Iberica has been on my list of Leeds restaurants to try for a while now. Although I walk past the Spanish tapas restaurant every day I’d not yet had an excuse to visit, despite various friends recommending it to me, so when I received an invitation to come try out the new spring menu I immediately replied with a “yes please!”
I’m a big fan of laid back street food – I can get as excited about a burrito from a van as a fancy dish prepared by a Michelin chef as long as it tastes amazing and you can tell the product is high quality and was made with passion. Having said that however, it’s always good to know about excellent restaurants for special occasions, somewhere you’d want to go celebrate a birthday or anniversary.
Iberica definitely fits the special occasions box. As soon as you walk in you can tell you’re in for a treat. Located in the listed antique Hepper House, the hanging chandelier and circular staircase within the reception area sets the ambience. The ground floor hosts a cocktail bar and main restaurant area; downstairs there is the wine bar which instantly makes you feel like you’re in Spain rather than Yorkshire; and on the top floor there is a grand private function room.
We went to the wine bar on arrival and got to sample Iberica’s “Trio de Jamones”, “toasted bread with tomato” and selection of cheeses with bread and olive oil. The label “toasted bread with tomato” does not do this dish justice, although that is what it essentially is. James was trying to work out how to replicate it which is always a good sign. (I love trying out Chef Preston’s dishes after he’s had something new that he likes!)
Before we ate the trio de jamones – thin slices of Spanish ham – we were given an explanation as to how and why the three different hams tasted so different, partly depending on what the pigs are fed, where they graze and how long the meat is cured and aged for. When you look at a menu and see an item with different price ranges, it’s often quite difficult to understand what you’re paying extra for unless it’s been explained to you. Sampling the three meats – all of which were excellent – you could tell which was the more expensive. You can taste the difference when the pigs have been roaming in open woodland, grazing on large quantities of acorns and then cured for 52 months!
Whilst we were in the bar, we were also shown how to drink from a Porrón – a traditional Spanish glass wine pitcher. You hold the Porrón by the glass neck, tilt your head back and then extend your arm so the wine pours into your mouth without you touching it – great for hygienic sharing and reduces the amount of washing up! Luckily we tried it with just water, as I managed to spill a large amount of liquid on my top. James does have video evidence of me trying this, but it’s really not pretty and I’d rather not share a video of me spilling a drink all over my face on the internet!
We were then shown upstairs to the private dining area. This is a very fancy room! You can sit 20 around the tables formed to create a big square, although there are probably various other seating options available to accommodate fewer/more guests. (If you do get a chance to go to the private dining area upstairs, make sure you check out the paintings. I do love a good picture of someone posing with food!)
We were given introductions from Iberica’s marketing manager, Leeds’ head chef, and sommelier, and then our first courses were brought out.
It was a really varied menu. We got to try: baby carrot tempura; crispy cauliflower and pak choi (which was a lot tastier than it sounded!); octopus a la Gallega (Galician style octopus with potatoes and Spanish smoked sweet paprika); Ensaladilla Rusa (a beautifully fresh tuna, egg, green olives, piquillo peppers and mayonnaise salad), complemented with a white wine Contante from Rias Baixas.
Feeling far too full already, we were then given the second lot of dishes: croquettes Jamón (a signature tapas, made with serrano ham); twice cooked lamb (which melted in your mouth) with marinated cherry tomatoes and red peppers from El Bierzo; roasted bone marrow with steak tartar; chicken wings in Canarian Mojo Picón Sauce with fried plantain; and Pitu Chicken Rice (slow cooked fenland cockerel with Piquillo peppers and saffron.) Although the rice didn’t look that amazing (it’s rice – how can it!) it was a surprise favourite. We were told that it had been the Executive Chef’s grandma’s recipe, back in Spain, which was a nice touch. We were served a red wine Comenge from Ribera del Duero to go with these dishes.
Having over indulged, we still managed to find room for dessert. We were given tocinillo de cielo (which I loved) – custard flan with coconut mousse and mango sorbet, and crema catalana foam with apple baked in cider and salted caramel ice cream. These were accompanied with a glass of Noe Pedro Ximenez.
I couldn’t drink any of the wines, but I did smell them all (I’m trying to convince myself that smelling alcohol is as satisfying as drinking it…) and they all smelt amazing, particularly the desert wine which reminded me of Christmas.
It was great to be able to try so many dishes from the spring menu. My favourites were the trio de jamones and toasted bread with tomato to start with, crispy cauliflower and pak choi, ensaladilla rusa, twice cooked lamb, chicken wings in canarian mojo picon sauce, and the tocinillo de cielo to finish it all off.
If you want an authentic Spanish experience in a fancy restaurant with great service, Iberica is what you’re after.
Thank you to Hannah Newman-Jones from Echo PR for inviting us. You can follow Iberica on Twitter (@IbericaLeeds) and on Facebook and Instagram (@Ibericarestaurants).