For my first meal back in London, I wanted something warm and lively. Something the opposite of Boston’s cold Puritannical image. Tapas sounded ideal, but the prospect of queuing in the cold to eat at my beloved Barrafina was highly unappealing. So Jon and I decided to try Iberica Food & Culture, which opened in October 2008 but seems to have gotten a lot of generally-positive blogger coverage over the last few months (see these posts by Londoneater, Tehbus, and Londonelicious for example).
The food fell into two buckets, really. “Pretty Good” and “Kind of Disappointing.” There was nothing spectacular and nothing horrible.
Here’s the “Pretty Good”:
Sweet pigs trotters with a sharp Mahon cheese and Iberico ham, all served on a crisp pastry. I enjoyed all the textures and flavors (salty, citrusy, meaty) but what held the dish back was the somewhat gluey texture of the trotter. I’d hoped for something more melt-in-your-mouth. But overall a tasty dish.
Black rice with cuttlefish prawns is one of my fave dishes to order in Spanish restaurants. First, there’s the color – squid ink makes everything seem special. Then there’s the intense seafood flavor soaked into the risotto rice. Iberica’s version had a texture that struck the right balance between al dente and creamy, but what would’ve made a great dish would have been more cuttlefish and fewer prawns. An entirely arbitrary preference, I know.
Fried artichokes with pear alioli have been much written about at Iberico. And yes, they’re good (unlike my blurry photo). Crisp with a hint of sourness that artichoke lovers crave. For me, the appeal was mostly in the accompanying slightly-sweet, garlicky alioli.
And rounding out the “Pretty Good” list was our trio of cheeses (Mahon, Manchego, Ibores) for £4.95. It was a generous portion and well priced for the quality. Maybe we could have a little more quince paste next time, though.
The “Kind of Disappointing” dishes:
Marinated tuna loin with mustard, apples and chives tasted mealy. Why serve raw fish if it’s not going to be fresh and refreshing?
And “broken egg with Iberico ham and fried potatoes” sounded so promising! Breakfast at dinner. Who doesn’t love that? Admittedly, part of our high expectations stemmed from our memory of the wondrous “carpaccio huevos fritos” that we’d had at Barcelona’s Bar Mut last May. Setting aside the camera/lighting issues I had at Iberica, just compare the above photograph of Iberica’s dish with the photo of Bar Mut’s version below. Iberica offered us limp fries with a smattering of yolk. Bar Mut, in contrast, gave us crispy shoestring potatoes in an ocean of egg yolk. You understand my disappointment in Iberica’s version, then.
Iberica’s list of Spanish wines was long, but I was again a little disappointed that there were only two choices from the Ribera del Duero. Too much Rioja on the list.
The service was efficient, but not especially friendly or helpful (e.g., we had to guess what cheeses we were eating and it was difficult flagging down a server for sherry to go with our cheese).
Without hesitation, though, I’d recommend Iberica for the atmosphere, which was warm and lively. It was exactly what I was looking for on a Saturday night. I had a lot of fun, and the food was good enough. The kitchen’s no threat to Barrafina’s, but then again, it’s nice to be able to make a reservation in advance and sit at a table.