25 Ganton Street, London. W1F 9BP. www.saltyardgroup.co.uk
Nick finds the Spanish Italian mash-up of Dehesa almost entrirely to his taste.
I rather miss that leg of jamon, but the interior otherwise has what I want from a restaurant: Instagram unfriendly lighting, dark nooks, irregular levels of chairs and a warm atmosphere.
There’s a large terrace area outside Dehesa, on pedestrianised Ganton Street, but with a bracing March wind tugging at the face masks of the Chinese and Japanese tourists, there are understandably no tables out there. Wait until the summer, though. Assuming we aren’t all in lockdown by then.
Inside, tucked in our cosy corner, we fail to make any firm decisions on the menu because we’re talking too much about the parlous state of TV comedy.
My guest once had a hand in what comic treats got to grace our screens.So when the manager resignedly rolls up for the fourth time to ask, in an Italian accent I think, if we are ready to order we put him out of his misery and just ask him to recommend stuff. We listen, we fine tune. Job done.
Dehesa also has an Italian accent, which is why we receive a large wodge of nduja with crispy flatbread. Personally, I tend to use nduja as an ingredient, but I am open to something new.
It works. Not too spicy but with a definite kick. We alternate this with bites of pan con tomate, a popular breakfast dish in Spain.
The tomatoes are generous and mushy and the bread crisp enough to resist the moisture without collapsing in the time it takes to be raised to the mouth. Garlic’s muted roar underpins it all. Very enjoyable.
T for some reason has ordered mortadella and I didn’t disagree at the time. It’s perfectly good mortadella; the slices folded just how napkins used to be in’posh’ restaurants, but it’s not exciting. Come to think of it, mortadella never is. It’s the also-ran of Italian sliced meats.
Now for something completely Spanish, baby squid a la plancha, arroz negro and aioli. Perfectly cooked squid with the smoky kiss of the plancha, not to be confused with the smoky kiss of that uncle that no one in my family was ever altogether sure about.
The rice is oozy, black as my soul, and the aioli coats every forkful. You can’t go wrong with this dish, not when it’s done as effortlessly well as this. It’s a plate scraper.
We’re not so bowled over by IbÃƒÂ©rico meatballs, cabra del tietar and migas. Migas are traditionally stale breadcrumbs and they do a good job of holding juice and padding out an expensive ingredient, the IbÃƒÂ©rico. But in this case the ratio was too high and it is rather like eating soggy bread.
Cabra del tietar is a goat’s cheese, one that I am rather fond of, but this too was overwhelmed by the bread. Bit of work needed on this one, but the basic elements are right.
Vegetarians often despair in Spain, meat is usually only what’s on the menu, but with its Italian cross-fertilisation, Dehesa has come up with Jerusalem artichoke ravioli, chestnut mushroom veloute and Jerusalem artichoke crisp, and it is a blinder.
Slippery pasta, tense to bursting with its creamy filling, is a mouth-bomb of flavour and the veloute perfectly combines to add to the blast wave. The tiny crisps add a delicate kiss of alternate texture. We fought a bit over this one, clashing forks.
Next up is something I’ve loved since first having it in Galicia many years ago – Galician octopus a la plancha, saffron aioli and smoked paprika.
Here it doesn’t come on the traditional wooden plate, which outside of Spain is probably a hygiene no no anyway, and is laid out like an artist’s palette. A dob of aioli here, a hunk of octopus there. The red of the paprika scattered all over.
It’s another winner, the octopus is as achingly tender as a bruised heart and full of flavour, it only gets better when the aioli comes into play and the paprika brings its heat and flavours to the party.
Mind you, I am now pretty full of garlic, not that I mind as it will keep the Corona Virus carriers on my bus home well away from me.
So I crave something seriously sweet and muscovado panna cotta, honeycomb and whipped cream is very definitely that. Smooth, rich, (very) sweet and decadent. The honeycomb bonds into my teeth like Araldite, it always does that, it’s my fault for having terrible teeth.
I wash that down with a very non-Spanish Grappa, delicious and fiery and fortified against the cold head out into the mean streets of Carnaby.
Salt Yard Group doesn’t really put much of a foot wrong. All their restaurants have the same ethos, but slightly different focuses, which helps them to avoid accusations of’chain’.
A menu of fair-priced dishes packed with flavour, a little bit of art and a lot of satisfaction, should see this’new’ one be very popular with both tourists and local workers alike.