Review: Iberica, Leeds

Iberica Leeds

You can understand why the group of City Lads getting politely turned away might have been confused – on the night we go to Iberica it’s halfway through something like its third week of soft-launch events.  A couple of soft-launches is to be expected, but several weeks’ worth is very unusual.  Restaurants have opened and gone out of business in less time than that.  It’s also a long time for a restaurant to be operating while not making any money (though, credit where it’s due, it looks like The Joint has been doing just that for a while now) but looking around the venue, you get the impression that Iberica aren’t short of a few quid.  This is no less evident than in the bathroom.

You’ve probably seen the bathroom by now – it’s  gorgeous.  Probably the finest bathroom in all the City.  It could have been imported directly from a Dornish palace – if Dorne existed outside the mind of George RR Martin – all patterned tiles, mirrored ceilings and rose gold.  There’s a 6ft wide stone sink in the middle that’s begging to be repurposed as a dolsot bowl for serving a world record-setting Bibimbap.  There’s mirrors on the ceiling, mirrors on the doors, mirrors on the walls, mirrors in front of other mirrors.  It’s a shrine to vanity itself.  It’s destined to be the place to get a bathroom-selfie for the foreseeable future.  People will flock here for that reason alone.  Whether the food is any good or not is irrelevant.  This has worked out favourably for Iberica, as the food we ate was, almost without exception, not good.

Iberica claims that it offers “the true taste of Spain” – if that was the case, I’d be campaigning for stricter border controls.

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Eating Barcelona: Tapas part dos

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The morning after attempting to taste as many of Lime Bar’s 50 flavoured gins as possible (more on that later) we needed a decent breakfast, and decided to hit up El Quim de la Boqueria on the trusty advice of Ben from Dough Boys, who had told me they’d served him one of the best breakfasts he’d ever eaten.

El Quim De La Boqueria



El Quim lies throbbing at the heart of La Ramblas’ Boqueria; after making our way through the meat curtains (Butchers tend to hang entire legs of Iberico ham from their ceilings) and being careful to avoid picking up crabs (from the many fresh seafood traders) I arrived, ready to blow my load (of Euros).

Shame on anybody who suspected I might force in immature sexual innuendo or double-entendre just because the restaurant’s name is slang for a fanny in English, get your mind out of the gutter.
Anyway after penetrating the crowd we noticed that eating out was customary, as opposed to delving inside El Quim; customers sat at a bar around the circumference of the plot, while the entire square-footage is used as an open kitchen.  Seating is at a premium due to how popular the place is, so expect to wait about 10 to 15 minutes for people to vacate their stools (that’s not more innuendo by the way, gross).  For us it took about half an hour to finally get four seats together – I ended up placing my order and actually starting my meal while stood up.
El Quim Blood Sausage

When you do get seated and place your order though, cervix service is fast and dishes get handed to you as and when they’re ready, first the bravas – sauteed rather than deep fried, and completely absent of mayo, they earned the title of best bravas of the holiday – followed by a Blood Sausage which put any black pudding I’ve tasted before to shame; Warmly spiced and almost sweet, the meat had a crumbly quality while remaining moist, and there was no detectable fat or gristle throughout.
El Quim Asparagus

The asparagus was well presented and seemed good value for money, but the huge stalks were only half-edible; the fibrous strands inside collapsed under the teeth and made a bit of a mess everywhere.  Artichoke chips were much better, with each leaf peeled from the bulb and deep-fried, making those root vegetable Kettle chips seem positively austere by comparison.
El Quim Artichoke Chips

The Iberico platter wasn’t quite as unforgettable as the menu boasted – I can’t instantly recall the nuances of its flavour – but it was rich, lean, deeply salty and probably as good as ham gets.  Too often when picking up Mussels we found empty shells, but the tomato and cava broth they were served in – with a touch of smokey chorizo body – was great for soaking up with bread and topping with a slice of the gossamer ham.

