Many times have I stood at the queue in Sayers only to point to the café opposite the road, insisting that we should try it one day instead of repetitively queuing up here. Little did I know that the café was actually Duende, one of the restaurants that my blogger friends ChompChomp and more noticeably Queen of Bad Timing’s love dining at. Coming in on a Sunday evening, the crowd seemed quite relaxed and it was not as busy as I expected. Duende’s interior is simple but nothing overly loud or bold. Then again, I am not critic when it comes to fashion! The waitresses and waiters were all dressed casually or hipster-ish if you prefer but more importantly, the service here felt impeccable. However, despite the sweltering 40 degree heat earlier that day, the cheeky waitress tried sitting us by the door only to be rejected by Bel. Thank god we did not sit there! Might have died.
Water was quick to come and our orders were taken as soon as Jordo arrived. Tapas seems to be rather high on my list in the past few weeks. Whether it was going to be Mexican, Spanish, Australian or Japanese, the concept of shared plate seems to get everyone’s nod of approval.First thing to hit the table was the tomato and olive oil dip. Despite looking like any other dip, this tasted so fine. Char-grilled bread went perfectly with the dip but those meager 4 slices barely started the meal. Thank god we also had some more bread from the Jamon which the folks happily used to mopped up any remnants of tomato and olive oil dip The jamon was quite a bargain on first sight, but was it the best cured meat I have tasted? Definitely not. But go on, give it a try ;)!
Next up was a waitress favorite. One of the orders I typically do when I run into a dead end. This was the grilled eggplant, haloumi and pepper salad. The pan-fried Haloumi was in full glory here. Pan-fried delicious with its outer bits mildly crisp and perfectly browned. The eggplant was grilled nicely and that went well with the salty haloumi and peppers. My non-critique companions had a comment and it was that the dish as a whole tasted very much like a pizza.
Next up was Bel’s recommendation! The beetroot, goats curd, walnuts and honey. Needless to say, I became instantly attached to this dish in my first bite. The earthy yet juicy beetroots went so well with the walnuts and salty crumbs. Not to mention the tangy goat’s curd that was in between a cheese and a yoghurt was seriously refreshing. Also, who can forget the honey in the dish. It just did wonders here. This dish for me could be an appetizer, a main or a dessert. Simply full of flavors. The earthiness, the sugary-salty feel, and the nuttiness with a refreshing curd as well as textures that pleases the mouth. So many things happening at the same time, but so well synchronized. This was definitely my favorite dish of the night!
Another pick for the night was the braised goat with cous cous. If you love eating, you will love your goat. If there was goat curry vs lamb, I would always pick the former despite it being more bony. There is something about the unexplained gamey taste of the meat that does so well when cooked in curries. And do not be too quick to judge me, I am no curry addict. But here, the flavors just did not seem to set off any explosions in my mouth. Never mind the goat. Lets talk cous cous. Is it just me or is cous cous best served with a thick sauce that screams Mediterranean flavors or something with tomato in it. My take on this is that if the sauce were to be watery, all you get is some mushy cous cous unless you get into it the moment it is served. Pretty sure everyone like me, enjoy a cous cous that is light and fluffy. Sadly the one we had was gluggy @@! Disappointment kept adding up for this dish. I declare it a write off.
Next up were the patata bravas. It was too good to miss especially after reading the reviews of this around town. Sadly my picture in no way justifies this dish. It might be just chopped up deep fried potatoes but they were bloody good. And hence, I officially translate its names to “Bravo Potatoes”. The crispy potato bites were fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside and the generous seasoning of paprika was simply sensational. The sauce that came with it had my friends thinking whether there were any peppers in there but for me, it was so fresh I could not care less. Yums!
