Sunday 29 March 2015

Ibérica, Manchester

The soulless abyss that is Spinningfields has never been at the top of my list of favourite places to eat in Manchester… so when the “chain restaurant” Ibérica opened there, I was not exactly chomping at the bit to visit.

On the day we did, my wife and I had initially been keen to check out at the newly opened BistroVin (above @SWofDeansgate) in Barton Arcade for wine, cheese and ham but it seemed they were not yet fully operational. With our hearts set on procuring some quality charcuterie, I grudgingly suggested Ibérica.

Probably in part fuelled by my mood, things didn't go smoothly initially. On arrival we were shown to a table on the mezzanine level, which compared to the high ceiled bar area, seemed a little confined, so we asked to move downstairs.

The host then seated us next to the only other occupied table in an otherwise empty section – I never know why places do this; I guess it makes it easier to wait on but surely no customer, given the choice, would choose such a seat? It’s not quite as freaky as going to sit next to the only other person in an empty train carriage but it’s still bloody odd… I asked that we sit at the bar instead.

After appearing like an awkward wanker, I was finally a happy bunny at the bar. The young lad serving was good but I didn’t appreciate a 12.5% service charge being added to the bill as standard AND the card machine prompting for further gratuities – one or t'other would have sufficed.

Generally, I found the food good – I guess good enough to warrant a listing in the Michelin guide (the Canary Wharf and Marylebone branches are listed after all).

We ordered a couple of ‘Pinchos’, Baby squid with aioli and Ibérico ham with green pepper – both were great little things that I’d definitely order again if I ever do return.

From the deli section we went for the Anchovies in vinegar, Cockles in brine, the Spanish cheese taster and some Juan Pedro Domecq Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – I found the anchovy dish particularly pleasing.

At £32.50 for the tin, the cockles were the single most expensive item we ordered. Each one was perfectly plump and delightful but I think you’d have to be some sort of certified cockle connoisseur to fully appreciate them at that price.

The jamón however, as expected, was worth every penny (£20). Ibérica offer a choice of three hams, which you can buy individually or as a tasting platter. One advantage of ordering the platter being that it can help you to appreciate the qualities of each. As it’s a personal favourite, I just ordered the Jabugo beauty.

From the tapas section, the picks of the bunch for me were the Ibérica’s Serrano ham croquettes and the Padrón peppers with Maldon salt – good examples of each.

Conceptually, the Asparagus, Manchego, onion confit & truffle oil toast was another good dish, although sadly let down by woody asparagus.

Slightly less successful were the Aubergine, honey & pinenuts and the Sea trout with almond puree, pickled cauliflower & smoked olive oil – the aubergine was far too sweet for my taste, cloyingly so. Despite being delightfully cooked rare, I found the sea trout dish as a whole, a little lacklustre. 

For dessert we ordered a portion of Churros con chocolate and the Torrija but received the Gloria cheesecake with Galician ‘Parmesan’ & dried strawberries instead of the latter. They weren’t the best churros I’ve had but, then again, I was in Spinningfields and not a Spanish plaza with the sun on my back… I guess that helps.

Despite being more impressed with Ibérica than I thought I would be, my natural snobbish proclivities mean that I’d always rather support local independents like La Bandera, Levanter in Ramsbottom and El Gato Negro (when they open soon on King Street), so I’m not 100% sure if I’ll ever make it back.

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