Ibérica Manchester, 14-15 The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3HF – Visit Now
Since opening in 2015, Iberica has one of Spinningfields’ most popular restaurants, serving a wide range of traditional Spanish dishes. It’s part of a chain which promises to provide “only the very best in Spanish gastronomy, wine and culture”. Bold claims in a city that boasts the excellent Lunya, and King Street’s flawed but worth visiting El Gato Negro.
First impressions are good. We’re immediately met with the appealing sight of a huge joint of Iberican ham and a busy bustling kitchen. However, the venue is dimly-lit to the point where it’s difficult to read the menu and the background music is non-existent. It feels like a restaurant about to close down for the night, rather than one of the city’s go-to destinations.
We take a seat upstairs looking out over Spinningfields, and place our order. The tapas menu is split into four section, vegetables, land, sea and croquetas. We choose a couple from each section, along with a selection of meats and cheeses, and sit back and wait. And wait. From the time we sit down, it takes around thirty minutes for our drinks to arrive. It starts to feel like we’d been forgotten. Iberica might take great pride in their joints of ham but customer service comes much lower down the totem pole.
Finally, a jug of sangria arrives. It’s excellent, jam-packed with berries and citrus fruits, but by this point I’m parched – a bottle of Blue Nun would have done the job. We start on the locally-famed platter of meat and cheese. These cured meats are exquisite, ranging from fiery peppery slices of chorizo, to elegant smooth strips of Iberican ham. Similarly, the artisan cheeses are well-portioned, elegant and impossibly moreish. The stand-out offering is the Idiazabal, a sheep’s cheese from the mountains of Navarra, slightly hard and rich with smoky caramel aromas.
The ham croqueta ooze with salty ham and cheese, making for one of the best dishes on the menu
The tapas dishes arrive shortly after. These prove to be the very definition of a mixed-bag, ranging from excellent to lacklustre to outright bad. Roasted Mediterranean vegetables and manchego cheese on toasted bread should be a simple dish, impossible to get wrong but this has an unmistakable harsh taste, bitter and acrid. It’s clear the roasted vegetables have been overcooked or even burnt, then rushed-out rather than remade.
The squid is fine, hot and covered in crunchy breadcrumbs, served with a chive-speckled aioli. It does the job and does it well. Similarly, the crispy chicken is acceptable, the meat soft and juicy, but as a whole, it lacks a spark. Four chunks of battered chicken on some soft green peppers is pleasant enough, but I’m not convinced it’s “the very best in Spanish gastronomy”.
The octopus a la gallega has potential, and separately each element is pleasing, but combined it doesn’t quite work. Thick chunks of smoked seafood clash with the gloopy bright yellow cheese, and the bottom layer of potatoes only serves to make the whole thing heavy and hard-going.
Thankfully the ham croquetas make up for this. They’re visually unexciting, a dull-looking plate with six beige breadcrumbed balls, but one bite changes everything. Oozing with salty ham and cheese, they’re one of the best dishes on the menu. Sadly, the beef cheek carpaccio is the exact opposite. It looks stunning, a carefully-arranged circle, with a base of thinly sliced beef cheek, dotted with truffle potato purée and sweet potato crisps. It’s immediately clear that the purée has been poorly blended, with most blobs tasting of nothing, and the occasional one having an overwhelming truffle flavour. The sweet potato crisps tastes of precisely nothing and the beef cheek has an unpleasant plastic-like texture with no discernible flavour.
Previous trips to Iberica have proved much better, so it’s possible this was merely an off-night. Our advice? The ham croquettes are a must-try, but overall it’s best to stick to the cured meats and artisan cheeses. These are among the best in the city, and worth the trip alone.
Ibérica’s summer menu: Ibérica has laid on a special menu for the summer; it’s a light and mediterranean as you could wish, whatever the weather outside. The tomato salmorejo and apple granita is a high point, the cold soup and colder ice a real palate-cleanser, despite being packed with flavour. The bruschetta was crisp and laced beautifully with garlic, while the deli board showcases some elegant cheeses alongside wafer-thin slices of meat. It’s a bit of a feast for two people, but a rather splendid way of hanging onto the summer months.
– Polly Checkland Harding
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