The Heron Tower, et al.
There are a handful of interesting facts about The Heron Tower but only three that I care about. The first is that it houses Europe’s largest privately owned fish tank, which requires divers to clean. You can see this – the tank and, if lucky, the divers – on street level, from the main entrance. The second is THE lift, the fastest of its kind, which you are only allowed if you dine at The Heron Tower’s sky high restaurants. This lift will rocket you up to floors 38 (Sushisamba) or 40 (Duck & Waffle) in nano-seconds. People with altophobia (me included) will not have enough time to get scared. The third is, of course, the view. The Heron Tower is, currently, the tallest building in the City of London and engulfed by its most iconic architectural landscape. The view from this altitude really makes you frisky, horny and/or romantic. It can make you feel like being god, bankers, or anything that flies.
DUCK & WAFFLE
On the 40th floor of The Heron Tower is Duck & Waffle – a compact “all-day, all-night” casual eatery with a bar and a party-friendly private dining room (below). The kitchen is led by young(ish) talent Dan Doherty. The menu, designed for nibbling and sharing, is American(ish), eclectic and funky. The price is relatively affordable. (Only three items on the menu cost around £30. The rest is billed at no more than £12). And you don’t need to pay surplus for this magnificent view.
The cooking, for the most part, was successful. A snack of BBQ-Spiced Crispy Pig Ears (£4) arrived a bagful of tangy, finger-licking umami bomb. The shredded ears achieved a fine balance of fat and soft bone texture, skilfully fried for perfect crisp and tossed generously in powdered BBQ seasoning. I liked it so much that I nearly teared up when my super gorgeous dining companion offered me the last bite. Chip Shop Cod Tongues (£4.5) was not as spectacular but still much enjoyed. These were meaty pieces of cod tongue breaded and fried as if fish fingers. The frying was neat but the tongues themselves which did not have a bold taste could easily be washed over by an accidental juggling of tartar sauce and malt vinegar. Dorset Scallop (£7 but this time complimentary) struck another high note. The commendably fresh scallop was finely sliced, served on batons of Granny Smith apple and finished quickly (not in the manner of a ceviche dish) with lime juice, black truffle and a sliver of chilli. I loved not only the perfect marriage of texture – springy scallop, biteful apple, slithery lime juice – but also the zingy whirlpool of taste. The citric sharpness and zesty fragrance hit first, was mellowed away by the truffle and then with a little spasm from chilli. Ridiculously tasty.
Octopus (£9) from the brick oven was also another dish done well. The octopus chunks were nicely tenderised to the point that they still retained elasticity characteristic of this species, grilled and served with lemon juice, capers and sauteed chorizo cubes. Lovely but did not come together as much as I expected. I found the strong taste from chorizo distracting me from the octopus-sy goodness. Meatballs ‘n Tomato Sauce (£9) contained 3 big, flavoursome balls toppled with fluffed ricotta that were more of a rustic comfort and as good as meat balls can be. The oven baked bread was pillowy, oozing the perfume of rosemary and the smear of broken garlic. It was a pity that the dish which struck me as work-in-progress was the restaurant’s eponymous Duck & Waffle (£12). This was a playful dish of crispy confit duck leg, fried egg, waffle and mustard-seeded maple syrup (bringing to mind my favourite breakkie of bacon + waffle!!). Firstly, though the confit leg was nicely cooked, I would have loved it to be more crispy. The girth-y duck leg flaked well but the meat itself was still quite moist. Together with the soft waffle (delicious!) and the syrup, there was not much texture contrast to be loved. Secondly, I would have preferred the confit leg to be more salty, which would have made the flavour leap through the cloying, sucrosic richness from the syrup better. It was a very pleasant dish, still, and we did fight for the last bite. (Through the course of this meal, my dining companion had learned not to be too generous with me). We shared a dessert, Warm Chocolate Brownie (£7), served with crunchy caramel and peanut butter ice cream, which I believe can put a big smile on anybody’s face
The meal came to about £30 per person (we didn’t drink).. and in a few more words.. I couldn’t recommend Duck & Waffle more ^_^
My dinner at Sushisamba – a kinda global “chain” restaurant of Japano-Peruvo-Brazilian cuisine with outposts in New York, Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas – was nearly entirely unsuccessful. We started the meal with many positives – the superb view of the Olympic Park, the two-level-high ceiling, the bamboo cane structure and the cascading light bulbs. The music was upbeat, and so was the eager Front of House. The cocktail menu was full of indigenous South American fruit and produce. The pricing for food was relatively NOT low. The small dishes to share cost around £10+. The “Large Plates” cost between £15 and £45.
