Restaurant review: Iberica, Leeds

Chorizo lollipops at Iberica. Pictures: Simon Hulme.
Chorizo lollipops at Iberica. Pictures: Simon Hulme.
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Having friends coming from out of town invariably carries a fair bit of pressure.

Of course you want them to enjoy themselves, and you’ll tell yourself that, no matter what, that’s the most important thing.

Trio of hams.

Trio of hams.

But like it or not, there’s also that slightly more selfish desire for them to go away with a lasting impression that the city you live in is a bit special.

And when those friends are coming from London, that pressure becomes all the more, well, pressing.

Of course those of us lucky enough to live here already know that Leeds boasts a dining scene and nightlife that arguably stacks up against some of the very best in the country right now.

But when it comes to the north vs south debate, there’s that lingering sense that when eating out we’re still seen as something of a brash upstart with serious delusions of grandeur.

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So, on a Saturday night and with a group of die-hard Londoners in tow, it fell to Oliver to put that misconception to rest once and for all – and as luck would have it, we found just the place.

Iberica arrived at East Parade just a matter of weeks ago but is already making an impact.

After hearing good things, I book a table sharpish.

Walking inside, the former auction house that was once a dark and dingy space has been transformed into a light and airy restaurant, with high ceilings and stunning chandeliers.

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There’s a Spanish flair to the modern surroundings and it’s clear that a fair few pounds have been spent on the revamp.

We are seated at a table in the far corner by a friendly waiter who talks us through the menu,

There are no starters as such. Instead, there is a ‘To begin’ section, with nibbles such as olives, bread and anchovies in vinegar from £2.50 to £5.

Then there is the artisan cheese section, with 10 varieties from Manchego to Gomba and everything in between.

Finally there is the cured meats and ham section – not forgetting the Jamón Ibérico, which is made from pure-bred, free-range pigs fed only on acorns (so the menu tells us).

For those who are struggling to decide, there is a ‘half and half’ board of cheese and cured meat for £6, or a ‘trio of ham’.

We go for the latter, priced at £14, which includes three types of ham from the north to the south of Spain.

Our food arrives on a wooden chopping board, with each thinly-sliced wafer of ham delicately overlapping each other, lined up in rows.

Each one has a slightly different flavour – some saltier and meatier than others – and are so light that they instantly melt in the mouth.

Served with toasted bread topped with fresh chopped tomatoes, it’s the perfect start to the meal.

With our taste buds well and truly tingling, we can’t wait to tuck into the main course.

The tapas menu offers more than 20 eye-catching dishes, which are separated into meat, fish and vegetables.

Each dish ranges from £4 to £9, and between three and four are recommended per person.

If you’re not one to share, there are half-a-dozen main courses too, which are mostly priced around £12.

The Catalonian sausage with mashed potato, cabbage and pancetta catches my eye, as does the fresh hake cooked in green sauce.

Different types of paella are available from £9 per person, and there are ‘larger dishes’ for up to four people, including Ibérico pork for £39 or a whole suckling pig for up to 10 people.

My dining companion goes for tapas, opting for the grilled Ibérico pork head of loin with moruno marinade and baked aubergine for £9.50, fried chorizo lollipops with pear aioli sauce at £5, creamy black rice with squid, prawns and aioli for £8 and patatas bravas for £5.

As is typical with Spanish dining, the food arrives at the table as and when it is ready.

The chorizo lollipops are first up, much to my dining companion’s delight.

The plate is a sight to behold, and is unlike anything I’ve seen at a tapas restaurant before – or any restaurant, for that matter.

Served on wooden skewers to look just like lollipops, the light batter protects the perfectly-cooked chorizo beneath whilst providing a crunchy texture.

Crucially, it isn’t too oily, and the chorizo packs a punch while the pear aioli gives the dish a lift.

The grilled Ibérico pork is served next, and is tender and juicy with a light smoky taste.

The moruno marinade adds a sweetness and the aubergine is bursting with flavour.

Regular tapas diners will know patatas bravas are a Spanish staple, and Iberica’s certainly raise the bar.

The sauce is creamier than you would expect but manages to keep its rich tomato flavour.

The creamy black rice is the last to arrive, and, whilst incredibly tasty, is partially left as my companion admits defeat from an overload of delicious but filling food.

On the other side of the table, I’m tucking into my meal – lamb shank with creamed potato, red peppers and cherry tomatoes, for a more budget-busting £21.

The meat is incredibly tender and full of flavour and I can’t fault it at all – it’s perfect.

Award-winning executive chef Nacho Manzano and head chef César García have clearly put a lot of time and effort into designing each plate, with each detail perfectly executed.

The food at Iberica is as impressive as the surroundings, and as we leave, my dining companion tells the staff it’s the best meal she’s ever had in Leeds – and could give a lot of top London restaurants a run for their money too.

Looking at the happiness on my friend’s face, I know I’ve shown her the best Leeds has to offer, and that my work here is done.

IBERICA

Address: Hepper House, 17A East Parade, Leeds. LS1 2BH.

Phone: 0113 403 7007.

Website: www.ibericarestaurants.com

Opening times: Monday-Saturday 11.30am - 11pm. Sunday 12pm - 4pm.

Food ****

Value ****

Atmosphere *****

Service *****

Review: Cafe 71, Street Lane, Roundhay, Leeds