Reviewed by The Wild Boar
Our flatmate got jealous after hearing of our trips to El Faro and Barrafina lately, so she organised a dinner out with friends at Iberica after reading good things online. We chose to sit downstairs in the more casual area as the restaurant upstairs didn’t serve tapas. The interior was a bit reminiscent of Carluccio’s – bright airy feel with simple furniture and stacks of foodstuffs on the peripheries for sale (we were seated beside a stack of Spanish chocolates, tempting stuff).
Pitchers of sangria and water arrived impressively quickly. The sangria was quite light with lots of fresh fruit at the bottom of the pitcher and they didn’t use any carbonated drinks in the mix; altogether quite a nice light drink for a group of eight with the collective alcohol tolerance of two anorexic hamsters.
The bread was provided quickly but was nothing out of the ordinary. The olives however were amazing; they felt very fresh and meaty with a strong olive taste and I bought a pack back home as well.
Iberian black trotters are a particular breed of pigs famed for their ham in Spain, the best being fed only acorns when they are of a certain maturity. On our last trip to Spain we gobbled down fair amount of the jabugo jamon iberico so we were quite keen on ordering some more here. They had ham from three different localities but had run out of one of them so we ordered a mix of their remaining two. We found that the Huelva ham were stronger in taste and more suited to our tastebuds compared to the Extremadura. Both were very nice though, sliced thinly with a generous strip of fat in the middle.
The Spanish Cheese selection was apparently very good according to my dinner-mates. According to them, the cheese platter came with slices of apples and sweet jelly which complimented the cheeses very well. I’m not a fan of cheese so I sat out of this.
“Golden brown and delicious” would be how Alton Brown would describe the Iberica Cheese Croquettes. A soft cheesy filling encased in a skin, best eaten hot. Nice, but not as good as the ones at Barrafina I felt. The ones at Barrafina were better seasoned.
The Traditional Spanish Omelette was very tasty, and with a lower potato:egg ratio, nicer to eat compared to other places. It lacked the WOW factor of Barrafina’s oozing center but this was better seasoned.
Another dish sure to be ordered by a particular friend was the Pan a la Catalunya, essentially diced tomatoes on bread drizzled with olive oil. This one felt different somehow; we couldn’t exactly say why, but it was just nicer than the El Faro version.
The Fried Whitebait had a very light batter and was served with alioli (think mayonnaise, but with garlic flavour). One of my personal favourites amongst my travels, but the light batter used here resulted in it not being very crispy. Mixed reactions from the table.
A very generous helping of ham was provided with the Broken Eggs and Panadera Potato. Essentially, slices of potatoes with a sunny side up egg and ham, all mixed up together. Cannot be compared to the dish at El Faro, which had skinny chips for the potato bit, and was mixed at the table for our enjoyment.
The grilled Beef Neck marinated with various herbs and spices was very tender but one member of the table commented that the spices made it taste like a kebab from a take-away.
The Glazed Pork Belly was snapped up very quickly by the table, and with good reason too. Slow cooked to tender perfection with a decent but not overwhelming amount of fat, the sweet-ish sauce complimented the meat.
One of the chef’s specials was Grilled Baby Lamb Chops. You would have to steel your heart before eating this and try not to think of the innocent little baby lambs being slaughtered for this, but it is well worth the guilty feeling afterwards. Done minimalistically with salt and pepper, this is a good example of letting the quality of the ingredients do the job and not overdoing the dish.
Another of the specials was Stewed Rabbit with Almond Sauce and Orange Flavoured Cous-cous. Disliked by some for its slight gamey taste, it was a big hit for me especially since the leg I had was very tender and the citrus cous-cous was a nice companion to the meat. However, someone else who ate the breast part said it was quite dry.
Finally, Black Rice with Cuttlefish, Prawns and a very generous dollop of alioli (which we generally avoided with the rice). Much like the other types of paella, the arroz negro originated from Valencia but isn’t commonly found outside of Spain to my experience. The squid ink used gives it the characteristic black colour and also a distinctive taste.
We were quite full after all this so could only manage to order two desserts. The Almond Sponge, Dark Chocolate Cream and “Arbequina” Olive Oil was pretty to look at, but the salt crystals sprinkled on top made it a bit bizarre for my tastebuds. The pig pig enjoyed it very much though.
Much more appealing to me was the Stewed Apple, Cinnanom Ice Cream, Cookies and Catalan Cream Foam. The cream on top was good enough to eat on its own, but was made even better when eaten together with the sweet stewed apple and ice-cream.
Food to fill eight people and four pitchers of sangria came up to approximately £260 or £32 per person (we doubled ordered each dish so there was enough for the whole table).
Food - 6.5
Service - 6.0
Atmosphere - 7.0
Value - 6.0
Overall the food was pretty good and cooked well, but it lacked the air of fine touch that Barrafina and El Faro had given to their dishes. However, it was a cheerful, bustling place and that made it more fun to be at than El Faro. The ability to book in advance and accommodate eight people also gives it an edge in that department over Barrafina. Not to be forgotten is the location, near Great Portland Street tube station making it more convenient for people to get to compared to El Faro, yet not located in Soho so parking is easier. In summary, I’ll say that Barrafina has the better food, but for groups of more than three people, Iberica and El Faro are equally viable choices.
195 Great Portland St
Tel: +44(0)207636 8650