Although Spanish tapas is not so vegan friendly, I was delighted that my colleague had chosen Farringon’s Iberica – a ten minute stroll from our office – for a work dinner. I was especially happy about this as I’d just returned from a long weekend in Andalucía and was still in the tapas mood. As it’s based on sharing, it’s a great way to get-to-know work colleagues. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it would also be great for a date night!
Whilst so many London tapas bars go for the dark tavern look, at Iberica, its Moorish oversized lamps and the traditional azulejo blue and white tiling create an expansive, relaxed atmosphere. This helps to loosen the mood for a work dinner – indeed I ended up talking to one of my colleagues (who doesn’t leave the Chelsea/Kensington area other than for work) on my love of dining out and restaurant reviews. The atmosphere at Iberica is authentically Spanish. Although not appealing to me, my fellow diners were struck by the hams that decorate the entrance and arrive sliced into translucence, burgundy and glistening on the plate. It did bring me back to Spain and felt like an Andalusian mansion in the heart of Clerkenwell, with mismatched wooden tables, lanterns, oil paintings and pretty tiles. In edgy Farringdon style, the exposed brick walls also made our US colleagues liken this place to somewhere in New York’s Lower East Side.
Whilst we perused the menu, I enjoyed one of their cocktails. Their trademark cocktails and gin-tonics are as refreshing on a hot day as a fountaining hydrant. In the fizzy mood, I opted for my personal favourite: an Aperol Spritz, made with cava.
The much-lauded chef Nacho Manzano has created an ever-evolving menu, combining traditional classics with a contemporary edge. Although the true flavours of Spain were showcased in classic dishes, it was done so in a modern way. Whilst my fellow diners were very concerned that I didn’t have enough food/choice, from the vege options, I chose Patatas bravas (£6), Padron peppers (£6), the Crushed tomato salad (£5) and the Pear, spinach and cheese salad (£5.50);
The highlight for me was the potatoes. The sauce was deliciously moreish and reminded me of the excellent but different version I’d enjoyed at Califa Tapas in Spain’s Vejer de la Frontera, where it was steamed and served with a spicy, red pepper sauce. The tomatoes, meanwhile, rekindled my love of what turned out to be my favourite vegetable/fruit of the Spanish trip. Here, they’re so sweet that you can enjoy them like grapes – indeed, my go-to lunch for the trip turned out to be a heritage tomato pesto salad. Another classic tapas is gazpacho. Yum! What’s more, today marked La Tomatina Time – Spain’s famous tomato fight occurring on the last Wednesday of August. Since 1945 it has been held in the Valencian town of Buñol and thousands of eager participants chuck truck loads of ripe tomatoes at each other. The tomato is one of the cornerstones of the Spanish kitchen and I could definitely notice the difference between the Spanish tomato and its English counterpart, which sadly wasn’t so sweet. Nevertheless, the tomato exploded with juicy fruit flavours, ripe olive oil and a tangy crust of sea salt.
Tapas is also never complete without Padron Peppers and so I had to order this. Whilst the pear salad (pear was also one of the nicest fruits I enjoyed in Spain) could have done with more seasoning, overall the dish achieves a nice balance between tradition and innovation.
Iberica is relaxed, the staff are charming and the food is a mix of traditional tapas and creative dishes. Although it’s become somewhat of a chain – even with branches in Manchester and Glasgow – I’ll be back. While some tapas restaurants are frantic and noisy, Iberica’s got a more laid-back, grown-up attitude. What’s more, they take reservations and there’s none of the Polpo posery involved in some “small plates” restaurants.
Iberica Farringdon, 89 Turnmill Street, EC1M 5QU