Michelin-starred executive chef of Iberica Food and Culture is Nacho Manzano, who cooks at his restaurant Casa Marcial in Asturias, in the top left-hand corner of Spain. He is especially well known for his fish cookery and for his new take on traditional dishes. He has become an international ambassador for Asturian cooking.
Head chef Santiago Guerrero is a charming young man from Madrid. He trained both in Spain and in England and has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, as well as The Castle Hotel, Somerset and The Waterside Inn. Before joining Iberica Food and Culture he worked as the Executive Sous-chef and acting Head Chef at L’Albufera restaurant in London’s Melia White House Hotel, voted best Spanish restaurant outside Spain by their Ministerio de Agricultura Caza y Pesca. Quite an accolade.
Iberica is truly a Spanish centre. There is the ever-popular tapas bar, a beautiful restaurant on the first floor, an art gallery on the landing, a wine niche for small events and presentations, and a deli. This might not be as big as Harrod’s Food Hall but it is stocked with the best of Spanish foods and ingredients, many of which can only be found in Spain or here at Iberica. It’s a measure of the respect with which this amazing establishment is regarded.
At Iberica’s imposing 15-metre bar you can choose between fifty hot and cold ‘pinchos’ and ‘tapas’ served from 11.30am till late into the night. There are plenty of simple cold dishes, such as cheese and charcuterie platters, shellfish and vegetable salads, croquettes, sausages, tortillas, rices and main-courses which reflect some of what regional and new Spanish food has to offer.
You can linger at the bar with a glass of Spanish wine or enjoy leisurely tapas with a drink at a window table where you can watch London pass you by. Prices start at an amazingly reasonable £1.50 for potato omelette with alioli sauce. The staff can suggest wine and tapas pairings so you don’t need to be an expert on either Spanish food or drink. Help is at hand.
We started our lunch with the Trio of Ham. This meat was carved wafer thin from the whole hams displayed in the aforementioned deli. What could be more evocative of fine food from the peninsula? Ham Croquets and Cheese Croquets will be familiar to those who have enjoyed leisurely hours in celebrated tapas bars in Madrid or even Barcelona. These were creamy, rich and real Iberian comfort food.
Dried tuna ‘mojama’ with homemade thyme bread and almond vinaigrette was new to me. A charming presentation on a slate platter. It’s the attention to detail which sets this establishment above so many others. Quality and care.
Stewed beef cheeks in rioja red wine with creamy chickpea purée is a culinary stunner. This is a slow-cooked dish of tender and flavourful meat. The sauce is glossy and rich and deserving of bread to dip. A dish for a cold winter in London.
Fried fresh squid with alioli is one to fight over. The seafood was tender with breading that was crunchy and light. The garlic mayonnaise had plenty of punch and was a delicious foil for the delicate squid.
Black Rice with cuttlefish, prawns and alioli must be Iberica’s signature dish. I have had black rice in the past but it’s never had either the colour or the flavour of this version. Most have been pale grey and pallid, while this had a truly inky teeth-blackening lacquered sheen. Seafood in every bite. A must-try.
Caleya´s caramelised rice pudding and Fried Milk were our dessert choices. They showed two diverse faces of dairy-based sweets. Both were creamy and rich but the textures were different. The Fried Milk was a cube of white, set cream in a crunchy golden crumb. A delight to eat. The rice pudding will be nothing like your mother makes… unless your mum happens to be Spanish and an amazing chef. This was a light cloud with a golden lining.
Iberica offers London’s longest list of Spanish wines by the glass, ranging from classics such as Cava, sherry and Rioja to many that will be new to British clients. There is nothing worse than being obliged to buy a bottle of your favourite tipple when you can only drink a glass. The bar stocks a wide range of Spanish beer, cider, brandies, liqueurs, Castile’s sweet and dry anis, and Galician aguardiente. An ideal spot to learn more about Spanish beverages of all kinds. They will also be happy to supply you with Asturian sparkling waters, coffee and tea if you need to work in the afternoon.
Lunch will allow you to graze your way through some of the best Tapas outside, or even inside, Spain but the evening experience of the first-floor Caleya restaurant shows another facet. This must surely be the address of choice for Spanish fine dining. The chef is the same but the dishes on offer allow chef Santiago to showcase a more formal side of this stylish establishment.
Start your evening as we did at the bar. Order a glass of sherry and try a few slices of the freshly carved ham. They have whole hams from acorn-fed pigs bred by small Spanish producers. It’s unlikely you’ll find better hams than this anywhere else in the UK. A Spaniard whose family breeds pigs told me that the hams here are the best she has come across.
Those hams, or slices of, can be found in the Iberica Deli, next to the restaurant on the ground floor. (Monday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 7pm) If you can’t get to London to visit in person then you can now shop online at http://store.ibericalondon.com/
Caleya is cosy. That’s the first impression. Cosy but still stylish and thoughtfully decorated with paintings owned by the manager. Not scenes of Don Quixote and a donkey but contemporary cityscapes in sepia. Take some time to look at these pictures. Amazing.
If you want an overview of all that is contemporary Spanish cuisine then you could do worse than order the Tasting Menu. Each dish is chosen to present ingredients at their best and some of those ingredients, although traditional, are far from the usual fare found in most Spanish restaurants.
We were regaled with:
Warm salad of baby leeks and spinach, young carrots with chickpea mayonnaise served in a ‘cocido’ broth – attractive and delicious.
Wild mushrooms served with its jelly, beetroot and rocket leaves was the very essence of mushroom flavour.
Stewed belly of cod with sweet pepper consommé, pil-pil glaze was as much about texture as taste. Yes, there is the flavour of fish, but it’s delicate. The flesh is glutinous and comforting.
Grilled fillet of Turbot with sea-urchin sauce and sweet potato purée. Another dish presenting well-chosen ingredients in an inspired fashion.
Roasted shoulder of suckling Segovia lamb with herbs accompanied by mushrooms and green peas is slow-cooked to achieve tender meat – a dish to attempt to replicate at home.
Granita of mixed berries, lemon sorbet and meringue batons, along with Mousse of ‘Jijona’ nougat with light chocolate sponge and mandarin sorbet, make for a veritable buffet of sweet and summery delights. These are small plates to nibble and enjoy with a glass of dessert wine.
The menu changes with the seasons, so you’ll be tasting the best, the freshest and the finest the market has to offer, whenever you visit.
Iberica Food and Culture is a culinary ambassador. It seems to take that role seriously. It takes pride in every aspect of its business, both culinary and cultural. It isn’t just a fine tapas bar and classy restaurant but an inspiring departure from our cooler climate. Iberica isn’t just Spanish, it’s Spain, and remarkable.
Monday-Saturday: 11:30am – 11pm
Sunday:12 – 16 pm (paella menu)
Tuesday-Saturday: 18:30 – 22:30
Sunday and Monday: Closed
Iberica Food and Culture
195 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5PS.
Phone: 0207 6368650
Visit Iberica here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018