I've never really tried to keep my love for Duende from anyone before; much like the Beaufort Street Merchant, it's become one of those places that have consistently delivered for me. It's definitely also one of those go-to places that I always end up bringing out-of-towners to for a delicious meal out. Their menu alters slightly over time but they generally stick to the same themes; when I could no longer find paella on the menu, I instead found these delicious prawn paella balls (think aranchini) that were sitting crisp in a smooth spread of paprika aioli instead - so delicious!
The past week has been hectic for me and I was elated that I had finally gotten around to allocating a free afternoon to catch up with a long time (and semi-newly vegetarian) friend whilst at a long lost eating venue. I haven't been to Duende for months and playing true to my preferences, I still like my Duende by day better and arrangements to visit in the late afternoon were made.
Some things never change and I'm definitely recognised at Duende by my drink preference. There was one time last year that I came in three times within a week. By the 3rd day, a house shaken iced tea had already arrived at my table even before I had the chance sit proper and look through the menu. I've always found the service here to be great, but definitely miles more attentive during the day - naturally, it's quieter and the staff don't have to cater to as many people.
I'm yet to have a better Iced Tea in Perth; the stuff out of a bottle is overpriced and sickly sweet, so this version happens to be worth every penny. Freshly made with Earl Grey, Lemon and shaken to order just like a cocktail would be. It's got a great sweet and sour balance whilst still remaining really refreshing - plus, I'm a massive Earl Grey fan, so there's no going wrong here! And to think my discovery of this all began one serendipitously warm Spring day; I've been enjoying it before every Duende meal since.
Dining vegetarian has never really been a problem for me; I instinctively do so when I'm preparing food for myself at home. However, it's a slightly bigger sacrifice at Duende because their meat and seafood tapas are that good! I was definitely missing my personal favourites, like the Prawn Paella balls ($14.00) I mentioned earlier. Other dishes that I highly recommend include the Lamb Rump with Hummus, Feta and Pomegrante Molasses ($24.00), the Pork Belly with Braised Fennel and Orange Glaze ($20.00) and the Mussels with Saffron and Israeli Cous Cous ($15.00)
Having said that, I do also appreciate that Duende not only have an extensive Vegetarian offering but also cater very well to our Gluten-Free friends; it makes dining here such a breeze. The croquettes were popping hot and much like a sweet hasbrown on crispy steroids! The extra crunching is the best way to get a good appetite going.
As an eggplant enthusiast, I always struggled to go past ordering it anywhere. The dish was so beautifully dressed and requires a little bit of elbow grease to get balanced fork full in. The flavours of the haloumi are rich and are contrasted with the sweeter pepperonatta and tender eggplant.
For a non-fan of squishy foods, I'm still very much sold on the baby eggplant but texture wise, this dish could have gone above and beyond if there was some sort of crunch on the plate to break up the chewiness of the haloumi and eggplant. By the last couple of pieces, I always find that the haloumi gets a little bit too tough as it cools.
The Duende mushrooms are a standout for me and there's always some big ceremonious moment when everyone around the table dunks a hunk of bread into the flavour packed mushroom sauce...there is always silent and not so silent forms of immense appreciation that follows! The walnuts are dusted with sugar and the gorgonzola melts so nicely over the mushrooms and the sauce, which makes it taste even richer. A side of bread is of course a must for this dish, but really, I'd happily eat it over anything!
I always tend to stay for a drink or dessert at this point and decided to give Duende's coffee a go for the first time. However, there was an instant regret as soon as I took the first sip. Barely any of the coffee or chocolate came through at all - for such an eventful and flavoursome food menu, it's a shame that the coffee didn't deliver too. I snuck in a few sips of Pale Ale instead and that was a definite improvement.
I've had a bad experience with bars that serve coffees before and I should have known better, just as much as the coffee should have been made better. But other than that, I couldn't really fault another winning dining experience at Duende. I've always been too enamoured by the tapas to try their All-Day Breakfast. I've also always liked the fact that it's served till 4PM in the afternoon and I strongly believe that this should be adopted more around Perth. It seems like another trip for breakfast is in order, very very soon as the mushrooms with polenta sound like they very much so do belong on my culinary hit list!