662 Newcastle Street, (cnr Carr Place)
Telephone: (08) 9228 0123
Lunch; 30th June 2012
As most of you know already, Spanish food brings out the frills in me, the hair comes down and the swirls and twirls begin. Spanish cuisine is full of life and colour and history and deep, deep, flavours. I adore it so much that I’ve dedicated my ‘Dinner Party of the Month’ to be ‘An Evening of Spanish Tapas. !HOLA!’ so that I can share with you, what an evening at Lydia’s looks like. I will be posting tapas and sangria photos and all the recipes you need to hold your own tapas night, just like it. Come back over the weekend, and share a bit of Spain with me.
So…the dinner party explains why I chose Duende to review for lunch. I actually long for the street food of Spain, you see. Every so often, I get a penchant to return there, so I pull out my tapas plates, turn on the classical guitar and connect with the flamenco in me. Spain brings back memories of hustling and bustling streets full of roaring laughter and vibrant discussions where the sounds of Z’s and S’s dance together and the R’s are bent in the throat like a smooth and sexy gurgle. Social groups and families sitting around tables on La Ramblas, simply happy to be in each others company. The little children playing and calling out in the streets and where the deeply baked and well seasoned scent of paprika embed the restaurants and sidewalks with lingering smells of seafood paella, sweet, sweet churros and wine.
Are you there yet?
Sitting on an acute corner with spectacular amber lighting by night, this tapas bar has got style written all over it. In fact, sitting there over a span of 3 hours, I notice the clientele were donned in nothing but suits and stylish clothes fit for any fashionista. Clearly, it’s a place to be seen, with as many outdoor seating as is indoors. And isn’t that Just. Like. Spain. Love it.
The menus are funky, and wreak of vogue-meets-rusticana, and I love the way the pages (and pages…) flip over to the next lot of offerings. My date however is having a melt down, because she’s fervently flipping through the pages exclaiming “where’s the wine. No, the tapas. Is it back a bit? Jesus…where’s the red wine page?” I look of her with my calm eyes and say,
“Hon…relax…we’re in no rush. Enjoy the art, babe. There’s a chicken on the red wine page.”
The truth is, there’s also a chicken on the white wine page. And after that light-bulb moment, I think she needed 4 glasses of wine.
The lovely thing about this story is that we had a laugh about it to the very cool waitress, and in our brainstorming chit-chat, I suggested to colour code the pages in rustic shades to help people, like my friend, who just like one piece of paper for a menu. Me? I like to tapas slowwwww.
First with the wine. Love the wine list; very concise and clever. Duende serves a large range of wines by the glass with a strong focus on Spanish, Mediterranean, local drops with a quirky surprise in there too, which they change regularly and post on the black board. Surprisingly, they also include a selection of bio dynamic, organic & natural wines. I’ve not tried it yet, but if anyone’s tried Duende’s own House Chili Vodka, I’d love to hear what you think of it- it sounds so lusciously warming to my belly!
[By the way, if you want to try making it yourself, it's so simple you can do it quite easily at home: 1 bottle of the best vodka you can afford, 4 chillies and a knife. 5 days later: DONE. You can watch it being prepared here].
Getting back to Spain, glorious Spain, I try both the Muros Antigos Loureiro, from Malago, Portugal. It’s described as ‘alluring, fresh, beautiful’ which didn’t really tell me much, but I gambled on it being crisp, clean, grassy and fruity. Hey look…I may know food, but I’m no sommelier, but I can tell you it tasted ‘grassy and fruity’ to me. It was a light bodied aromatic wine wine. Lovely and crisp. I also tried the house white ($9)…and since the waitress was kind enough to offer me a reconnaissance I was sold on investing $2 more per glass for the Muros Antigos Loureiro ($11) which seem like the right idea. The House Red ($9) was pleasant and rustic, but again…I’d think about throwing another gold coin on the table and getting a cleaner finish if you’re not a ‘rustic wine’ kinda person.
I got carried away at Duende. I wanted to eat everything, and I almost did. This was my favourite tapas.
Not a huge portion, but quantity is not required here as it boasts a rich, deep flavour. Its duck-pork combination, offers a moist sweetness/spicy balance in the sausage, playing against the right tang and acidity in the dressing, finished off by the sweet crunch hazelnuts. I might try this flavour combination at home, it’s very much diviiiiine. I was expecting an artichoke however (not a Jerusalem artichoke) but that only mattered because I like to vary the dishesI choose, and I had already selected two other dishes containing Jerusalem artichokes, but…that’s life. Not many people cook this variety of artichoke at home, so if you’d like to try something different, this one’s the go.
I asked the waitress what was good, what she eats, and what was new. I pretty much took her advice, and the K.G Whiting, kipflers, fennel, salsa verde ($19) was new and recommended. It’s also one of my husband’s favourite fish, so I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived and ate it in his honour, of course.