El Quim Razor Clam
Looking at the Razor Clams I started to wonder how hard it could be to have a successful restaurant in the middle of a market in coastal Spain – sure they were delicious, but that’s just how they’ve evolved.  Darwin put all the graft in, all the chef had to do was grill them with a bit of salted butter to bring out the sweetness of the flesh and make sure they’re not overcooked (which they weren’t, they were perfect).  As if he was reading my dismissive, arrogant mind the chef put down a dish in front of us containing the best dish of the holiday.  Each fork of Bulls Tail Risotto consisted of pearls of claggy rice held together seemingly by nothing but cream and rich manchego cheese, with strips of pulled oxtail dotted throughout to give frequent hits of intensified flavour – like walking barefoot on Lego bricks and stepping on an occasion plug.

El Quim Bulls Tail Risotto

When we asked for the bill we were amazed that it only came to €21 including cava – at such good value for money you can’t argue that El Quim deserves a big, bulbous tip.

Cerveceria Catalana

Cervecería Catalana (Carrer de Mallorca 236, L’Eixample) is one of the places I visited last year – suggested and arranged by a friend who lives in the city, we turned up, sat down and I had one of my favourite, most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten.  It was a no-brainer for the last big meal of the holiday, so I called them.

“Hi, could I book a table for s-“
“No no no no, no booking.  Come and wait”
“Are you busy tonight? How long is the wait likely to be?”
“Are you coming?”
“Well I don’t know, we don’t want to make the journey if we’re not guaran-“
“Ok bye”

If Front of House can get away with being that rude on the phone, the food must be really good.  Turning up shortly after the phone call we were told it would be an hour and a half wait; we reserved a table as a back-up plan, but intended going to Betlem again to see if we could eat any sooner.  On the way out we caught a glimpse of the food being eaten – plates of huge sardines, king prawns, octopus tentacles, razor clams – and decided that maybe an hour and a half wasn’t such a long time to wait.

Returning after a visit to Bier Cab – a craft ale bar which I’ll go into more detail about in a future post – we were seated almost immediately – it was a pretty awful table; tiny, equidistant between the entrance, kitchen and toilets to ensure that we were never more than 0.4 seconds away from somebody brushing past us, but we were happy to be sat down.  After being brought a jug of sangria a waitress came and took each order individually – remarkably interrupting the last person before he had a chance to order, saying he wasn’t allowed to order because the other five of us had ordered “too much”.  We pleaded his case and he ended up being granted to luxury of picking some food to eat in a restaurant he’d waited an hour and a half to sit in.

Cerveceria Catalana White Botifarra Flauta

First out of the kitchen was a White Botifarra Flauta – a sandwich resembling a torpedo, filled with white sausage.  I’d ordered the Black Botifarra after the success of El Quim’s Blood Sausage, but they were sold out.  The white was ok – a peppery flavour and perhaps a hint of fennel cutting through the delicate pork, stippled with soft fat – but it wasn’t anything I wouldn’t expect to get from the upmarket end of Morrison’s deli meat counter.  The speed the sandwich was brought out at suggests they’re made en masse. but the bread tasted like it had been snatched from the oven seconds before serving; cavernous bubbles of air in the chewy dough with a crisp, brittle crust.  If I had the capacity for a lot more bread I’d have eaten several other types of the Flauta on the menu; I was tempted to go for the Foie Gras and Roquefort, but was dissuaded by my conscience (read: girlfriend).

The Fried Small Fishes were presumably whitebait, but that they were sold out meant we didn’t get a chance to find out.  Also sold out were any of the anchovy dishes on the menu (Andaluz Style, Cantabric, Canapes or in Vinegar).  The Fried Cuttlefish sounded like the closest interesting alternative, which were coated and deep friend and very similar to calamari, but the texture had a much more pleasing tensile property.  The Crispy Camembert – cased in a coarse panko – did exactly what you want a melted camembert to do, which is coat the roof of your mouth and back of your throat in a temporary, fermented wax.  One niggle I had was that streak of raspberry coulis (if you didn’t read that in the style of Prince then you’re a stronger person than I am) didn’t cut through the cheese as intended, and felt cloying.

Cerveceria Catalana Crispy Camembert

Also too sweet was the relish on the Cod Skewers – which selfishly muscled in on the start of the dish – but the Prawn Skewers more than made up for it; lightly seasoned to a slight char when cooked, they were plumper than a lumberjack’s thumb and (probably) even juicier.  One of our group hadn’t eaten prawns before, I warned him that any subsequent ones he eats will almost certainly be a letdown; I haven’t seen him since we got back from the holiday, I fear he may be on a doomed, Trainspotting-style pursuit to try and recreate that first prawn experience.  I’ll come back and edit this paragraph when I think of a suitable seafood/Trainspotting pun.

