I had not seen my two besties since the start of 2014 and as a result, we decided to book a three-way date for a Friday night. I was suffering from a bad case of Friday-itis; I was terribly over worked and just needed to get away from my computer for a good couple of hours. My friend had offered Duende as our next hunting ground for food consumption prowess, due to its exemplary reputation for great Spanish tapas. I seconded the motion, having been there twice before, once for breakfast and another time (about two years ago) for dinner. I was looking forward to trying out Duende’s food once more!
The tapas joint was pretty busy when we got out of the car and took at spot at the front (we had also managed to score complimentary parking right next to Duende, courtesy of first hour free bays). Duende already packed with people, with the buzz of conversation and laughter filling the cool summer night. I was momentarily worried we wouldn’t be able to find a spot, but the man at the front was able to find us a table outside. It took a few more moments for him to find (or “steal” as he amusingly put it) a chair, before asking a waitress to wipe down the table, which was littered with crumbs. From the get go, he was very agreeable and friendly. From that first impression, I had an inkling that Duende was going to showcase some great service that night!
My bestie ignored the lively conversation going around the table, deciding instead to hijack my digital camera and take some photos. Hence, she wished that I acknowledge that some of the shots were her’s (thank you for stealing my camera) before we all decided to consult the menu over some chilled tap water. Upon recommendation from the waitress, we decided to go for a range of different dishes, selecting from the “Mar” aka the “from the sea” section and “tierra,” or “from the land” as it was commonly known. She insisted that six dishes would be good for the trio of us. Both of the besties were naturally aware of my sweet tooth requirements and factored in the fact that we would need to fit in dessert later, so we ordered one dish less than suggested. They know me so well.
The first of our tapas were the prawn and chorizo paella balls ($15) which came as a foursome. As we cracked open the crusty breadcrumb exterior, they appeared to be piping hot inside, with the Arborio rice holding bites of prawn and portions of chorizo. The paella had a lovely creamy consistency, but withheld the integrity of the rice, with the chorizo adding a spicy punch. The prawns were minuscule in size and almost nonexistent in the paella balls. Despite this it was a very enjoyable dish and I luckily got away with eating the last paella ball, smearing it in paprika aoili. The bestie laughed mockingly at my friend and I when we said the chorizo was quite heated, as she was use to downing several red hot chillies with every meal. Some people have mouths of steel when it comes to spice and chilli. Not me!
It took another 10 minutes for the rest of our plates to come out, including the octopus with pickled fennel and daikon radish ($14). We were all rather disappointed with what was placed in front of us, as it was immediately evident that the octopus was not the star of the dish. Small pieces of sliced tentacles had been scattered throughout a leafy salad, with long lengths of white fennel. The sauce that sat under the octopus was rather pasty, emulating thousand island dressing. It was more of a salad than an actual “seafood” dish, though the dressing it was drenched in was rather nice with a moderate vinegary base and peppered with bits of chilli.
The favourite of the night were the jamon and leek croquettes ($15). They were four cuboids which had an initial breadcrumb crunch and was followed by a molten river of cheese. It was deliciously hot, the leek cooked right through to translucent. My friend wasn’t a massive fan of the jamon, which she felt tasted rather bitter, opposed to its expected smoky flavour. I was lucky enough not to have the same experience, instead appreciating the nice edge provided from the salt sprinkled on the outside of the croquettes.
The pork belly ($24) was quite substantial, two large portions of sizzling pork beside some pickled fennel and salad. The pork belly had a beautiful blistered crackling, though there was a thick layer of fat under the skin that had not received the same careful treatment. Despite this, the pork belly itself was juicy and succulent, pulling away from the crackling easily. The salad was composed of grapes, pine nuts, parsley and pomegranate seeds which was an interesting mix. The pomegranate and grapes gave the salad a fruity burst, though I don’t know if the whole combination all worked together with the pork – the mix of ingredients felt rather disjointed. Typically, I think components off to the side of the dish should elevate the flavour of the main or provide contrast. This salad didn’t appear to do either. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the pork. A crowd pleaser between the three of us.
The spicy lamb meatballs ($16) were rather ginormous, the minced meat all packed together to create a substantial dish. There was a lot of chickpeas in the tomato based stew, but it boasted some earthy Moroccan flavours that I certainly appreciated. My favourite component of the dish was the yoghurt on top of the spicy lamb meatballs, which helped tone down the spice value. The sesame scattered on top added a delightful crunch as we made our way through the dish. Very nice.
Consulting the “dolche” or “sweets” menu, we found ourselves looking at the flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts and orange ($14). The first thing I noticed when the dessert arrived, was that we had bonus ice cream. The second thing I noticed was that the said ice cream was rapidly melting into a milky pool. It indicated that the timing was a little off with the dessert delivery, but with a few quick swipes of the spoon, the semi-liquid ice cream was quickly consumed. The cake itself was ridiculously rich and decadent, compact with a slightly crisp edge, just like a great home-made brownie. The “orange” component was questionable – it was a thick marmalade like paste, which had flecks of orange rind. The taste of it was peculiar, as it was at first quite sweet and jammy, but then had a odd aftertaste of bitterness. The besties and I were not big fans of it.
The doughnut balls with condensed milk ice cream ($14) was simply divine. Each doughnut ball was spongy on the inside with a diamond coat of sugar across its deep fried skin. I loved especially how the doughnut balls were made up of a slightly savoury dough, so the whole dish didn’t succumb to overpowering sweetness. The condensed milk ice cream was the richest ice cream I have ever had, so thick it was almost like consuming a velvety custard. It was an instant favourite on our table.
It got increasingly busy as we chatted away, the restaurant growing increasingly frantic. At one point, there was a line out the door, spilling onto the street. The pace of food delivery in general was quite stilted that night – our paella balls arrived first, not too long after we ordered. However there was a fifteen minute wait between that dish and the octopus. It was another fifteen minute wait for the pork belly and spicy lamb meatballs, but luckily we were so distracted by each other’s company that it didn’t seem too big an issue at the time. The noise level also amped up as people came in and out. The besties and I were glad to have refused a seat bar side, which appeared to be very loud and would have been near impossible to sustain a deep and meaningful conversation.
Overall, I thought the food was a bit of a hit and miss with Duende. The croquettes were wonderful, but the octopus dish was a major letdown. The price tag ended up being $50 a head which wasn’t too bad considering the amount of food we had ordered. Service was good – the man who greeted us in particular was very friendly and approachable. The dishes did take a while to get to us and a little more longer for them to clear them and get the desserts sent our way, but there were no major complaints. If you feel like a bit of fun and tapas, head down to Duende!
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Address: 662 Newcastle Street, Leederville 6007
- Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week (from 7.30 am till late).
- Has an almost-all-day breakfast (starting from 7.30am till 4 pm) with tapas available from 12 noon.
- Fully licensed with wine, ciders and beers on offer.
- Free wifi for all dining patrons.
- No reservations available, walk in’s only.