I meet Mister who’s sitting on a high stool at the restaurant’s 15-metre L-shaped bar being looked down upon by a rather large wooden bull.
One beer in and a never-ending bowl of anchovy stuffed olives provided by the bar staff he’s almost put out I’ve shown up.
I’ve been invited because the Marylebone branch of Iberica has been refitted and totally transformed from its previous guise by one of Spain’s leading interior designers. Lázaro Rosa-Violán who describes himself as an ‘urban archaeologist’ is responsible for this and the branch in Canary Wharf.
The waiting staff here are from Spain and the restaurant is typically Spanish – don’t come here expecting to be in and out in an hour – Iberica is an event, you come here to soak up the atmosphere, the food and wine, and the food prices reflect that.
The wine list reads well and there’s something for everyone, including rare wines. For those who want to wine match, there are 9 whites, 11 reds and 2 roses available by the glass.
Fresh bread was served warm had a great crust and came with a fruity olive oil.
From lunch until late in the evening there are over forty hot and cold tapas dishes available from traditional cheese and meat to bespoke tortillas and seafood – the focus of which is o Asturias specialities.
The menu is split into cured meat and cheeses, hams, tapas and raciones, sharing platters, paellas, and desserts.
We begin with the perfect starter – a trio of Ibericos (£22.20) – meat from the black Iberian pig.
All distinctively different in their characters, but equally remarkable in flavour. We begin with the Behere Etiqueta oro from Salamanca, and the sweetest of the three. The marbled fat melted on the tongue and there was a clear nuttiness in the meat – something to do with the fact that these pigs are fed only acorns. Next was the Gran 10 vetas from Huelva and from some of the best pigs in Spain but my favourite was the COVAP Alta expresion from Cordoba more fatty, slightly thicker cut and drier and smokier than the others, faintly sweet and one of the best hams we have tried.
I begin with a glass of white Rioja Londoño Blanco (£7.50) a barrel-aged white
Mr has a glass of Brezo tinto a warming unoaked red from the Mencia grape (£8.00) big red cherries, a big body and a great choice of wine for the strongly flavoured food that was to come.
We pick ‘from The Sea’ Octopus gallega with potatoes and paprika (£9.20) and Grilled Prawns with chilli, garlic and a sherry vinegar dressing (£6.90). The octopus was cooked perfectly, salty dense octopus meat, silky potatoes with the paprika giving just the right amount of heat to the dish – one of my Spanish tapas favourites.
However, the prawns were out of this world. Crustacea the size of my hand curled their way out of a bowl, their saucy bed was a sherried garlic cream with a chilli infusion and I couldn’t get enough of it.
‘From the Land’ we chose mushrooms with bone marrow, anise and ecualyptus oil (£6.90) a dangerous punt but one that pays off. Soft mushrooms with a creamy bone marrow sauce, eaten with sweet petit pois and a crunch of mustard cress. This was a fabulous dish.
No tapas meal is complete without croquettes. And Iberica have conceived one of the best recipes I’ve tasted. An unctuous cheese and bacon potato thickening fondue bound by the finest crispiest crumb.
The padron peppers with Maldon sea salt were good but not that good for £6.90.
We had already witnessed the classics deconstructed and presented in a new way in the mushroom dish but the Gazpacho of red berries, beetroot and anchovy (£4.90) sounded like a real winner (if you like anchovies). The waiter tried to persuade me and told me that they use only the best quality fish from Cantabria – either way – I have only his word for it.
As if we couldn’t get enough pig here, we ordered the crispy confit of Segovian suckling pig, apple puree and frisee salad (£14.40) and it was stupendous. A thick cut of meat with crisp toasted skin and mash-like layered meat which fell away when poked with a fork. The frisee wasn’t just a nice to have garnish and worked incredibly well with the softness of the meat and the sweet apple puree. There was also an added bite in the pomegranate jewels which scattered the plate. A really pretty plate of food.
Mr had a glass of Mas la Mola 2007 from Priorat within the province of Tarragona and whilst on the steep side at £15.00 it packed a punch. A deep cherry coloured wine with notes of black cherries and blueberries and hints of spice, smoke and vanilla.
I always find that it’s a mark of a good Spanish restaurant in the UK when you hear native Spanish chatter – if it’s good enough for the home-sick then it’s a pretty good sign that this restaurant is doing authentic dishes very well indeed.
El Colmado is their hidden gem of a delicatessen which is home to over 20 different olive oils, turrones and one of the largest selection of Spanish cheeses and cured meats available in the UK. Iberico and Serrano cured hams, cold meats and sausages are all cut-to-order and can be vacuum packed. Cured beef, chingale and venizon chorizo are also available. There are over forty cheeses stored in their dairy area and as well as the familiar Manchego, Cabrales and Mahon, you can expect to try the less so including goats, ewe and cow’s milk cheese. Preserves, rice and chocolate is also on offer.
It’s always been the aim of Iberica Marylebone to be the capital’s outpost for authentic Spanish cuisine and they’re proud to showcase the quality and vast array of Spanish produce. It would seem that their hard work has not gone unnoticed, they’ve been recognised for their efforts by the Real Academia de Gastronomia.
For those who like your paella they offer 4 different rices on their Sunday lunch menu – a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and a great pit stop after a visit to the nearby Marylebone Farmers Market.
Monday- Saturday 11:30 am – 11:30 p.m
Sunday : 12:00 – 16:00