By Jo Cooksey
I love everything about this time of year; sunshine, light mornings and evenings, only having to wear one layer of clothing, new menus in the restaurants.
We were invited along to sample Ibérica’s new Spring/Summer menu, which was wonderful in itself, but the fact that Executive Head Chef, Nacho Manzano and his right-hand man, César García, would be cooking for us, was the gilding on the lily. As well as overseeing all the UK Ibérica sites, Nacho also runs two restaurants of his own. The 2 Michelin star restaurant Casa Marcial and the 1 Michelin star La Salgar, both of which are on the northern coast of Spain.
On the night, there was an informal reception of Spanish drinks such as Jerez sherry, white Sangria and cava, before we were lead upstairs and all mingled in together at long tables and in the booths. The menu for the evening was served on sharing platters and each section was accompanied by a wine flight. All of which helped oil the wheels of conversation with the strangers sat around us.
Whilst everyone got comfy we were bought plates of exquisite Jamón Ibérico Juan Pedro Domecq. The first set of dishes to come out were very contemporary in style but I’m sure they will fast become classics. They included Beef Tomato and Salmorejo, (a purée of tomatoes and bread from Andalucía), with garlic breadcrumbs & beetroot granita. This looked the simplest of dishes, but the combination of flavours and textures were sublime. The waiter told us it was also the most complex of all the dishes to prepare.
Another stand out dish for me in this section was the Poached Hake with green Hollandaise sauce & baby gem lettuce, which is one of Nacho’s signature dishes. The fish was delicate and soft. Perfect with the sharp creaminess of the Hollandaise. Another fish dish, the Cod Brandada, was my dish of the night. Beautiful salt cod in a verdant Pil Pil sauce with vegetable crisps. A feast for the eyes and the palate. The dishes were paired with a Cloe, Chardonnay, Sierras de Málaga, 2014.
The next round of temptation were the classic Spanish tapas such as Albóndigas meatballs with fried potatoes & Vizcaína sauce and Patatas Bravas. All favourites and all perfectly balanced and paired with a lovely GR 174, Garnacha & Cabernet Sauvignon, Priorat, 2016.
Now you may think we’d eaten our fill with that lot, but this is Spanish hospitality. A platter of Ibérico pork straight off the grill with Mojo Rojo sauce and fried potatoes appeared. This was the most tender and flavoursome piece of pork I have had in a long time. I always think that pork is a very underrated meat, but when it is reared, prepared and cooked well there is very little to beat it. It was paired with a Zurbal Reserva, Tempranillo, Rioja 2012. I’m not a huge red wine fan but I do love a good Rioja and this was a very good Rioja.
By this stage there was a lot of belt loosening going on, but they hadn’t finished with us yet. There were not one but two desserts. I had the Torrija, golden fried brioche with apricot coulis and vanilla ice cream and my companion had the Ibércia signature dessert of caramelised Spanish rice pudding. Both were delicious and satisfied our distinctly sweet tooth. These were paired with one of the most amazing drinks I have ever had, Diamantes de Hielo. This translates as Ice Diamonds and is the apple cider equivalent of ice wine, where the frozen grapes or in this case the frozen apples are pressed. The apples are grown at altitude, so they freeze naturally before being harvested and pressed. This process concentrates the natural sugars and flavours of the fruit.
We had a thoroughly fabulous evening and will be returning under our own steam very soon. We attended the dinner as guests of Ibérica Manchester but as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.