Dan Doherty, Duck & Waffle, London

The Staff Canteen

Dan Doherty is the Executive Chef of Duck & Waffle, the restaurant on the 40th floor of London’s Heron Tower. (note he left this position in April 2018)

As one of the UK’s first high-end, 24-hour restaurants, it has wowed diners, critics and late night revellers alike with its playful take on British and European classics.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Daniel to find out what it’s like cheffing 24/7.

Duck & Waffle

How did the idea first come about to open a 24-hour restaurant?

Samba Brands Management (SBM) occupies three floors in the building – the 38th, 39th and 40th - and originally, SUSHISAMBA (Duck & Waffle’s sister restaurant) was supposed to fill all of them. However, roughly one year before opening, SBM Founder, Shimon Bokovza, felt that the space was large enough to accommodate two, different concepts. Shimon is an amazing guy.

Not only is he super creative, but he also knows what people are looking for in a restaurant. New York, where Shimon lives, is a 24-hour city and he strongly felt that there was an opportunity to bring that element to London. Of course, everyone doubted it would be successful. Most people thought that if you’re going to do a 24-hour restaurant then it has to be in West London or Shoreditch. Fast forward two years later, and regardless of the fact that we’re located in a part of London that is most quiet A: during weekends and B: overnight - we average 1,500 covers on the weekends and 300 covers between midnight and 5am. It just goes to show that you should never take ‘no’ or ‘you can’t’ for an answer.

Rising Stars
  • Elliott Lidstone, The Empress, Victoria Park
  • Tom Cenci, my Chef de Cuisine at Duck & Waffle
  • Shaun Searley, The Quality Chop House, London
Guilty Pleasures Dairylea Dunkers (the jumbo tubes not the breadsticks) When I have a hangover, I’ve been known to dabble in a few Pot Noodles. Crisp Sandwich (salt and vinegar or prawn cocktail, loads of butter and not posh bread) Beans on Toast Top Cookbooks
  • The French Laundry Cookbook, Thomas Keller
  • The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts, David McMillan, Frederic Morin, and Meredith Erickson with a forward by David Chang
  • Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian, Sat Bains
  • Old English-style cookbooks such as those by Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David

What was the original plan for the food offering and how involved were you in the direction that took?

SBM operates a restaurant in Miami called SUGARCANE raw bar grill, which Duck & Waffle was originally supposed to emulate. But, Miami is quite different from London: its beautiful weather, palm trees, beaches and sunshine do not ring true in London, where it’s pissing down outside and you’re a bit grumpy!

English Buffet, Dan Doherty
English Buffet, Dan Doherty

I travelled to Miami for a couple of months to better understand what Shimon appreciates about SUGARCANE before putting my own touch on things. From the outset, we knew we wanted to do sharing and small plates so we began developing a menu that incorporated both playful dishes and more traditional fare in this format.

It was a beautiful coincidence that the food I most enjoy cooking is also what Shimon wanted in a restaurant – sometimes it just comes together seamlessly.

What came first, Duck & Waffle as a name for the restaurant or as a dish?

Duck & Waffle actually comes from SUGARCANE’s menu and it happens to be Managing Partner Danielle Billera’s favourite dish. She suggested that we call it Duck & Waffle, reasoning that it’s such a memorable dish and it will standout on the menu. It ended up making a bit of a splash so I think so it was a good move.

What are the practical challenges of running a 24-hour restaurant?

Roasted Octopus
Roasted Octopus

 Obviously staff is a tough one. The people we look to hire are young parents. For example, any ambitious chef, who wants to cook at a high level and who’s just had a kid, doesn’t want to have to step into a sub-standard job just because it allows them to lead their life. With us, they can work overnight, cook to a high level, then finish work and take the kids to school, go home, sleep, pick the kids up, spend time with them then come back to work.

It can work and that’s what we’ve done. I figured that in a city with eight million people, we’d be able to find five or six people like that. One of the biggest challenges is that I cannot be at the restaurant 24/7. I’ll leave at one in the morning and between then and seven or eight when I’m back, we’re still open. It’s not like you’re locking the front door and going home for the night.

Anything could happen - there could be a fire, there could be a fight, Jay Rayner could come in at 3am and order Duck &Waffle. We could be judged and it would be completely out of my control since I’m not there.

How do you overcome that? Obviously your team must be very important.

Yes, we have a senior team, which consists of a breakfast sous chef, an overnight sous chef, and a production sous chef. So basically there’s a senior member of staff present at every point of the day to make sure that we’re never running out of food, that the recipes are being followed correctly, that the food – in its raw form - is amazing, and that we’re prepping it right so that the service kitchen upstairs has the best produce to work with.

Dan Doherty & Tom Cenci
Dan Doherty & Tom Cenci

The breakfast team has someone senior to report to and the same for the overnight team; then we have our normal sous chefs for lunch and dinner and then I have a chef de cuisine here as well; it’s kind of like an army!

How big is the brigade in total?

We’re at about 45-50 now. We never thought it was going to be that much!

Did you ever imagine this was something you might end up doing?

I think, like a lot of chefs, I fell into it a bit. When I was at school, one of my best friends’ mum found the advert for the Specialised Chefs course at Bournemouth and Poole College in The Times and she cut it out. When I went round to call she said, “You might be interested in this.” I just chucked it in my pocket and didn’t think anything of it really. Then my mum, when she was doing the washing, found it and applied for it on my behalf. So one morning I woke up and I had a big football game, but my mum was like, “No we’re going to Bournemouth for an interview.” I was like, “No, I’m not going to Bournemouth,” but she dragged me down there kicking and screaming and I guess the rest is history.

Is it right that you’ll be releasing a cookbook soon?

Yes, it’s called Duck & Waffle Recipes and Stories; there’s a hundred-odd recipes from breakfast, lunch, dinner and overnight dishes. Each dish has a little anecdote about how it came about, where it went wrong, where it went right and what inspired it. It’s nice to share these details with guests since every dish is part of our story. Duck & Waffle Recipes and Stories is released on 6th October

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd October 2014

Dan Doherty, Duck & Waffle, London