I’m always interested in the changes to a food culture outside its native country. From sushi with cooked prawns, to baltis, chicken chow mein and tikka masala, it seems that nothing is sacred once a cuisine leaves home and outside influences start to bear. It must be purgatory for the Spanish tapas aficionado to see the bastardisation of their favourite food type, with tapas now a near Hoover-esque generic word (Asian tapas?).
It’s a sad thing to admit, with the country being a hotbed of culinary fashion, that my knowledge of both modern and traditional Spanish cuisine is poor and I’m not sure what actually counts as genuine tapas. I was, therefore, very happy to have the chance to go to Iberica, on Great Portland Street, but even then I don’t know the degree to which it’s a London-ised version of the Spanish eating experience. Is it common in Spain for people to eat tapas as a meal, rather than as a couple of mouthfuls to accompany their drink?
The room is large, with a mezzanine, and not furnished with the idea of being a sepulchral cathedral to the worship of food – its buzzy, particularly towards the front by the bar with higher ceilings. To the rear, below the mezzanine, it’s quieter. The clientèle looks to be mainly a post work crowd; unsurprising in this office dominated corner of London.
We started with a couple of gins and tonic. There are a total of six different gins to choose, of which two are Spanish. I can’t keep up with what’s fashionable in the world of drinking, so I have no idea if gin and tonic, or gin based cocktails are of the moment or not, but we like them in general, and we liked our two in particular – H enjoyed a gin mare, exceedingly refreshing with thyme, rosemary and lemon, and I enjoyed a Martin Miller – with orange, cinnamon and juniper berries. Anyway, they set us up nicely for what followed.
We let the kitchen decide what we would eat, with only one proviso: we had to have Padron peppers – an absolute favourite. We started with a trio of Iberico hams – having seen the lined up ready for slicing, we were delighted to be tasting the full range; again, we found the diversity of the range of flavours on show to be eye-opening. Our favourite was the Covap Alta Expresion from Los pedroches, Cordoba; the sweetness of the fat winning us over.
But the ham was just the start of an excellent evening. Of what followed, we particularly enjoyed the chorizo lollipops with pear alioli, the gazpacho of red berries, beetroot and anchovies was packed with punchy flavours and hugely surprises us, and the crispy confit of Segovian suckling pig, as well as, of course, the Russian roulette of the Padron peppers.
The great thing about tapas is first, the conviviality of sharing, and second, that you can cater for any level of hunger and desire to spend, from going for a couple of cheaper dishes to knock the edges off to the full blow out of the larger sharing platters of a whole roasted Segovian pig, (6kg and £190), or 1.5kg of 30 day hung rib of beef, Bilbao style.
The wine list is exclusively Spanish, and includes a good range of sherries and cavas, as well as a good range of wine available by the glass. we enjoyed glasses of Viñadecanes Tres Racimos and Terras Gauda, and a particular treat of Noe, and 30 year old Pedro Ximinez.
Our bill would have been in the region of £170, but we were very spoilt by the restaurant, and you could eat considerably more cheaply than this and still enjoy excellent Spanish food, they have an excellent lunch menu for £15 for 3 tapas. Also on site is the Iberica deli so you can have a taste of excellent Spanish products at home.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of Iberica, many thanks for a lovely evening, all opinions are our own and we were not obliged to write a positive review.
195 Great Portland Street