Is This Inner City Tapas Restaurant All Fur Coat And No Knickers?
I first fell irrevocably in love with tapas while travelling around Spain and living in Urgell two years ago (the town itself is as ugly as its name suggests, but the tapas in and around the area are sensational.)
I popped over to El Gato Negro about a month back and was extremely warmed by both the food and unique atmosphere the restaurant offers. I've been in something of a tapas funk ever since, so hopped over to Iberica in Manchester's stylish Spinningfields to see how it fared on the city tapas scene.
The Autumn Menu
The chef's suggestion and not for the faint-hearted, Iberica's Autumn menu features four sharing plates before you've even reached the main climax of the meal, and it's one hell of a meaty affair.
We began with the toasted bread with tomato, trio of iberico hams, half tapa of air-cured beef, and half tapa of cured Iberican acorn-fed "presa."
Simply presented on a cool wooden board with minimal accompaniments, the meat had nothing to hide behind, and, in all that humble nudity - was sensationally tasty - all knickers and no fur coat is the order of the day here. The "presa" which is taken from the head of the loin was particularly mouth-watering, simple and (in my opinion) regarded as one of the finest cuts for very good reason.
Appetite truly whetted, I had hungry eyes for the next tapa - 'Coca Mediterranea' - it's a simple dish, consisting of nothing more than roasted vegetables, manchego cheese and toast - but as we established above, simple doesn't mean bland. I have to say though, this one was a little for me. I didn't really 'get it' as a dish, it looked like an elaborate bruschetta but those wonderful herb and garlic flavours that I've come to expect from such just didn't seem to be present, at least not with the oomph I'd have liked, and the base arrived a tad burnt.
The pumpkin salad and ham croquetas were next. And there were no two dishes better to instill full faith back into the place.
The croquetas were luxuriously soft and creamy on the inside with a crispy coating that made you want to keep on eating them til the cows came home. The pumpkin, too, was nicely cooked, with a beautiful orange puree, fresh leaves and toasted pine nuts - topped with just the right amount of cheese to create the most mouth-watering marriage of flavours. The salad was so tasty I almost longed for the summer months again, with their lazy long evenings with a light supper and a glass of wine...
However, Summer wasn't privvy to what came next - and that was the fish and chips, fresh mackerel and oxtail sandwich - perfect autumn warmers with massive zingy flavour and depth.
Alluding to a USP of Iberica more generally, the fish was served Andalusian-style with lemon alioli and mojo verde (which provided a tantalising stand-in for the more traditionally British mushy peas.)
I was expecting the oxtail sandwich to be served as something of a Spanish-style bocadillo, but what actually came was much better - fabulous savoury triangles of heavenly salted meat enclosed in crispy cases with home-made tartare sauce and potato cream.
The mackerel however was the real stand-out - melt-in-your-mouth with a rich, lip-smacking flavour. I would return again just for this and a glass of their sweet cider - the award-winning 'Diamantes De Hielo' (pictured below.)
This drink, a sweet mix between cider and wine and the perfect dessert accompaniment - is an absolute saviour if you're looking for something absolutely delicious to really blast those winter chills.
Should you visit?
Absolutely 100%. It's a chain yes - Iberica also has branches in Leeds, London and Glasgow - but it's Spanish-Asturian influences make it a stand-out among the masses of standard (and sadly often microwaved) high-street outfits that are around these days.
My experience was definitely up there as one of the nicest tapas meals I've ever had and I would visit again without hesitation.