A lot of romance has been written surrounding the spirit of the word “duende” – a Spanish concept for which there is no direct English translation – relating to “having soul” (thus perpetuating that great stereotype that us Anglophones are inferior to the fiery Latins when it comes to this department)…
Well… Covent Garden is not usually where I go to “find soul” or even Latin passion (although a few Margaritas at Benito’s Hat Mexican has claimed a few souls for sure) – and sadly both of these are a tad lacking at newly opened Duende. Small, suitably dark and ever so slightly cold, the few high chairs facing the bar offer diners a spanking shiny copper top from which to eat whilst a scatter of black wood tables line the opposite side of the very tight room. It is slick and chic, rather than quaint and rustic – and I picture City suits rather than trendy, creative Madrileños.
I start with a G&T from their “signature menu” – inspired by the craze for Gin sweeping across the Med generally, where it is typically served in a giant wine glass with heaps of ice and liberal measures. Here, disappointingly, £9 for the cheapest option gets me a single G&T in an unremarkable glass and a tiny sliver of lime. To be fair, it is what it says on the tin, but given the swish surroundings a bit of pzazz could have wowed me more.
The restaurant team are smiley and sweet, with good knowledge of the wine list, but lacking a little bit of verve. Considering the size of the room and abundant staff, the team seemed remarkably laid back at service – which would be charming if I was on holiday in Seville – which I am sadly not. I curse my London impatience, or perhaps opening month nerves?
The food looks fantastic – sexy even. We order a recommended 3 dishes per person and dessert. The Pacharan Marinated Salmon Rulada with Red Onion Escabeche is pretty and light and fresh, with a pleasing whiff of wasabi. The crispy tiger prawns are certainly crispy, but a little underwhelming in flavour. Quail wrapped in jamón is delicious and salty and fatty and all things good, but a real standout was the special of the week – turbot with morrels which I could have ordered 6 of and died happy.
Dessert too, got us quite excited – and you know me, I am a perenially boring cheese board whore. Here a crispy rolled pancake stuffed with Dulche de Leche and honey was a smack of sugary wonder. A fine end to a meal that was a little “curate’s egg” for my modest budgets.
We drank an excellent Barbazul, Huerta de Albala from Andalucia – a rich red berry wine with a long finish and plenty of aromas of the dry herby brushlands of the sierras – here is soul!!
So Duende, good for a one time visit, but I may not rush back… If they can soften the place a bit and bring a touch of that soul and warmth it could do well, but I still crave a simple plate of jamón bellota and anchovies!
I paid for my meal and was not a guest of the restaurant.