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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Iberica: the Juan and only

195 Great Portland Street, W1W 5PS
tel: +44 (0)20 7636 8650

"Do you want to taste some of the best tapas in London?" a friend from Madrid recently asked. Well golly. That's a tough one. "Of course," I replied. "Great, I'll bring some Spanish friends along too." How exciting. You know that old rule of thumb that if you walk past a Chinese restaurant and there are REAL CHINESE PEOPLE inside, then you conclude it must be good? Same principle applies with REAL SPANISH PEOPLE and tapas bars. So, off we trekked to Iberica on Great Portland Street. The theory didn't disappoint. My fella and I were the first to arrive on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I smiled at the waiter and said, "hello, we have a table booked under the name of Juan, please." The waiter raised an eyebrow, and looked around the restaurant before returning his eyes to mine. "There are a lot of Juans here," he whispered. "Which Juan are you looking for?". I was about to give me knee a good slap and retort with "good Juan!" when I realised he was dead serious. And so I too glanced around the restaurant. All the men looked tanned, dark haired and mucho Spanish. All very Juan-like. Luckily our Juan has a long-ish surname and we were able to figure out which table was ours. We bellied up to the bar to wait for the Spaniards. I ordered a lovely white Albarino, while the Mister had a gorgeous tempranillo from Mallorca. As we were polishing off our glasses, Juan (yes, the right Juan) and two other lovely Spanish ladies arrived. We pushed our menus their way and said, "you do the ordering." And so one of the most satisfying, filling meals of our lives began.
We began with a selection of Spanish cheeses with quince (£10). The only one I recognised was the manchego, but my eyes were opened to a rather beautiful Spanish blue cheese. We also had a couple bowls of green padron peppers with rock salt (£6.40) and bread with olive oil that I would have been happy to drink directly out of the bottle. We ordered a few favourites: traditional Spanish omelette (£6.40), ham croquettes (£6) and patatas brava with aioli (£5.50). But the star tapas that stole the show: the fried chorizo lollipops with pear aioli (pictured at top, £5). After that, the rest of the meal was a blur. Somewhere amongst the haze of food, I remember liking the black risotto with cuttlefish and prawns and some incredible fried squid. And then, just as I thought I might have to have a siesta under the table, Juan announced that dessert was mandatory and incredibly Spanish.
Introducing (above) one of the tastiest treats ever: fried milk. I'm sure there is an elegant Spanish name for these beauties, but I was too in awe to remember it. It may have been the fact that I had too much vino blanco, but I could not comprehend how on earth you fried milk into solid squares. Quantum physics aside, they are delicious treats. It was only when the bill came and we gasped at the fact that it was £233 for five that we fully understood the spell that Iberica had put us under. If you don't get carried away, this is the perfect place to share a few  plates of tapas. For my money (err, Visa) it's as close to Spain as you can get in London. 

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