Shishito Peppers (£7) were grilled to mush. The Other Bib left me to them (and he wasn’t being generous). Kanpachi Tiradito (£14) was flawed. The fish, though fresh, was too thinly sliced to carry enough taste to counter the intrusive yuzu and truffle oil dressing. ‘Mixto’ Seviche (£11) on the other hand was weak. The concoction of aji limo, aji colorado and tiger milk lacked piquant complexity and acidity. The mixed seafood and white fish could have been fresher. (They all still smelled fishy). Coxinhas (£7.5), a traditional Brazilian snack made from chicken and spices, was lovely – crispy on the outside and moist inside. The huancaina sauce – cheesy sauce infused with aji amarillo – added punch and creamy richness. Grilled Scallops (£18 for two pieces) were not expertly grilled. The scallops themselves had a grainy texture as if the flame from the robata grill was not properly adjusted. As the scallops were not nicely cooked, the bonito grating only left an unpleasant fishy note to the dish. The accompanying salad of leaves had wilted due to overdressing before it arrived at our table. Grilled Octopus (£12) was finished with spicy aji panca sauce. (Imagine sriracha sauce with a fresher, less vinegar-y taste). The octopus was tender and I liked the encasing scent of charcoal. The most successful dish so far and we felt best to order another round of this. Pork Tsukune (£9.5) was these grilled pork balls. Not so much charcoal effect here and the seasoning of the balls was meek. TOB believed they were undercooked so I ended up eating nearly all. The sweet sauce (soy sauce, sake and mirin) with slow-cooked egg yolk was loose. The lightly congealed yolk (from slow-cooking) resulted in the yolk not mixing into the sauce.
The sushi menu came with an option of making the sushi “special”. The “special” referred to some tailor-made Peruvian/Brazilian inspired toppings. Therefore, my Zuwai crab nigiri (£11 for two pieces) was served with creamy guacamole and coriander. The crab was fresh; the guacamole passable; but the rice was problematic. Too al dente, hard and cold. The sea urchin nigiri (£13 for two pieces) with caviar was much less successful. The sea urchin did not have enough firmness to be molded into a nigiri (as opposed to a gunkan maki). There was no attempt to ward off its strong metallic aftertaste. The botan ebi nigiri (£9) was blanched (I think), dressed with soy sauce and arrived with god-know-what-else on top. (I could taste fried sweet potato and basil but unsure about the rest). It did not make any impact. There was not much to be loved from Wagyu Te Amo (£13) either. This was a roll of seared wagyu beef slices, quail egg, spring onions, fried sweet potato and finished with sweet pear and soy dressing. The wagyu was not of brilliant quality and quite chewy. While I enjoyed the sweetness from the pear dressing, the rice lacked so much character that the dish became very dull. We decided not to have desserts.
Sushisamba was the place I think you could go for scene but not food. The only advantage I could think of for a meal there as opposed to Duck & Waffle is that you can dine al fresco and have a stroll in the terrace area of the restaurant. But, judging from my meal, I could easily do without all that..
DUCK & WAFFLE + SUSHISAMBA
40th + 38th Floors, respectively
Tel. 020 3640 7330