Cerveceria Catalana Cod Skewer

The biggest, and guiltiest pleasure of the entire meal was the Huevos Cabreados, which I understand means “Eggs; PISSED OFF”.  A big bowl of perfectly-cooked shoestring fries, topped with a mojo sauce and two fried eggs.  I was about to get a photo of the lovely presentation when the waiter whipped out a couple of forks and smashed the whole thing together into a gooey, spicy, crispy mush – like if you took a six year old to a carvery.  No picture then, and as delicious as it tasted, I’m struggling to come with a thousand words to articulate “really nice egg and chips”.

Cerveceria Catalana Beef Tenderloin Montadito

The Beef Tenderloin Montadito was essentially a generous sized meat-nugget, served as an open sandwich on a token bit of bread because it’s probably poor form to just advertise “Generous-sized meat nugget” on the menu in a nice place like this.  It was beautifully tender though, with juices running down my plate by the time it had made the short journey from kitchen to table.  The whole deep fried pepper was a welcome touch as well.  The Mini Hamburger was disappointing, the onion relish was so sweet that the whole thing may as well have been fondant, and the stout, spherical bun and glossy coating of pale yellow cheese made it resemble a particularly infected boil – If I’d taken a photo then I’d be tempted to see if I could get it published in a medical journal.

Cerveceria Catalana Escalivada with Goats Cheese

Up to this point the dishes had displayed as little diversity in colour as the cast of Girls (zing!) so the Escalivada with Goats Cheese was a welcome respite to the onslaught of beige.  The aubergine was a little watery as aubergine can tend to be, but the ripe flavour of the red peppers dispersed across the tongue immediately.  Presentation was good, with the vegetables layered and topped with a slice of goats cheese – which bubbled and charred under the grill while shielding the vegetables from the dry heat.

While researching Cervecería Catalana to find out its location after last year’s successful visit I repeatedly saw it tipped as the place to visit for Tapas; Google and Tripadvisor reviewers treat it with the same reverence that second year graphic design students do J Dilla, and yeah it’s not entirely undeserved, but I can’t help but feel like the hype is self-perpetuating.  For all its bells and whistles (the restaurant looks amazing; and like I mentioned before, the shitty service suggests that they’re doing you a favour by letting you eat there) it’s just a tapas restaurant – the food is mostly really good, but suffers from a lack of creativity.  It’s good value for money though, for 6 people eating all of the above plus extras, desserts, sangria and wine is came to around €30 per head.

If you missed Part 1 of Eating Barcelona, you can read it right here

Eating Barcelona: Tapas part uno

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There’s a long, well worn trope in television which sees part of the main cast of a show plucked from their usual surroundings and given a holiday; Think Jack and Vera Duckworth in Coronation Street: Viva Las Vegas, The Inbetweeners Movie, or that episode of When The Whistle Blows within that episode of Extras.

The reason for sending them away is usually contrived – the cover for an obvious effort to boost ratings or a lazy attempt to stretch material by rehashing old jokes with the novelty of characters wearing flip flops and being mildly racist to our continental friends.  Deservedly, they get mocked, derided, or at very best just forgotten.  With that in mind, join me as…

Last year in May I went to Primavera Sound festival with a few friends – seasoned Barcelona veterans who I was happy to let take the reins and guide the trip.  Returning this year with a different group of friends – Barcelona novices – it was up to me, the self-appointed king of insider Barcelona information, to research must-visit places for our trip.

Remembering I don’t know a single word of Spanish, I did as many as two Google searches for recommendations written in English before giving up a just asking Twitter.  Luckily that came through big time, and I ended up with a Google Map of the city littered with markers for bars and restaurants I had to hit up.

So abundant and diverse were the venues, that I’m going to break them down over several posts; there’s plenty of time to walk about bars and fast food; but first, the tapas.

