It feels like everyone is talking about Iberica. There are pictures of their toilets flying all over the internet, granted they're pretty spectacular toilets but never before have I seen a place famed so much for its toilets (forgetting the sexist incident in Almost Famous...).
Iberica is situated on East Parade in Leeds city centre, in the financial and legal district of town. The owners have taken over Hepper House a grade II listed purpose built auction house that was in serious need of rejuvenation to make the most out of this beautiful building (see the before pictures here).
It's not just the aesthetics that have got people talking, it's the food too. You can all breathe a heavy sigh of relief that Leeds has not once again inherited a London (5 restaurants) and Manchester (1) chain that doesn't live up to the hype, because it certainly does.
Iberica imports most of its produce from Spanish artisan food producers and each dish is designed by Michelin starred chef Nacho Manzano (what a name!) so if they weren't producing good food I'd be more than worried.
I was incredibly lucky to be offered the chance to attend the soft launch (one of which they were running the week before opening) to test drive the staff, the food and most importantly the drinks. Rather generously they gave me a plus three which is very helpful when trying to eat as many dishes as possible off of a menu.
The architecture and decor hits you as soon as you walk in to the main dining room, the glass ceiling in the evening spring light gets the vitamin D and happy hormones raging before you've even sat down to eat.
The drinks menu is extensive, it was hard to decide on a bottle of wine and so with a little guidance the waiter happily chose a bottle for us. The wine brought to our table was the Arrayan Premium, a 2007 Vintage aged for 15 months in oak casks before being rested in the bottle for 18 months. This wine has waited a long time for me to drink it. It was a good choice by our waiter.
Whilst we looked over the menus Manzanilla olives were brought out for us to nibble on, they aren't the best of my life and they weren't the worst of my life, but then again mazanilla olives will never be my favourite olive.
The first taste of what on offer was brought to us in the form of meat and cheese boards. We were given a selection of cheeses from their 'Artisan Cheese' menu, including Idiazabal (a dry sheep's cheese), Manchego (more sheep's cheese and one of my all time favourite cheeses), San Simon (a smoky mild cheese) and I'm guessing the last was the Torta de Trujillo (but don't quote me on that one it's hard to keep track when they're all placed before and you're trying to take it all in!).
|Selection of cheeses|
The mixed meat board is a selection of chorizo, lomo (Spanish for tenderloin), fuet (dry thin salami like cured meat) and cecina (a dried smoked meat).
|Selection of meats|
Plus an extra plate/slate of Iberico ham (a personal favourite).
The meat and cheese barely lasted 5 minutes even with us being polite Brits stating 'would you mind if I had the last slice of....' whilst we're all screaming inside 'I wanted that you bastard...' Jokes.
Accompanying the cheese and meat were a couple servings of toasted bread with tomato, which is exactly what it says on the tin. There wasn't much about the tomatoes and it felt as if I was eating tinned tomatoes on toast. Probably not something I'd order on future visits (especially at £3 a pop).
|Tomatoes on toast|
We decided to order two dishes each and two portions of patatas bravas (a good filler) and two servings of Iberica burgers (served in portions of two), equalling three dishes each... or thereabouts.
|Patatas with aioli|
The patatas bravas were amongst the first dishes to arrive; we ordered both variations with spicy Brava and aioli sauce. I LOVE patatas bravas, D always makes a comment that I'm bound to order them whenever we're dining out on tapas. They're like the chips of Spain, what's not to like? It really spoils the meal for me if they're not on form. Almost everyone who visits a tapas restaurant orders these little potatoey delights, so good attention needs to paid to them. I'm pleased to say that Iberica's did not disappoint. I particularly liked the spicy Brava sauce version with the little kick at the end; I'd choose these over the aioli any day.
|Iberica Croquettes and Patatas with spicy bravas|
Enough about patatas, alongside them the 'Iberica Croquettes' were served; a crispy covered croquette with a creamy filling although I struggled to pick out the Serrano ham I still enjoyed their creamy 'ooziness' which was thankfully still contained in their casings (a tricky feat).
