ‘Full Elvis’ for dessert. A diabetic’s worst nightmare, this bad boy served in a waffle cone combines banana, peanut butter, strawberry jam, Chantilly cream, vanilla ice cream, peanut brittle and berries and is only suitable for the hungriest of hound dogs.
Last word: There is a lot to love about Duck & Waffle Local, and fans of the original will enjoy its playful little sister. The best seats in the house are up at the bar, where you can watch the action unfold.
Prices are incredibly reasonable for central London, with cocktails at just £7 and the duck burger just £11. You might have to waddle home if you brave the Full Elvis, but the humiliation will be worth it.
Duck & Waffle Local, 52 Haymarket, St. James’s, London SW1Y 4RP; Tel: +44 (0)20 3900 4444