The gap between tapas restaurants over here and in Spain used to be huge. Both in terms of variety but most importantly for me, with the quality of the product which has always been paramount in Spain. I used to visit Madrid in the early 90's and be amazed at the variety of seafood on offer. Most likely much of it was fished off Scottish waters and exported over there in huge quantities. Meanwhile we were left with rubbery squid and boring patatas bloody bravas. The difference was striking.
In recent years there's been an explosion of quality Spanish restaurants opening in London; Brindisa, Barrafina, Moro, and Ibérica etc. So to say the arrival of Ibérica to Manchester has been highly anticipated would be an understatement. It's been a long time coming.
We went twice last week and I'll nail my colours to the mast early on; it was excellent.
At first we're not too keen on the glitzy ground floor bar area. It's only 4.30 and already it's rammed with suits. The site of the camera has heads swivelling round my way. We move upstairs which we much prefer, especially the more private booths down one side. It's like a completely different restaurant up there.
We kick off with Fried Chorizo Lollipops
with pear alioli sauce (£5).
What's not to love about these? They're gone in one juicy, deep fried mouthful.
Serrano Ham Croquetas
(£6/10, always a favourite) are bloody good too. Golden, crisp, plump pillows, they explode on your tongue, oozing hot creamy béchamel sauce. Surprisingly, chef Nacho Manzano has said that British milk is creamier than Asturias and makes excellent croquetas.
The Arroz Negro
(Creamy black rice with squid, prawns & alioli sauce, £8, is another staple of ours when in Spain). This is spot on too. This dish is all about the tar-black stock and luxurious silky rice rather than the showy prawn laden paella.
Incidentally it's hard to get good paella even in Spain now, so much so that we rarely order it. We intend to return here to see if they can pull it off. The fact that they ask you to pre-order it when booking is a good sign.
The twice cooked Lamb
, marinated cherry tomatoes & red peppers from El Bierzo (£9) is superb too. The flaky, rich meat is just right
. When they mistakenly bring another one later, I eat that too and say nowt.
Equally as glorious is the decadently fatty Crispy Confit of Suckling pig,
apple purée & frisée salad (£15). This is a Denomination of Origin
(D.O) from Segovia where you will famously find the finest suckling pig in Spain. You can even get the whole animal for £190 if you give them 12 hours notice. I'm tempted.
Prices as with Hawksmoor
are higher than perhaps Manchester is used to but as I said before, it's worth paying a little extra for quality and their set lunches are pretty reasonable. We also enjoy their twist on Fish & Chips
(£5); deliciously moist hake with little potato cubes. We ask for some alioli as an accompaniment and think this should always come with this dish as it works so well.
Another winner is the pretty scarlet Gazpacho
with red berries, beetroot & anchovies (£4). They
add a little blob ice cream made with soft fresh cheese, I only wish we hadn't
elected to share this one. (You can get the recipe for this here
Mrs B insisted on a vegetarian dish, so we have the Milhojas de escalivada
of smoked & roasted aubergine & red peppers (£5). No complaints about this one either.
The Pan con Tomate
(£2) is pretty good although the tomato is fridge cold and I've had better versions
with slightly crisper bread like a sourdough.
There is also Confit of cod
(brandada) with olives & white grapes (£4).
The only misfire for us are the burgers. Like little sliders, the Ibérica burger
with 'secreto' pork loin & Piparra peppers sets us back £7. They are way too small for the price and I forgot to ask for them pink.
We finish off with some Ibérico ham
and some Cecina
(air-cured beef) from León (£10).
(From Montánchez, D.O. Extremadura £8) is absolutely exquisite, some of the best we've ever eaten. Even an amateur glutton like myself can detect the rich and complex flavours. It melts on your tongue. It maybe my imagination but I think I can actually taste those acorns the pigs are fed on.
is top of the shop quality too.
Finally the Spanish cheese selection (£10). Urgelia (pasteurised cow cheese), Tous del Tilers (raw cow cheese), Manchego with rosemary & Valdeón (blue cheese).
On one occasion I pair the food with an Alma de Blanco Godello
from the impressive looking wine list (to my eyes anyway).
I'm no expert on wine and food pairing but when you're eating a variety of dishes, this neutral clean and dry white works a treat, similar to Albariño.
Service on both occasions was stellar, they have a lot of staff milling about and are well rehearsed although there will always be a few gaps in their knowledge as they're all new to the job. I even spot executive Michelin star chef Nacho Manzano
on one occasion. I'm hoping they add a few dishes contributed by Albert Adrià
in Barcelona up here as they have in London.
They have however, thankfully not watered down their restaurant and product for Manchester. I'd like to see some more unusual dishes (like kokotxas de bacalao and perhaps some Carabinero prawns which can be sourced from our local fishmongers Out of the Blue
.) But I'm sure they know what sells more than me.
It may be a chain but I've never had tapas of this quality before in Manchester. It's not only London levels of food but it's on a par with Spain too. Ibérica has already become one of my favourite restaurants in the city. I'll certainty drink to that. ¡Salut!
More photos here.
*Invited to the soft opening on one occasion, paid in full on the second.