Monday, 25 May 2009

Dehesa, Soho

I've eaten at Dehesa once before, sitting up at the wooden benches, and ate exceedingly well, so had been waiting for an excuse to return. The good fortune of, firstly, a dear friend visiting from out of town for the evening, and secondly, the fact they've started taking reservations, created the perfect opportunity. This no bookings policy is fair, I get it, but it's the reason I've yet to try out Barrafina on Frith Street. I do not have the patience of a saint!

This Spanish-Italian tapas and charcuterie bar on the corner of Carnaby St and Ganton St, in Soho, is owned and run by Sanja Morris and Simon Mullins, who also own Salt Yard, an impressive little place near Charlotte Street that serves tapas along a similar vein.

The minute we arrived, the evening was off to a good start. We were seated at one of the comfortable window booths instead of the benches, and ordered two glasses of their cava before delving into the wine list and choosing a bold and full organic red from the Terra Alta region. Our waiter was welcoming and helpful, mysteriously always there when we wanted something, but not overly attentive. Brindisa: listen up, and get your service up to scratch.

Right, on to the food. Having recently had the good fortune to taste the best chickpea dish ever, in Barcelona, I was keen to see how Dehesa brought them to life. We ordered Grilled squid with chickpeas, chorizo, and mint, Chargrilled marinated chicken with new potato, piquillo pepper, wild garlic, and chorizo oil, their trademark Courgette flowers with Monte Enebro and honey, Spanish meatballs cooking in Manzanilla, Aubergine parmigiana with fresh basil, and some Jamon de Trevelez. As if that was not quite enough, we also added some Padron peppers and sourdough bread with aioli to the order.

None of my pics turned out very well - probably a less than desirable combination of too much good wine, and the fact I'm a hopeless photographer. But, here are the deep-fried courgette flowers: a wonderful dish you MUST order when you visit either Dehesa or Salt Yard.

The rest of the food was almost impeccable. The chargrilled bread didn't quite surpass Moro's but was still devoured instantly, smothered with lashings of aioli; the squid was uncharacteristically melt-in-the-mouth, with no hint of rubberiness, but the chickpeas didn't reach their full potential or let the mint sing a note; the marinated chicken was tender, and the wild garlic brought a welcome burst of subtle aromatic Spring flavour to the dish; the meatballs and the aubergine were incredibly rich yet the vibrant base of tomato lifted both dishes to make them moreish rather than stodgy. We could have done with more ham for £8.95, but that's always the case! The only dish we didn't manage to polish off was the Padron peppers, simply because there were so many of them, and with 7 other dishes in front of us, we were a little distracted... and had no room for dessert.

The buzz of the place, and the superior quality of the ingredients, surpasses any of the minor niggles I mention above, and makes it a place I will return to again and again. It's no trailblazer, but its presence lifts the London food scene and delivers satisfying food for the discerning palate.

Fabulous tapas in a fabulous location. I think that's recommendation enough!

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