Already had the best Spanish Tapas in London? A new menu makes Iberica Victoria worth revisiting. James Lawrence takes a look. Again.
Despite an explosion of newer, fresher venues in recent years, Iberica remains my favourite destination for both reliable and exciting Spanish food in London. The group has been serving delicious, authentic Spanish tapas in London for years; indeed, Iberica was dishing out tasty bite-size morsels long before the small plates dining concept took hold and every chef from Rome to Beijing had to redesign their menus as a food sharing concept.
Nevertheless, Iberica is not resting on its laurels and allowing inertia to take over. In recent times, the group has introduced a new menu, designed to shake-up expectations and provides its loyal clientele with some new flavours, concepts and experiences. Iberica Victoria was my new menu ‘guinea pig’ – there are other branches incidentally, including an expansive, warehouse-like venue in Canary Wharf and the sister venue in Marylebone, but I find the Victoria branch offers a more authentic and dare I say it, Spanish ambience.
Eschewing the classic dark wood cellar approach and minimalist lighting, Iberica Victoria instead invokes memories of visiting Andalusian tapas bars in Granada during my gap-year (not Gap Yah) days. Bars stools full of suits sipping Rioja, an expansive – and somewhat cacophonous – upper floor restaurant, wood panelling, Moorish lamps and those ubiquitous blue and white tiles bringing you as close as is possible to southern Spain in central London.
The scene was set within 20 seconds of arriving during a particularly frantic evening in December; our coats were whisked away and we were shown to one of the last available tables upstairs, where an eclectic bunch were chewing over business deals, celebrating with friends or canoodling with their partners. Perusing the menu, my companion Lucy fancied Cava, Spain’s eponymous bubbly which forms a small part of an enormous alcoholic pie; Iberica undoubtedly boasts London’s greatest Spanish wine list. In addition to several top brands of Cava, Iberica offers an extensive collection of Sherries, Riojas, Ribera del Duero reds, Galician whites and cocktails.
The revitalised menu is a similar delight, designed to please everyone from the ravenous to the slightly esurient. You can pick at a selection of cured meats and cheeses, croquettes and other classic staples or go off-piste and enjoy larger plates of regional specialities. Those with an avaricious passion for Jamon Iberico will love the array of hams hung behind the counter, you even have your own chef dedicated to carving meat.
Such gastronomic delights are overseen by executive chef Nacho Manzano, who hails from a much-lauded two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Asturias. He personally trains chefs for Iberica at this signature restaurant Casa Marcia, who are encouraged to take traditional Spanish gastronomy and merge it with modern culinary techniques, albeit the food at Iberica is never overwrought or annoyingly conceptualized.
We began with the much loved Iberica trio, a selection of hams from different Spanish regions of varying flavour intensity depending on the curing process and the breed in question. The texture is what really draws me to Spanish ham; velvety soft and succulent; we could have eaten two plates full. Two glasses of Cava were the ideal accompaniment. Well ok, four.
Next, we indulged in ‘updated cliché’: croquettes, but made with hare, a gamey, rich indulgence that put the ‘regular’ staple to shame. Hake fritters (lightly-battered hake with a jalapeño & padrón pepper sauce, finished with pil pil) were utterly exquisite and moreish – the batter crisp and crunchy, the fish succulent and full-favoured. So too were the patatas bravas (obligatory surely) and fresh out of the pan tortilla (Spanish omelet). I feel guilty saying this, but they trounced the vast majority of tapas I’ve eaten in Spain, the croquettes, in particular, are, at least in my experience, the best in London. I felt a welcome pang of holiday nostalgia as I feasted on these array of Spanish staples – kicked up a couple of levels with new ingredients and culinary flair – and a warm glow from the Ribera del Duero red.
Things then got a bit more ‘serious’ as we ventured away from bar snacks towards twice-cooked lamb, with marinated cherry tomatoes & red peppers from León. The soft, tender meat was a masterclass in sophisticated and yet hedonistic cooking. So typical of Iberica; classical Spanish dishes skillfully updated with modern elements that simply taste delicious. There’s no groundbreaking creativity, but rather precision, playfulness and an expert understanding of matching diverse flavours with flair and panache.
Service was similarly excellent, striking that welcome balance between friendly, chatty and professional. As we sipped our glasses of sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry, Lucy opined that you probably couldn’t get any closer to Spain in London, and she’s right. The high ceilings, Spanish motifs, excellent wine list and most of all brilliant food all conspire to transport you away from rainy London to an Andalucian side street, right down to the hams suspended behind the bar. For an authentic slice of Spanish Tapas in London, you know where to come.
Zig Zag Building
68 Victoria St, Westminster, London SW1E 6SQ
020 3026 5118