For four and a half years, Duck & Waffle has been, quite literally, high up on the list of must-go restaurants in London. Sitting pretty on the 40th floor of a skyscraper on Bishopsgate, it has wowed guests with its thoughtful take on traditional British cuisine mixed with European influences, available 24/7, as well as its spectacular views and thrilling 40 second lift ride to the top.
Now, the team behind Duck & Waffle is bringing a new concept to ground-level, with the launch of Duck & Waffle Local – a more accessible but no less ambitious version of what guests can experience sky high. Dan Doherty, chef director, has been invaluable in solidifying the restaurant’s reputation. He explains that with an increasing interest in more informal eating experiences, now was the right time to open the more casual off-shoot of the much-talked-about original. “I think there’s space for restaurants that are more destinations – but there’s also a massively expanding fast casual market,” he says. “I think we kind of wanted to dip our toe into both and mix the worlds together.”
As a location for this concept, St James’s Market was on point, says Dan. Although the idea had been formulated, it was imperative for the team to find the right site for the restaurant. “Shimon (Bokovza, founder and CEO of Samba Brands Management that operates Duck & Waffle and Sushisamba) and I had the idea of doing like this for a while – we’ve been looking at a lot of different areas to do this.” He says that when the St James’s Market site came up, he saw potential in its geography and the space itself. “It was a very interesting proposition because of the location and the fact it was a new development. The way it’s facing, up towards Piccadilly – hopefully it’s going to be the perfect space. I really believe that.”
Dan and Shimon’s priorities for Duck & Waffle Local were to make the price point more accessible, serve dishes quicker and in relaxed surroundings. A big difference is the ordering system; diners place their order at the counter, before being seated. “Though you order at the counter, the food still comes on beautiful, handmade crockery,” says Dan, noting that the efficient new system does not detract from the dining experience, and that this service offers those with little time to spare the ability to enjoy quality food in a restaurant atmosphere, without looking at their watches. Dishes are also available to take away – something that will surely appeal to local workers who are time-pressed yet crave well-prepared food, as well as guests looking to eat al fresco when the summer comes.
The menu, of course, is duck-heavy – unique in today’s restaurant scene, where gourmet chicken joints are ten-a-penny and there is a zeitgeist for less decadent, plant-based dishes. “Duck has great flavour, which is first and foremost the most important thing,” says Dan, explaining his passion for the game bird. “It’s very versatile – you think of soft confit that just melts in your mouth – and you can crisp it up and get really crispy duck; you can get the really rich, succulent and decadent breast; you’ve got the hearts, liver and all the offal too…” He believes that the perception of duck as a top-quality meat has influenced its scarcity on London menus. “I think the reason there hasn’t already been somewhere like this is that, in the past, the preconception about duck is that it’s elegant and refined. Roast duck a l’orange has always been that showstopper in a fancy restaurant, whereas actually, it doesn’t need to be like that. Hopefully we’re going to change that.”
The majority of the menu focuses on flavourful plates of expertly-cooked duck, served in a variety of ways. “The whole process of the development of the burger has been really interesting,” says Dan, explaining one of the new dishes he has devised for the St James’s site. “Duck is a difficult meat to translate to a burger, so we’ve really had to be creative with how we’re making it really juicy and ducky.” He says that with duck as the only unifying concept tying the menu together, it has allowed the kitchen team scope to explore and experiment. “The great thing about the theme being an ingredient rather than an area of the world means that you can go to town on everything else. Yes we serve duck – but it means that maybe there’ll be a Middle Eastern dish, a burger, maybe a rice-based dish. It’s great to have that mixed bag.” The chef says that despite duck playing the lead role, “half of the menu is going to be vegetables” – which, judging by Dan’s work at Bishopsgate, will be similarly well-executed. For the less squeamish, Dan is putting the spotlight on “beak to bum” eating, as he calls it – aiming to use everything the bird has to offer. “There’s obviously the prime cuts – the breast, the leg, minced duck and stuff like that which will be at the core; and then we’ll use the hearts, gizzards and other bits and bobs. It’s important that we use the whole animal.”
Similarly efficient is the drinks offering – with head of spirit and cocktail development, Rich Wood, introducing cocktails on tap. Dan describes them as “no messing about, straight over ice, ready to go.” As well as being another indicator of Duck & Waffle Local’s looser approach, forgoing the flairing that ‘mixologists’ make guests endure, it also means that drinkers will have their chosen cocktail as soon as they sit down. A couple of own-brand beers will also be available, plus a concise wine lines. “It’s great – not to overthought of, and not with a million bottles on it.” Again, he says this plays into modern Londoners’ preferred dining experience. “It’s meeting the needs of the modern day guest; they just want to come in and choose something, not be over-inundated with information.”
Though the St James’s restaurant is yet to open, I wonder what’s next for the group, which has taken its time in branching out across London. But according to Dan, the team is solely focused on making this opening a success. “The main plan is to get this restaurant open – they we’ll see where we’re at and what works. We’ve got lots of ideas for stuff we want to do, but all our time and energy at the moment is making sure that this place fulfils its potential.”