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A modern tapas bar with glam stylings.
Please note, Encant has now closed. Time Out Food editors, January 2019.
Let’s suppose for a moment that you used to be a bit of a barfly. You’d hang out in joints that were cocktails-or-die; where the staff would roar with laughter if you asked for any snack bigger than a wasabi pea. Then life happened – as it always does – and you realised that sexy watering holes were all well and good, but what you really wanted was to actually sit down and eat. Step forward, Duende. A looks-like-a-cocktail-bar-acts-like-a-tapas-bar kind of a place. I’m calling it a ‘taptail bar’. Or perhaps a ‘cockpas bar’. Okay, maybe the name needs work.
What doesn’t need work is the decor. The place may be small (I counted only 22 seats) but it is, as the saying goes, perfectly formed. Dark floors and dark ceilings are offset by shiny copper counters. And, yes yes, we’re bored of bare filament bulbs, but these are the expensive designer type, plus their black wires have been cleverly criss-crossed over the ceiling like the web of a particularly big and malevolent spider. Behind the bar, there’s a focus on premium spirits and independent gins (don’t worry, you can still get a drink here, it’s just not the main thing they do).
It’s all a slinky, intimate setting for some modish tapas. There was a beautiful trio of fried oysters, their plump middles encased in crunchy batter, served over tiny beds of wilted wild spinach, with a thick, sherry-spiked white sauce and sprinkling of crunchy toasted almond flakes. Or a pair of daringly pink lamb chops, seasoned with just a sprinkle of rock salt and a to-the-side blob of heady aioli. Other dishes were a touch too ambitious, with bouts of too-many-ingredients-itus. Case in point: a silky portion of torrijas – a Spanish french toast – teamed with a fragrant passion fruit sorbet. Individually lovely, but the kind of marriage where you take bets on how long it’ll be until they get divorced. The kitchen just needs a little restraint.
Still, staff were enormously charming: on the night I visited, it was an all-male crew, looking like they’d cashed in a group Wowcher to a top-notch grooming salon, handsome devils that they were. Music was moody and sophisticated. Simply put, Duende is the good kind of hybrid, right up there with ice-cream sandwiches, labradoodles, and the Toyota Prius.