The last dish to hit the table was the Pork Belly with coriander, pine nuts, pomegranate and fennel slaw. Again, so many things happening in one dish but did they all work together? But never mind that, let the pork belly be the focus for now. We had 5 people around the table and there were already some expectations set when we walk into a restaurant and have pork belly. Needless to say, crispy skin came tops followed by a melt in your mouth meat. So did Duende deliver?IMHO, no. However, it was close to doing both. The pork belly was tender and close to melt but not quite there. Its skin after detaching the top and scrapping of the still hard lard, cracked like shards but it did not quite go all the way. I was left with sticky bits up my tooth because of that. The fennel slaw had a mild seasoning that is hard to complement either so hmmmm not the best and we found that the coriander lacked seasoning. Honestly, I would have been really pleased with just the pork belly and a well-seasoned coriander salad alone. Nevertheless, there was something that the whole table agreed on; that the grapes in this dish were extremely delicious. If that counts ahah.
After we finished our food, I was rather full but the table said they could eat more. So we ordered 5 desserts. Needless to say, we really overestimated ourselves. Sadly, it was already 7-ish that time and to get drinks and desserts to the table took them a whopping 25 minutes. In comparison, all 10 of our tapas only took like 20 minutes to hit the table. But that’s ok. We had time for some photos. Bel and her boyfie
AC, Jordo and I. A crew of retarded yet extremely fun people.
When the desserts came, I was chuffed. Everything looked so pretty. First up was the cream catalana or simply, crème brulee with biscotti. The cream here was velvety smooth. The hint of vanilla was just spot on but it was the sugar layer that disappointed us. It felt a little too thick and not blow torched enough. This resulted in a chewy sugar layer that stuck to our tooths. While this was in no way perfect, it was not bad either!
Next was the doughnut balls with condensed milk ice cream. When it hit the table and I took a photo, it looked sensational. Sugar coated – deep fried goodies looked like the ultimate no-fuss dessert tapas. It was easy to share but was it easy to eat? Probably one of the most obvious things was the sugar coating. It was a tad over considering it was served with a condensed milk ice cream. Nevertheless, it is something I could live with as the sugar easily dusts off! However, in each doughnut ball was an overpowering saltiness that seemed to smash my buds as I chew more and more. For a while I thought perhaps a lump of salt got caught in my doughnut only. Apparently not, as my friends voiced a similar problem with theirs. Probably a one-off mistake as no one else online has encountered a similar problem!
Then comes its merits. I loved the ice cream. Spiced condensed milk ice cream was genius! Nothing new, but just delicious. Served semi-melted, it was everything an ice cream should be. Creamy, silky smooth, and despite expecting it to be overly sweet, the use of spices totally help make it just nice. Was it cinnamon? Or maybe cardamom? I do not know, the sugar and salt distorted my senses! Despite flaws in the doughnut, I would definitely order this dessert when I return! Very promising!
However, despite hearing rave reviews about the doughnut balls with condensed milk ice-cream, it was only second best that night. Believe or not, it was a gluten-free dessert that blew me off my socks at Duende. In fact, I think my gluten-intolerant buddy Chompchomp is going to be pleased to know about more GF treats in town! The flourless chocolate and orange cake was totally awesome that night. And please excuse the clotted cream, it was totally unnecessary. I’d rather a scoop of ice cream please! To simply put it together, the chocolate was super moist, RICH and not overly sweet. Orange puree was fragrant and added another dimension to the dish. A little bit like eating Lindt’s Dark Chocolate with Orange, with the exception that this was super moist!
Duende in a nutshell was a superb eating place. But the use of square tables means like all other tapas places, unless you are actively on your foot, keep the group small to about 6 people to enjoy a good conversation. If seated outside, it might be a little more romantic. But honestly, the noise here just kills the mood. But if it’s a drink, and some great bites you are looking for, definitely keep Duende in mind. This restaurant sits pretty high at the top along with the likes of Cantina 663 and Old Crow. Or if it is Japanese, Bonsai and Ha-Lu! So much too love! Not to mention, if it was not for the overkill on the desserts, food alone would have been only been $40 max. Now, tell me what is not to like! No wonder it is Queen of Bad Timing’s favorite too!