What I loved about this tapas was the K.G whiting. It was so fresh, light and flaky and had a perfect crispy skin- flesh not overdone. The salsa verde was fresh and grassy and all the flavours melded beautifully. I think the next time I order this dish, in a bid for perfection, I’ll ask to have the potatoes warmed up to compliment the freshly pan fried and hot fish so as keep it consistent. You know. Just saying.
And I couldn’t place this tapas. I wanted it to be first. But I wanted the others to be first too. So I’m declaring there are going to be ’3 firsts’. Ok? And so without further ado, let me introduce you to the Mushroom, px vinegar, gorgonzola, walnut ($15). In my opinion, there’s nothing like the Pedro Ximenez grape developed into this rich and luxurious muscat like, raisin scented, chewy, delightful vinegar to cut through the creamy gorgonzola. The PX vinegar drizzles into the mushroom works with the chewy texture of the roasted mushroom and finishes off sweetly with the caramelised walnuts. Simple, yet complex and every mouthful was a perfect balance of flavours and textures. !HOLA! My kind tap of tapas.
The croquettes…well, who can’t refuse a croquette with its creamy centre and crisp, deep fried crunch of crumbs. This version- not quite Spanish to me, with the Panko…but really, once you’ve deep fried anything in Panko, it’s hard to look back. Panko has the crunch factor of a tuile. Manchego was not a flavour I could detect, and the corn was mild as well- perhaps engulfed by what seemed like an addition of too much flour. It took me back closer to Japan (with the Panko and corn) than Spain…but if you like mild, and you’re not averse to using seasoning at the table…then yes, it’s a high quality crunch.
Bacalao & Jerusalem tortilla, salmon roe. Hmm. I had to try this. I loved the idea of that salty salmon tang bursting with the dried salted cod…and the the Jerusalem artichoke adding a touch of smoothness. Louis Armstrong may just as well have carried it to my table because whilst Duende said tortilla, I said frittata .
To me, a tortilla is turned in its pan, whilst the egg filling is left to finish off cooking in the pan. It’s served with a lightly toasted, but smooth surface, as it lived most of its life in the bottom of a cast iron fry pan. And then there’s the Italian frittata. Never turned, just finished off in the oven. It’s surface is blistered and uneven, quite like the one before me. I sighed a deep sigh of sadness and loneliness. I just wanted…I just wanted…I just wanted a tortilla. At least the one that looked like the one in my head. Never mind. We love for another day.
But I must say…a clever combination of flavours on paper, however none of which I could clearly decode on my palate and if I hadn’t have read the menu, I would have been stuck. Texturally ‘compromised’ and here’s the food snob coming out of me. Still- for a $15 tapas, I would have hoped for a tad more !HOLA! on the plate.
The final tapas was the first one I had ordered. I am a Patatas Bravas lover like most people. Not a Spanish tapas bar would be caught without one on their menu…
…so when I spotted it at Duende, I had to do a compare-and-contrast with what you can find at Lydia’s Tapas Bar and Grill (@ lydiaguerrini.com) What I love about Potatas Bravas is the aoili sauce, and the spicy tomoato base that the roasted (or sometimes) fried potato sits on. There are so many variations of this tapas; none of which are innately ‘wrong’ but more of a reflection of ones regional cooking traditions and…well…what you like to eat. I’m serving my famous Potatas Bravas on Friday night, so I’ll post a comparison photo here soon. In the meantime, I can say that Duende’s Potato Bravas ($10) were lovely if you don’t mind a large bowl of delicious Paprika house cut potato chips with a Slightly spiced tomato sauce. If you like your chips crispy crispy, ask for them extra fried. For $10; a substantial tapas to fill you up, nonetheless.
What I will say about Duende is that the personalised service was certainly felt and appreciated. The waitress chatted about the food, knew the menu well and was excited about sharing it. Now that just does it for me. Food is about good times and anyone who gets happy around food just brings on the good times, and a lot of our laughs came from our interaction with the staff.
You’ll enjoy Duende. Bring a stash of cash- it’s not cheap. If you like to graze through a tapas meal, ask for your tapas to stagger to your table as I didn’t, and 6 plates landed on our stylish, but very small table all at once. I didn’t know what to do first as there was literally no room for all the glorious edibles to sit. It stresses me out to eat like this and if you’re the same, I’m sure they’d be happy to bring you the tapas in stages so you can graze through it like Sophia, the Queen of Spain.
HOW TO GET THERE:
HOURS: Duende; 7:30am – Late serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner.
DECOR & ATMOSPHERE: Classy, contemporary . Small tables inside and out, cosy and beautiful. Very Smodern Spanish.
LINEN? No. It’s a tapas bar and it looks perfect without.
TABLE SERVICE: Yes, and staff were well trained and interested in our dining experience.
FOOD: Modern and traditional Spanish tapas.