Next to arrive at the table was D's choice, asparagus on toast. When I first met D he had an asparagus addiction, his wee must have stank for months, in season and out of season he was eating it. I think he ate it even more after I taught him how to make the perfect poached egg. Times have flown since then and whilst he’s not eating it for dinner every night (he now has me to feed him most nights) he does still like to dabble. Iberica's version lays the asparagus on a blanket of onion confit on a bed of toast drizzled with truffle oil and Manchego. The Manchego was so finely grated I struggled to pick it up in the dish, which is a shame as it's such a delectable cheese. It wasn't a great dish to share between four, I'd perhaps suggest ordering it for one person, two at a push.
|Asparagus on toast|
Being the 'official foodie' on the table I felt the pressure to choose something obscure so I ordered the Torto. I'd never heard of Torto before and to me it sounded interesting, the pictures are awful so you'll have to make do with a description and that pitiful attempt at food photography below. Two donut shaped corn fritters are topped with a fried egg and Iberico ham. It was a mare to dice between four people, I tried to get an oozing eggporn photo but it just wasn't having any of it. Tastewise it all worked and I am tempted to say I would order this again despite its un-photogenic tendencies.
As mentioned previously we had ordered two servings of Iberica Burgers (wow do these guys like putting their names to dishes, it's like their trying to unofficially trade mark them). The mini burgers are made with secreto pork loin and garnished with pickle piparra peppers. D took a particular fondness to the peppers and I now have a challenge to find the pesky little things for future home cooking, cheers Iberica.
The dish that I think I can confidently say we all wanted to order was the chorizo lollipops. Now these guys know how to pose, it wasn't difficult to take a picture of them at all. The chorizo arrives pre-sticked with a chorizo batter forming the lollipop casing. They were delightful although I think a full plate for one would be too much for me, especially when paired with a sweetish pear aioli sauce.
The unexpected star of the show were the spring onion tempura which with came with more aioli but this time flavoured with lemon and a separate pot of soy sauce to balance. The tang from the onion wasn't dulled by its tempura wrapper, the batter was light and crispy and not too greasy. A real surprise for all at the table.
|Spring Onion Tempura|
The disappointing dish of the night (for me at least) were the cauliflower tempura. They were pretty bland and even with the pickled cauliflower on top I struggled to pick out much from this dish other than batter and stodge. Others said pickle cucumber made all the difference, but with just a sliver present I really struggled to get anything from it all.
The penultimate dish to arrive was the Pollo al Chilindron, a chicken in a tomato with red peppers and garlic sauce and some hidden rosemary potatoes. This dish was the hardest to share between four leaving us with only a small bite each. It was okay but I'm not sure I'd pay the £6.50 price tag for it.
|Pollo Al Chilindron|
The final dish to arrive was my choice, the Iberica Fish and Chips. Explained to us by a very lovely man (who we debated over his job role: head waiter, owner, chef...) as fresh cod's cheek cooked in a light batter with diced potato served with green mojo (a traditional sauce from the Canary Islands). The fish and batter were delicate and the saltiness of the batter really offset from the bitter lemon. The tiny diced potatoes soaked up the escaping oil and lemon which left the last remnants the best of the bunch.
|Iberica Fish and Chips|
Not fulfilled with our tapas feast or perhaps just a little greedy we all decided to order dessert.
J who had previously revised the whole menu in preparation for our meal knew already what he wanted, churros. I've tried and failed to make churros at home, I will try again someday when the memories of tears and oil burns have faded but until then I'm happy to sample everyone else’s. The churros were light and crispy, not as fluffy in the middle as I've eaten before and we all felt the chocolate sauce could have done with being a little thicker.
R ordered the textures of chocolate, a rather intriguing dish which felt like miniature versions of chocolate brownies and chocolate torte. It was incredibly rich and I think I'd struggle to finish this dish despite it's tiny nature due to this.
D wanted ice cream. There is no surprise there. He was unhappy to find that there was no sorbet and so he instead ordered a mix of ice creams... and then looked very disappointed when everyone else’s desserts came out and they were much more impressive than his own, I'm not sure what he was expecting. Luckily we're nice people and agreed to share our desserts.
My own dessert was picked out of intrigue mainly, I chose the Gloria Cheesecake which is served with Parmesan on top. It was news to D that cheesecake is made with actual cheese (albeit cream cheese) I've never had Parmesan topped on my cheesecake and it worked rather well.
By the end of the meal the light from the glass ceiling had all but disappeared and we were plunged in to mood lighting and candle light. A different atmosphere descended on the restaurant, if you were looking to impress a date I'd suggest bringing them here (ideally if they have never visited before).
We entered Iberica through the 'front' entrance on East Parade but the back entrance which is accessible from Park Cross Street leads to a wine bar and delicatessen. With legs lining the bar (not just on a Friday and Saturday night), and bottles lining the shelves it brings a sense of elegance and grandeur. I will undeniably be visiting for an after work tipple and nibble in the near future.
I tried to take some pictures of the decor, the beautiful building and the spectacular toilets but the pictures just couldn't do it justice. Plus, I think, seeing it for the first time with your very own eyes is what makes it even more spectacular.
Final words, go on pay day.