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Restaurant Review

Dehesa offers more than good nose-to-tail cooking

Dehesa, which opened in North Canal Road last month, is the latest Western restaurant to offer nose-to-tail eating.

Dehesa, which opened in North Canal Road last month, is the latest Western restaurant to offer nose-to-tail eating.

Wolf in Gemmill Lane did it, but closed down last year after being in business for about 1 1/2 years.

And the five-month-old 5th Quarter in Syed Alwi Road offers some version of it in the form of beef tripe and tongue. But it projects itself as a charcuterie instead, emphasising its house- cured meats - which is perhaps the smart thing to do.

Nose-to-tail eating refers to offal and unconventional cuts of an animal such as pig's head and ears.

While older folks here grew up eating offal in local dishes such as kway chap and loh gai yik (literally stewed chicken wings), many young people avoid it as something too exotic for their taste.

  • DEHESA

  • 12 North Canal Road, tel: 6221-7790, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm (Monday to Friday), 5.30pm till late (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday

    Food: 4 stars

    Service: 3.5 stars

    Ambience: 3.5 stars

    Price: Budget from $70 a person, without drinks

But Dehesa offers much more than just offal and exotic cuts. The menu also has many seafood and meat dishes that are very good.

Chef-owner Jean-Philippe Patruno has proven his culinary skills at eateries such as the now-defunct Bomba in Martin Road and Una in Rochester Park, with Spanish tapas menus that I was quite a fan of.

At Dehesa, he shows that he has not lost his touch.

The Jamon Croquettas ($13), a tapas staple in Spain, is excellent here. Under a thin crust of golden crumbs is a creamy filling of bechamel studded with pieces of ham. The contrast in texture is a treat for the palate, as are the delicious flavours of the combined ingredients.

The Octopus ($28) is good too, with smoked pieces of the tentacles covered by thin sheets of lardo, or lard. Underneath are pieces of ratte potato.

The octopus on its own has a smokey aroma, but not much flavour. But let the lardo melt over it, then take a bite with a bit of everything on the plate and you'll find the dish comes alive. The lard smoothens the smokiness and adds flavour too. The potatoes complete the taste palette and add a bit of heft to the dish.

Lala ($15) is something you would not expect on the menu, as the name refers to local clams. But clams, whether local or imported, taste good as long as they are fresh and not overcooked.

Here, they are simply cooked with chillies and a dash of sherry, but that is all they need. The natural sweetness of the shellfish is its biggest appeal, one that should not be eclipsed by heavy sauces.

If you are adventurous enough, you should try some of the offal. The Crispy Tripe ($14) is an easy introduction to organ meat as it is deep-fried and spiced with white peppercorn and chilli padi, two steps that should make it appeal to most palates.

But the Crispy Pig Head ($28) is more interesting. The dish looks more like a croquette as the head has been deboned and the meat and skin chopped up to form a patty and deep-fried. It is served with a soft egg on top that you break and mix into the meat.

Taste-wise, it is like a fatty pork patty because there is quite a bit of skin in the mix, but that also makes it rather heavy.

Duck Hearts On Toast ($13) will appeal to those who enjoy textures in their food. The hearts, which come smothered in a dark and sweet sauce, have a firm springiness that I like. The piece of toast provides a contrast with its light crispness and balances the heavy sauce.

Desserts are safe territory. Chocolat ($14) is dark chocolate with olive oil and salt, a combination that may sound off if you have not tried it, but actually works well for those who do not like their food too sweet.

Torijas ($14) is a good choice too. It's an oblong piece of crisp fried bread filled with creamy milk which oozes when you cut into it. It tastes sinful, yes, but heavenly too.

Dehesa may be trying to distinguish itself with its nose-to-tail concept. But what will draw customers back, both those who like or dislike offal, is the solid cooking.

  • Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
  • The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Draw of solid cooking '. Print Edition | Subscribe