On the first night we enthusiastically tried Cal Pep, without realising how naive we were to think we could just walk in and pay some money to eat food.  So we went to Bar Cañete, surely two restaurants in Spain couldn’t be full at 10:30pm?  WRONG, DUMMY!  Turns out that’s prime teatime in Catalonia.  After a third disappointment in finding out the El Quim de la Boqieria (more on that later) had been closed since 4pm, we gave in and headed down to the harbour district to pick a place at random that looked half-decent or at least didn’t have photos on the menu.  Nothing down by the harbour could be too bad right?  WRONG AGAIN JABRONI! YOUR COMMAND OF RHETORIC IS BOGUS!

Unknown Harbour Restaurant (Unknown street next to the harbour, just around the corned from the Lichtenstein statue)

I can’t remember the name of this place to warn you against it, but it totally sucked.  The nachos were cool ranch Doritos, the chicken wings tasted like they were deep fried in snakeskin and instant gravy, and the calamari would have done an outstanding job at keeping a fat roll of cash tightly bound, if I’d had enough cash left after the meal to facilitate popping bands; Not only was this the worst meal of the holiday, but the most expensive too.  The patatas bravas – which one of the two yardsticks for measuring the quality of a restaurant – were unsurprisingly the worst as well.  New holiday restaurant philosophy and bonus The Lost Boys quote: Stay off the boardwalk.

Betlem – Miscelánea Gastronómica (Carrer de Girona, 70, L’Eixample)

After the disappointment of the previous evening we decided not to eat anywhere unless it featured on the trusty list of recommendations, and after a painful walk to the top of the Gaudi park and back down again we found ourselves conveniently close to Betlem and its Gastronomic Miscellany – the sexiest two-word combo since Greggs invented the Festive Bake.

Taking a seat on the decidedly Parisienne terrace, on chair slightly too small for me; at a table entirely too small for my meal, we were shown the menu in English – perhaps like in the Inglorious Basterds bar scene my true nationality was given way by a subtle mispronunciation; a slight misuse of regional dialect.  Perhaps it was the fact I was bright pink, misty with sweat and wearing obnoxiously patterned swimming shorts on what locals would consider a mild day; We’ll never know.

The gastronomy on offer was definitely miscellaneous; I struggled to choose which part of the round-up to include Betlem in – the atmosphere and portion control was unmistakably Tapesque (Don’t bother checking if that’s a real word, just go with it), but plates were more adventurous than the standard bravas and croquettes.  That’s not to say they shied away from the classics – the bravas were served with a picante Mojo salsa and the croquettes were among the best – but their signature dishes are the main real reason for visiting.

The King Crab Ravioli wasn’t perfect – while the fresh homemade pasta tasted good, the fact it was overcooked meant the dish was lacking in texture – but the cilantro sauce gave a citrus, soapy contrast to the sweet, milky crab meat.  I usually avoid the type of smoked salmon that sits on supermarket shelves looking like a packet of laminated plasters, but the Salmon cured with Vodka has got me second-guessing the fish entirely.  Lean, thick cut and with just a little bite, it reminded me of velvet pork (surprisingly not the name of a band playing on the ATP stage during the festival); while I expected the vodka to overpower the fish with it’s grainy burn, it actually gave an added crispness to the dish.

Four Steak Tartare Toasts at two mouthfuls or slightly metallic raw steak and sweet shallots apiece was enough to beguile with the first bite, and satiate with the second.  A delicious couple of mouthfuls, but any more would be like watching a slinky on an escalator; pleasant but ultimately repetitive.

The Smoked Anchovies were more rewarding entirely, a robust concoction of smoked fish atop bittersweet layers of celery and artichoke puree – like a trifle for vikings.  The real favourite though, was the Veal Cheeks in Red Wine, hunks of the meat served in the Le Creuset pot that cooked them.  The wine reduced for long enough to not overpower the mild flavour of the meat, which was especially tender even for veal.

Despite cringing at the pretentious name, I went for the deconstructed peach cheesecake, which had a buttery, oaty crumb on the bottom, a peach compote on top, and a brilliantly absurd Cheese Ice Cream in between.  Being served at below-0 enhanced the smooth tannins in the cheese, which gave it a mild throatiness against the sweet peaches and rich biscuit brittle.  The Carrot Crumble was similarly deconstructed (bluergh) and a coconut foam which had me giving props to their creativity – but if you ever catch me daydreaming at my desk on a rainy afternoon, chances are I’ll be thinking about my fleeting holiday romance with that cheese ice cream.

Check out Part 2 of Eating Barcelona – where I review even more Tapas – right here