How many times do you have to tread in vomit before it puts you off your dinner? This wasn’t, in my case and that of my companions, an academic question: as we walked from my son’s flat in Haggerston, east London, towards the City, we must have passed puddles of sick running into double figures – in some parts of Shoreditch the puke lay so extensively on the pavement that the chunks of food glistering in its bile seemed like some duodenal wrack, left behind when the Great Vomit Wave of ’14 finally retreated. Still, what did we expect at 11.30pm on a Saturday night? This part of London, having reached a critical mass of hipsters, has now started to draw in revellers from Essex, who debouche at Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street Stations, drink, dance and kebab up, then leave their viscid spoor behind them as they beat a retreat.
Not that they were routed by 11.30pm – the streets were teeming with lads in neatly pressed white shirts and lasses tottering about on high heels like soused foals. My own lad was sniffy about the influx, but I admonished him: “It serves you right. Here you are, occupying an ex-council flat that was built for these people’s grandparents; they’re simply fighting back against the neoliberal curse of gentrification with the only weapons they have, puke and beats.” Puke & Beats might, alternatively, have been a suitable name for the restaurant we were aiming for: the Duck & Waffle, which nestles on the 40th floor of the old Heron Tower in the heart of the Great Metonym.
You may not be familiar with the old Heron Tower if you don’t spend much time in the City. It is another of these logo-cum-icon buildings that have begun to clutter up central London the way that crumbs bedizen damask. I dunno, perhaps one day a godlike waiter will scrape them all away before presenting the roofless wanker bankers with a menu of their just deserts, but until then we might as well enjoy the view of toy town. Which was why I’d booked our table for midnight: I wanted to see the jeunesse dorée whooping it up. I may be something of a downtown guy, but I’m not so long in the tooth that I can’t enjoy gazing upon uptown girls, and girls don’t get much upper than the ones noshing in Britain’s highest restaurant.
As we came down Bishopsgate, a three-quarter moon, like some celestial egg, was being nicely coddled on the shoulder of the Salesforce Tower – and I chose to regard it as a good omen. (In May of this year the Heron Tower was renamed thus, and I feel I owe it to Salesforce.com, the building’s largest tenant, to give this lovely ascription a proper shout-out.) But then, once the velveteen rope had been unhooked and we’d entered the lift, the smooth thrust up the sheer glassy peak brought my own bile surging up my oesophagus. I looked wildly about me at the greenish faces of my companions, and behind them the widening, darkling, twinkling plain of London; for a few seconds vertigo seized me and I thought I might heave, but then we reached the 40th floor, the lift doors opened and we shuffled back out into …
… a branch of Pizza Express. Not literally, but the corridor leading to the bar area of the Duck & Waffle had the regulation Moroccan tiling floor and rough-adzed wood panelling of any mid-market British chain restaurant. In the bar area there were the same pots of vegetation you’d see at ground level – true, the celestial music was deafening disco, but if I ignored the view everything seemed acceptably dull. Friendly staff sat us first at a table next to the floor-length windows, but it was directly under a speaker so we moved to a booth in the middle of the restaurant. And there we sat, shouting at each other from time to time over the bleep and judder of Edwin Starr.
My companions had the crispy pig’s ear to start, and even though they weren’t on the all-night menu the maître d’ managed to dredge up a half-dozen oysters for me. The others drank a £50 bottle of Côtes du Rhône (this must be where the profits lie), while I supped tonic water. Our signature dishes, when they finally arrived, were perfectly yummy – I’ve no idea who came up with the idea of putting a poached duck’s egg and a leg of roast duck on top of a waffle and sousing the whole gallimaufry with maple syrup, but she or he was some kind of twisted genius: this is perfect comfort food for those who’re feeling vertiginous as they contemplate the giddy extent of the ever-inflating London property bubble.
At the other tables around us, beautifully groomed young women with hair, nail and nipple extensions (I made the last one up) shrilled to one another. As I relaxed and blotted up the atmos’ with my waffling brain, I marvelled at the serendipity of it all: I’d worried that the lofty Duck & Waffle wouldn’t provide a real enough meal to qualify for this down-home column, but then I hadn’t reckoned on the warped genius of late capitalism, which can spot a gap in the market the way pigeons shit on ledges – or people puke on pavements, for that matter.