RICHARD ESLING: An authentic Spanish experience on your doorstep

Ib�rica Restaurant, Marylebone
Ib�rica Restaurant, Marylebone

The hubbub of the busy tapas bar surrounded me in a friendly atmosphere, as I sipped a top quality bone-dry manzanilla sherry, accompanied by the best Iberico ham that money can buy, freshly cut in front of me.

The Spanish barman was busily opening yet another bottle of Sparkling Cava, while our Spanish waitress explains the difference between the dish of fried baby squid with aioli sauce and the grilled octopus with pimenton de la Vera, with a backdrop of blue and white ceramic tiles and big old iron lamps hanging over the bar.

I could almost have been forgiven for thinking that the Star trek technology of ‘beam me up, Scottie!’ had become a reality and that I was enjoying a relaxing lunch in Granada, Seville or some other beautiful city in Spain. Yet here I was in the centre of London, a mere ten-minute walk from Oxford Circus, less than half an hour from Victoria Station. I was enjoying a relaxing lunch in one of London’s Iberica Restaurants in Marylebone, on the corner of Great Portland Street and Devonshire Street.

This was a truly authentic Spanish experience without having to jump on a plane. A mouth-watering selection of typical Spanish dishes and tapas, together with a selection of 50 different wines, 20 of which are imported directly, exclusive to Iberica Restaurants in the UK.

The executive chef is Michelin starred Nacho Manzano, who only uses top quality ingredients and inspires the kitchen teams to cook every tapa with love and care. The tasty and interesting dishes served are matched by an equally interesting and varied selection of wines.

The wines are chosen from small boutique Spanish wineries and the list illustrates the rich diversity, produced from the different local grape varieties. Forget the International grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot, and think more Albariño, Tempranillo, Mencia and Bobal. These native grape varieties produce wines with deep flavours and aromas, yet with elegance, balance and complexity that perfectly match the intense, vibrant flavours of the dishes.

Spanish wines are immensely changed from the semi-sweet, oxidised, alcoholic horrors of 40 years ago. From the far North-west of the country in Galicia with fresh, crisp Albariño, to the unique fortified wines of the Deep South around Jerez, there are exceptional, world- class wines being produced, the majority of which are from native grape varieties, adapted to the soils and climate of the different regions. Real flavours of real Spain.

The dry Manzanilla and Fino sherries were perfect accompaniments to the typical aperitif dish of Jamon Iberico and matured cheeses, such as the Mahon and Idiazabal. Moving on to the next tapa of Grilled octopus, our knowledgeable wine waiter, Juan, suggested a crisp white from the Basque country, traditionally poured into a glass from a great height. I’m glad he pronounced the name, since even my faltering Spanish was useless – Txomin Etzaniz! Intense white fruits, with hints of lime blossom, a mineral finish and slight spritz.

Next up were classic and modern tapas. Croquetas de jamon were the lighest I have ever eaten and the Tortilla was soft in the middle and absolutely delicious. The twice cooked lamb is a must, as it was bursting with flavour, served with marinated cherry tomatoes and red peppers. This was matched with a red from the north-western Bierzo region, made from the Mencia grape. Juicy and elegant with considerable depth. Round all this off with a yummy dessert accompanied by a glass of Apostoles 30 year old Palo Cortado sherry.

Whether you are up in London for a shopping trip, an exhibition or a business meeting, this little piece of authentic Spain is worth seeking out for a truly authentic, Spanish, culinary and vinous experience.

There are four to choose from in London, the other three being in Victoria, Farringdon and Canary Wharf. But my personal favourite is the original Iberica Restaurant in Great Portland Street, opened in 2008. A journey to Spain is only a short train ride from Sussex.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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