Ibérica

The blurb:

‘Last year, Ibérica celebrated its 10th anniversary, and in spring 2020 it will announce a brand-new menu that will reinvent some of its most-loved dishes. In anticipation of the exciting shake up, Ibérica’s Executive Chef, Nacho Manzano, will be flying to England to cook and host an exclusive lunch and dinner sitting to give Ibérica fans the chance to preview some of the brilliant dishes he will be adding to its menus.

Drawing inspiration from Spain and his beloved two Michelin-starred restaurant, Casa Marcial, you can expect the 12-course extravaganza to include dishes like Meatballs, beef reduction, Manchego sauce; Salt-baked seabass, with artichoke tea and a wakame seaweed & cep emulsion; Sautéed enoki mushrooms, cuttlefish and squid ink sauce .’

The style:

Lucy: It was press night on a bone-chilling evening in February, a few weeks pre-lockdown, and though we don’t live far from Victoria, we were already moaning about the vileness of the weather. But as soon as we reached Ibérica all our griping ceased. The glass building was packed to the rafters with smiley, shiny people as waiters poured dry Asturian cider into individual glasses from a theatrical height, to accompany slivers of hard, salty cheese from the mountains. The well-stocked bar was hung with copper and aluminium pots and pans, strings of garlic, lengths of woody herbs. It was warm, welcoming and a lot of Spanish was being spoken, which seemed promising.

The crowd:

Lucy: Fellow journalists, food writers, assorted other freeloaders, all having a great time. We were seated at a table for six with a gorgeous Spanish news presenter from Madrid and her husband, and a cool English couple, one of whom wrote for Sainsbury’s magazine, the other the Guardian (not about food). I can’t vouch for other tables, but ours was bloody good fun and we exchanged numbers, promising to stay in touch. We didn’t, of course.

The food:

Andy: We started with the Snacks: four small plates, all accompanied with the same Asturian dry cider we’d had earlier – no problem with that, as it was and continued to be rather moreish. The first plate was hand-made croquettes of Iberico ham and silky béchamel sauce.

Lucy: Seriously yummy. I love croquetas.

Andy: This was followed by a mushroom consommé that really was, as promised on the menu, the taste of the forest: full of mustiness and earthy flavours. Then came oysters, with a sherry lemon dressing, seaweed and borage. I’m not a big fan of oysters (nor were some other members of our table), but on my encouragement, we all had a go. And in fact, they were absolutely delicious. I’m a total convert.

Last we had a celery pannacotta with cucumber, seaweed and sea urchin. None of us knew quite what to expect from this description on the menu (a savoury pannacotta? Really?). The plate that was presented to us was exquisite, a real burst of unexpected and unknown flavours. A real wow dish and possibly my favourite of the entire evening.

Next, the Mains. Unusually, and perhaps as an homage to the current trend for vegetarian/vegan food, there was not a scrap of meat to be had. I withheld my initial disappointment and went into the next round with as much faux-woke enthusiasm as I could muster. Confirmed carnivore as I am, I cannot deny I was a tad underwhelmed by these three mini-courses. I was hoping for traditional Spanish meatballs at the very least. And maybe some pork; belly even. Having said that, the three small plates that followed were utterly delicious, I have to admit. All helped along by a very crisp and refreshing sparkling wine from Barcelona.

Lucy: Honestly darling, vegan/vegetarian dishes hardly need an homage. I do like faux-woke though.

Andy: First up was the tomato course. A clever combination of fresh and dried tomato, tomato water, caperberries, avocado seaweed and a basil oil emulsion. Well, I have to say, it was a burst of flavour that really put my misgivings back in their place. That said, was it really a main course? More of a palette cleanser maybe? No matter, there was more to come. Next up were roasted leeks and leek oil (made from the green leaves – very clever) with a horseradish and almond emulsion, topped with toasted almonds. What, no meat? OK, it was another winner I have to say.

Thirdly came the aubergine “steaks” (taunting me with such a meaty reference!). This was actually quite meaty, served with a superb 11-vegetable glaze, reduced for 8 hours, which really added to the depth of flavour that I had feared it would lack.

Lucy: He fears lack of meatiness! Really.

Andy: It was also served on a bed of ceps (more meatiness) along with walnuts and rocket cress. OK, so no meat in the mains, but we were definitely in the hands of a master chef and I was thoroughly won over by the mains selection.

Next, we had a course of sautéed enoki mushrooms with cuttlefish and squid ink sauce. Something that had had a pulse at last, albeit non-red-blooded. This had a depth of flavour that really can’t be surpassed by anything in the vegetable world (I maintain). Accompanied as it (and the next course) was with a wonderful Albarino Rias Baixas, this really hit the mark for me.

Lucy: And me. The Albarino especially.

Andy: Then came a well-cooked piece of sea bass, with artichoke tea and a wakame seaweed and cep emulsion. Again, this really worked and I loved the Japanese influence (not for the first time of course) that blended so artfully with the Spanish origins. ​The last savoury dish we had was the Pitu chicken, served with a fine Rioja from 2012. Aha! Something that had breathed God’s good air – and not just through gills – at last. It was their own take on an Iberican classic (so I’m told), a free-range cockerel with a chicken liver ravioli. I have to say, even though I had been begging for meat all evening, this was something of a disappointment. A rather small chicken thigh, the skin neither crisp nor appealing, paired with one lonely new potato. The sauce was delicious though.

Lucy: I agree about the chicken, sadly. It was described as ‘rooster’ on the menu, which has such wonderful connotations that hopes were high.

Andy: So finally the desserts. I have to say the first of the two was served with THE most delectable dessert cider. The dessert itself was a Leche y pastos, described as a ‘sweet representation of the Asturian landscape’. This consisted of a rather bland quenelle of ice cream (I just couldn’t get the flavours at all) sitting in a pool of rather nice green gloop. I get the picture, but I don’t get the dish. Sorry.

Lucy: I did. It was the contrast between the smooth milkiness of burrata and the fresh grassiness of Asturia. Delicious. And it’s pudding.

Andy: The last course was a delicious mango, orange and ginger ice cream, which was wonderfully light and refreshing, finishing a twelve-course extravaganza in style. Accompanied by a divine sweet sherry. Our sommelier told me it was a combination of two different grapes, both aged for 15 years separately, and then combined and aged for another 15 years. Heaven. All in all, a fantastic spread, with many unexpected courses and, indeed, flavours all of which amalgamated into a most memorable evening.

The drink:

Lucy: Flowed plentifully, and, in accordance with national stereotypes, the Brits drank much, much more than the Spanish (who were equally ebullient – how do they do it?). Let’s hope we can all congregate in such a jolly way again before too long and that the restaurant business will soon be thriving again. Hasta la Proxima, todos.

The details:

Ibérica; 5-6, Zig Zag, 68 Victoria St, Westminster, London SW1E 6SQ; +44 (0) 203 026 5118; www.ibericarestaurants.com

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