The only time I’ve been to Duck and Waffle was last November. My friend Robin from Gothenburg was passing through London on his way to ATP’s End of an Era festival. I promised him I would take him to one of the best brunch places in London; having not actually been to Duck and Waffle yet, this was a bit of a gamble. I was trusting the rave reviews of many friends and foodies on Twitter, as well as the fact that it has some pretty stunning views of London. Despite it being a typical gray November day, and despite us being stuck at a table in the middle of the room, we loved it. In the interest of not totally pigging out (and also because we were trying to be frugal at a very unfrugal restaurant) we ordered three dishes – one each to ourselves, with one to share. I scanned the menu again and again, wondering which mouthwatering dish to pick. It was clear that I would have to come back, possibly multiple times, to experience all the delights.
This weekend I finally made it back and this time, I had backup. Clerkenwell Boy, that lucky Londoner who seems to always be at the best restaurants and bars our lovely city offers, organized his third “Breakfast in the Sky” event, and I got to join in. Armed with 12 friends, we all had the giddy realization that it would be an ordering free-for-all. We’d be able to try almost anything we wanted.
I started the day off in a very classy way with their “salted caramel Manhattan”, made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, sweet vermouth, malic acid, and DWΣ salted caramel liqueur. As everyone else at the table began to receive their Bloody Marys and orange juice, I fretted over whether I’d ordered the right thing. I love salted caramel, and I can just about handle boubon (sometimes). I was worried that I’d just ordered £14 cocktail that I’d take one sip of and put aside.
Luckily, that wasn’t the case. It was perfectly balanced and just the thing I needed to kick off a brunch of excesses. Cocktails at 10:30 am? Why not, it’s Saturday and we’re in a private room looking down at the Gherkin. I let a few people have sips of the Manhattan in exchange for a taste of their Bloody Marys, which packed a punch of spice. Chloe seemed quite impressed with her Belo Martinez (Plymouth Navy gin, Antica Formula, maraschino, ‘belo’ bitters, lemon) but I’m pretty sure it tasted the way Aveda hair salons smell.
If our appetites were whetted before, they were razor-sharp and ready to go by the time the waiter came back in to take our orders. Pacts had been made; lines had been drawn. Everyone went in with a game plan, knowing who was ordering what and who was sharing with whom.
Of course that all fell apart once the food came.
First, though, they must have known how hungry we were as we waited for all of our orders to be prepared. Large mid-morning brunches present a dilemma: do you have something to eat beforehand, and risk not being able to fit in every last morsel of delicious food? Or do you forgo it, and risk becoming ravenous enough to fall blindly on the first item of food that comes through the door?
When Dan Doherty showed up bearing a few bags of Duck and Waffle’s famous bbq-spiced cripsy pig’s ears, we quite admirably restrained ourselves from a pork-induced frenzy and politely passed the bags around. Some of us, though, couldn’t resist a sneaky huff. No need for the guilty look – we’ve all been there. Right? Well I certainly went there.
When the food finally came, it was a parade of the best Duck and Waffle had to offer. At some point, I think the waiters and diners both stopped trying to match dishes to who ordered them and simply looked for the open spots on the table. One thing was for certain – we weren’t going to let any of it go to waste.
I personally had ordered the dish I ate the last time I visited, which is normally something I wouldn’t do. However, the ox cheek benedict, complete with a swirl of Sriracha, is the perfect brunch dish – and besides, it’s surprisingly hard to find a good hollandaise in London. Duck and Waffle gets it so right.
I got to try some of the “Full Elvis” waffle, which is an utter behemoth of a dish that could easily be an entire brunch for three people. The quarters of waffle are spread with peanut butter and jelly (“jam” to you Brits), topped with Chantilly cream, bananas brûlée, and “all the trimmings”, which included fruits, syrup, and chocolate nibs. It was a one-dish brunch extravaganza. It was ridiculous. It was delicious. You have to get it.
Joel (and a few others) ordered the ox cheek donuts with apricot jam. I didn’t manage to snag a bite of these (much to my dismay), but Chloe described them better than I ever could in her doughnut survey for the Evening Standard: a deeply rich and unctuously savoury filling is encased in fluffy dough that’s doused in sweet paprika sugar, with a tart apricot dipping sauce on the side.
There were wild Cornish pollock meatballs in lobster cream topped with a crispy layer of bread crumbs and parmesan. There were steamed razor clams with tobiko, bacon, apple, charred leek, and celery leaf. There were, of course, a few orders of that duck and waffle. Kaleem even sweet-talked the kitchen into bringing up an order of vanilla baked Alaska with poached rhubarb and grenadine syrup, something that normally wouldn’t make an appearance until the evening hours.
But my absolute favourite – and unlike the huffing of bbq-spiced crispy pig’s ears, I do admit this guiltily – was the foie gras brûlée with butter poached lobster. It made my heart do flips just reading it. It looked like the most decadent, rich dish anyone could ever order for brunch. (Can you tell I’m not used to this standard of dining? Oops.) And was it ever. The thick, slightly mineral richness of the foie gras, combined with the delicate shards of sugar glass and spread across the buttery brioche… I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was. It was the first, and probably the last time I’ll ever eat foie gras. I’m not sure anything else including it could top this dish or be worth it.
When the dust/utensils finally settled amongst groans of satisfaction and fullness, I’m sure there wasn’t a scrap of food left on any plate. Through team effort, we managed to polish off two orders of Full Elvis waffles, which is a feat in itself. Every single dish we ordered was delicious and something I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to a friend. Simply put, Duck and Waffle is one of the best brunches in London. It’s got a price to match it’s lofty location and high-flying clientele, but the food makes it worth it. The views are an added bonus, which is the way it should be, rather than the view being a consolation for disappointing food.
As I changed out of my dress and pearls into my cycling gear, slowly shedding this persona of someone who brunches in such fancy places every weekend, I was already plotting my next visit. I’m not sure when my wallet will be able to handle it again, but given half a chance or a special occasion, I know Duck and Waffle is exactly where I’ll end up.