Small plates by no means portend a small meal. Dinner at Dehesa proved as much. Having spent a fabulous birthday evening there this week lavishing in copious amounts of food and incomparable company, I think it’s fair to say I left a touch on the uncomfortable side of full… but extremely happy.
Restaurants get added to my to do list in dribs and drabs which is why it’s probably unsurprising that Salt Yard, Ember Yard and Dehesa made the cut individually without me making the connection between the three. Clearly there’s something about their approach that unfailingly catches my eye. Maybe it’s the varied menu or the sleek interior design that has me hooked…
I confess there are times when I’m a little critical of tapas. The run of the mill often unimaginative and greasy dishes really don’t float my boat. That said, when done well, and I mean really well, tapas can be remarkable and Dehesa pushes the boundaries of typical tapas remarkably well. Moreover, when you’re bringing together a group that doesn’t necessarily know each other, I think tapas can be just the ticket. Everyone knows that sharing food always gets people talking.
On this occasion, Dehesa was perfect for more reasons than one. To start with their private dining room was just the right size. It’s tucked down next to the wine cellar, tastefully decorated and just the right amount of private. What’s more, their set menus are widely heralded as being reasonable value so I felt reassured that the £35 a head would be money well spent. This also mitigates some of the stress I suffer when dithering over the menu and the food envy I stand to suffer if I make the wrong choice. No worries on that account here as you get everything and plenty of it; nice nibbles to start including some really rather squishy, delicious flat bread and generous charcuterie boards (a note on those to come), followed by no less than ten ‘main’ dishes of which we got three portions. I know we were a group of girls with moderate appetites (sadly not including mine which can only be described as hefty) but none the less, I think any group would struggle to clean the plates. To top it off you get a choice of dessert. Beware the wine list though if you’re after a cheap meal, you’ll struggle to find a bottle for less than £20.
Bowled over by all sorts of flavours at once, it became difficult to distinguish what I loved, liked or even disliked. Everything was just so interesting. When I sit back and analyse the meal though, I would say a few dishes edged their way to the top. The stuffed courgette flowers were something special, but then I’m always going to be a sucker for goats’ cheese and honey! Similarly standout was the chorizo and chickpea dish and, in my opinion, the gorgonzola pesto on the chicken plate.
Desserts polarised opinion in quite a big way. The chocolate, almond and olive cake with blood orange really was a step too far for some. I admit, I wasn’t averse to the slight notes of olive oil and enjoyed how moist it was. Others were frankly dismayed that chocolate cake could be ruined like this. The apple cake with cider zabaione and caramelised apples was more of a crowd pleaser though I would definitely have appreciated more zabaione because it teetered on the edge of dry and the sweetness of it all threatened to become a little claggy.
If I had a criticism, I’m afraid I would have to say that the service wasn’t really on point. Had I not read the menu through on several occasions beforehand (nothing new there!) we would have gone without the charcuterie which the waiter erroneously stated we weren’t entitled to… The dishes didn’t particularly arrive in any coordinated fashion meaning that the combination on the table at any one time didn’t always compliment one another. For the most part things arrived pretty cold, not that I don’t concede it’s difficult with such a large table, and, finally, we were close to being overcharged not once, but twice. Reading the bill properly pays dividends!
As far as I could tell everyone had a lovely evening and I certainly can say I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would make a trip back in a few months though probably for a little meal à deux or with a smaller group. On second thoughts, maybe Salt Yard or Ember Yard instead.