If you haven’t yet witnessed the riotous kitsch that is Carnaby Street at Christmas, now is the time to strap on your galoshes and get out there.
Massive inflatables hover garishly overhead, spewing forth their love for all things Santa. People stop, stare, take photos, then move off, dazed and amused.
We got to witness it several times, because we arrived for dinner at Dehesa early and they were full to the rafters, so we wandered back to the underground Champagne bar at Liberty to enjoy a grotesquely expensive glass of fizz. Then we wandered back.
All under the watchful eye of the assembled inflatables, basking in the rain.
I’m glad to say that Dehesa took me away from all of that. Its buzzy, atmospheric crannies smelt of chorizo and warm leather. In the corner, a man was carving jamón off the bone. People were smiling. (Even people waiting for tables were smiling – which must be a good sign.) We were ushered to a window table by genial staff. And things got better from there.
The food at Dehesa is brilliant. We all know tapas can be good. Anyone who tells you that we can’t do tapas in London hasn’t been to Brindisa, or Salt Yard (Dehesa’s sister restaurant, which we also rate highly) or Tendido Cero or any number of excellent Spanish places. But at Dehesa, tapas reach another level.
The salt cod croquetas were the best I have ever tasted (and I’ve tasted quite a few, both in Spain and elsewhere). They took the bland, over-potatoed, over-salted purgatory that is run-of-the-mill croquetas and transformed it into crispy-coated, chunky-textured paradise. Paradise with romesco sauce. Does it get any better?
The courgette flowers stuffed with gorgeously glutinous Monte Enebro goats’ cheese and honey ran it close. As did the unctuously rich lamb shoulder with gnocchi, wild mushrooms and speck.
Susie nearly fell off her upholstery when she tried the old spot pork belly confit with rosemary scented cannelloni beans.
In the face of such revelations, other dishes supplied excellence of a more unexceptional variety. Chorizo-crusted hake with purple-sprouting broccoli, clams and saffron was delicious but unremarkable in the context. Spiced butternut squash with chilli, ricotta and Marcona almonds was merely scrumptious.
The wines weren’t half bad, too. The Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2008 held the prime virtue of not being Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. As well as being made in a lovely part of the world by very nice people (if you haven’t visited, it comes recommended). Aromatic but subtle enough to wash down the food very pleasantly indeed.
Pittacum 2005 from Bierzo was also a winner: very food friendly and just a bit different. We should all drink more Mencía and Kerner, and the world would be a better place.
And the bad points?
Dehesa is cosy in the sense of small: I had to shoe-horn myself into our table and played footsie with my wife all night.
It’s a bit loud, but then not everyone is a slipper-loving sad-dad like me (and, as Susie commented when I said this to her: it’s a bloody tapas bar, what do you expect?!)
And that’s about it.
Apart from the inflatables.