I’d wanted to visit Iberica ever since Marina O’Loughlin of Metro fame gave it such a glowing review. I’m a massive tapas fan, as anybody going through this blog’s keywords would quickly realise. The appeal for me is the relaxed buzz and that it takes me back to warm nights in Spain, knocking back cañas and cava, and wolfing all manner of meats and cheeses.
Of course, not all tapas is traditional and safe. El Pirata de Tapas in W2 and Barrafina are both more adventurous and urban, and the recent opening Copita offers another fresh take on it. Iberica is similarly slick with some creative use of ingredients and presentation.
The location is a little staid, being at the very top of Great Portland Street by the eponymous tube station. Its neighbours are the Portland Hospital and not too much in the way of foodie or coffee stuff (save Villandry) so it’s quite alone here.
The space is cavernous. A little disconcertingly so, especially with the lack of music and the bright lights. It does feel a little like it could be in a mall or an airport. Featureless high ceilings and mezzanine levels can do that.
Food itself was good though, a little punchy on the prices but excellent quality. Patatas bravas (£5.65 – eek) came with two options: the more paprika aioli sauce (Catalan?) or the more spicy tomato sauce. I liked this as it’s can be a bit Russian Roulette which one you get sometimes.
Fresh bread was warm and came with a very fruity oil.
Chorizo lollipops with pear aioli were delicious, inventive and fun (£5.60), and the padron peppers were perfect: hot and salty with a little zing. They were very pricey though at £6.90 - I'm used to them being among the cheapest staples on a tapas menu.
Asparagus tosta (bruschetta effectively) with truffle oil was fine and not overpowered. I’m not sure where it came from in December but it certainly wasn’t this hemisphere.
Jamon de teruel (£9.70) was silky and rich. They do many more high-end Jamon Iberico types – as can be witnessed at their deli counter.
The mixed cheese and meats platter (£12.30) gave a little more variety of the usual lomos, chorizos and manchegos – worthy of note was the Spanish blue (first piece alrerady eaten in the pic) which I’d not had before and was excellent.
Croquetas didn’t compare to José, but is there ever such a thing as a bad one? Sprinklings of paprika was a nice touch.
The apricot sorbet, chocolate, olive oil and strawberries was amazing. As was all the booze.
Overall, I liked Iberica but I didn’t love it. The food was thoughtful and well executed, and very carefully presented. The service was a little bit patchy considering the amount of staff on – I’ve been in tapas joints in Spain where one person has run the place with ease. Even though it was fairly busy, it felt quiet and a touch sterile. Lower lighting and decent music would help to bring some much-needed intimacy to the space.
One final event but probably the most memorable, and dare I say authentically Spanish: a couple of old gypsies came in begging at the tables! This goes on in Spain with a blind eye turned, and certainly when sitting outside, but I’d have expected a quicker reaction in London. The staff saw them enter and didn’t rush to evict them or appear very surprised – to the extent of “Oh, them again…”
Maybe the Spanish are a little more tolerant, but the diners were pretty astonished and I can’t imagine many them would return. No matter what kind of person or cuisine it is, you don’t expect beggars in a London restaurant.
Food – 8/10
Drink – 9/10
Service - 6/10
Value – 6/10
Tap water tales – 8/10
Staff Hotness – 8/10