Unless things have changed significantly since the last time I was there, Spain is not really known for its vege-tarian menus but, Ibérica’s Executive Chef, Nacho Manzano, is looking to change that by introducing more plant-based dishes.
Last year, Ibérica celebrated its 10th anniversary, and at the end of March 2020 it will an-nounce a brand-new menu that will reinvent some of its most-loved dishes including many vegetarian options.
I was very lucky to be invited to a preview dinner to try some of the exciting dishes Nacho will be adding to Iberica’s menus. Drawing inspiration from Spain and his beloved two Michelin-starred restaurant, Casa Mar-cial, if you love Tapas and sharing dishes, these are great dishes to try either selfishly by yourself or with family & friends.
Ibérica is a very busy restaurant in the middle of Spinningfields and, as I’ve not been for a while, was pleasant-ly surprised that most of the high tables have been replaced by beautifully rustic tables based on feedback from their customers.
I do have a particular fondness for restaurants when they listen to their customers rather than telling their customers what they ought to think. The bar is a brilliant place to start and the stools are really comfortable with a great selection on the wine, cocktail and spirit lists.
Our dinner table was upstairs and it was very cosy, dimly lit and made me relax immediately. The tasting menu started with ham, bread and olives and then we were presented with a delicious selection of tapas from the new spring menu.
There is always something special about Spanish tomatoes and the first dish was no exception. This was accompanied by seasonal vegetables that had been delicately pickled but did not have that over-powering vinegar taste. This first wave was perfectly paired with Tio Pepe En Rama Dino sherry.
We were also treated to tempura spring onions that looked just like tempura prawns. The batter was incredible and they were definitely the lightest onion rings I’ve ever had.
The second wave was roasted leeks with an almond emulsion and an aubergine steak. The aubergine had been griddled and cooked for eight hours served on a bed of ceps and garnished with walnuts and rocket cress. The aubergine was the king of the dishes for me as it looked like steak and was served in a way that gave the impression it was steak. The second wave was paired with the most delicious rose cava, Rosa Cusine Cava Reserva.
Before the dish was served, the sommelier was explaining that quite often people will turn their nose up at a cava and insist on a champagne. He really could have been talking to me directly so I tried to for-get my preconceptions and I can honestly say it was the most delicious fizz I have tried in a long time.
The third wave was sautéed enoki mushrooms, cuttlefish and squid ink sauce plus meatballs served on a cheese sauce. The WOW factor was the Cabraroca which is a whole Cabra redfish fried in a crispy batter. It is presented whole and, in Spain, with no cutlery but Nacho has acknowledged this just wouldn’t do over here. This is a good fun dish that tastes delicious with very light batter but probably not one if you are on a first date. This third wave was paired with a choice of either white, Moli dels Capellans, or red, Joven de Silos. I tried both and they were divine.
The dessert, textures of chocolate which were chocolate ganache, chocolate sponge and ice cream meringue paired with a beautiful sweet sherry, Matusalem, was a perfect end to the tasting menu.
The concept of sharing tapas dishes with friends and family around a big table is absolutely wonderful and such a fun way to spend a dinner.
The food offered at Ibérica would be good fun and would certainly generate lots of chatter and discussion about the food itself. My only real whinge is that the food was not very hot but more warm, as is often the case in these higher end restaurants. I think this was intentional as the flavours are enhanced but I’d have preferred them to be a little hotter.
The absolute stars of the show were all the wines, without exception, the aubergine and the whole fish in crispy batter. We know that we need to be eating less meat and having more vegetables – not just for the planet but for the good of our health. If vegetarian food could always taste as good as this tapas, I’d be more than happy to eat it every day. I do think it is very funny that some of the vegetarian food now needs to look like meat equivalent but if this works to help save the planet, I am all for it. Thank goodness Mr Carnivore wasn’t with me!