If Glasgow foodie trends come in waves, it seems we’re slap in the middle of a small plates renaissance.
Using my office as a base, I can access Greek tapas, Spanish tapas, Mexican tapas, Indian tapas – all within stumbling distance. I even had a teeny, tiny ox cheek steak pie once – although at £6 a portion, that one probably isn’t for sharing.
I love “picky” food for the opportunity to try lots of different foods at one meal, less so for the sharing aspect (although when you’re a massive fusspot, you find that people feel guilty going for your carefully selected non-creamy dish…). But even with so much choice on offer, you can’t beat the rich flavours and holiday associations of the original and best Spanish tapas.
Ibérica arrived in Glasgow a year ago this month, which gives them the distinction of still being a relative newcomer to the city while getting in early on the patch of St Vincent Street which is fast becoming a foodie heaven. Located in a gorgeous old Royal Bank of Scotland building which used to host an unspectacular Turkish restaurant, the space has been transformed by in-house architect Lázaro Rosa Violán into a warm, inviting environment – its well-stocked deli counter, bottle-lined walls, vintage event posters and candlelit tables are all designed to transport diners to Spain.
Although part of a national chain which boasts several restaurants in London as well as the likes of Manchester and Leeds, Ibérica puts a lot of emphasis on the authentic Spanish dining experience. Many of the serving staff we spoke to during our recent visit were from Spain, bringing with them a knowledge of regional delicacies and drinks – while the chain sources much of its produce from Spain and stocks over 50 Spanish wines, many of which are from small boutique wineries and can’t be found anywhere else in the UK.
This was actually my second recent visit to Ibérica Glasgow: I’d been in a few weeks previously for a long-overdue reunion with my uni pals. That was a Saturday night, and while the food was incredible we weren’t hugely impressed with the service: dishes kept being delivered to the wrong tables and there was never a server around when you needed one. After my second visit, I’m fairly confident that must have been a particularly busy night as I can’t fault the attentiveness and knowledge of the staff – and, before you rush to suggest that I was getting preferential treatment, from what I observed the same could be said for everybody eating in that night. There were a couple of groups of visiting tourists, for example, each of which was given plenty of time and help choosing from the menu.
The cold cuts and cheese selection is one of the highlights of the Ibérica experience, so there was no way we weren’t starting with a selection. The menu includes a preselected “half and half” which, spoiled for choice, the girls and I had opted for on our first visit – but this time we had expert guidance on hand. Trusting our server implicitly, we let her choose us the semi-soft San Simón (from the Galicia region of Spain, as she was) along with a Menorcan Mahón and paprika-coated Ibores Pimentón. The crimbly, slightly salty Mahón was my favourite – but the real star of the show was the Ibérico de Bellota pork loin, hand-carved from the huge cut of meat on the deli counter.
At the risk of ruining our appetite for the paella we had been looking forward to sampling all week, we let ourselves be talked into a couple of tapas to enjoy while it was prepared fresh. Ibérica’s tapas menu includes a broad selection of meat, fish and vegetable-based dishes, which run the gamut from everybody’s favourite patatas bravas to a more adventurous squid ink rice (enthusiastically enjoyed by my friend Sheryl on our previous visit) – and even some tapas-style twists on UK favourites!
We chose the croquetas de jamón – Ibérica’s signature tapa, made with Serrano ham – as it would have been rude not to, despite the fact that the oozing bechamel sauce inside breaks every single one of my food rules. Regardless, I actually ate and enjoyed one – particularly the crumbly breadcrumb coating – while Stringer wolfed down the rest of the plate. We also couldn’t resist the mini burgers on the menu: a pair of adorable pork sliders, topped with piquant pickled Piparra peppers (try saying that after a couple of sangrias).
Ibérica has recently relaunched its paella offering, so the Paella Valenciana was the main event of our visit. Freshly prepared and served to your table in an authentic paella (the name refers to the pan that the food is cooked in, not the dish itself), you need to allow a little additional cooking time for this – but I promise it’s worth it. Ibérica’s chefs are trained by Valencian paella masters to ensure as authentic experience as possible – including leaving the caramelised socarrat stock at the bottom of the dish. Our server scraped the socarrat from the bottom of the pan and mixed it in with the rest of the rice before serving in the authentic Spanish way, adding to the richness of the dish.
In fact, the paella was so good that we were forced to help ourselves to seconds from the pan – over an extra glass of sangria, of course. Now, despite my famously not being a wine drinker I can never resist a good sangria, and Ibérica’s red wine version is the best I’ve ever had: rich, and so fruity that it’s served with a wooden spoon so that you can enjoy the fruit in your glass without completely embarrassing myself
the way I usually do in restaurants. Ibérica also boasts an extensive gin selection and a fantastic cocktail menu – I’m drinking a strawberry and basil gin smash in the (cute af) picture at the top of this post, while Stringer was able to enjoy his favourite smoky Old Fashioned.
After all that, you wouldn’t think we could possibly have room for dessert, right? Well, you reckoned without my love of churros – and, as I remembered from my last visit, Ibérica have the best churros I have tasted outside of Barcelona. Perfectly crisp, fried sticks of joy, coated in sugar and served with a warm chocolate sauce – yet I still managed to leave one, as a testament to just how well fed I was.
Stringer, for his part, ordered that night’s special: a Santiago tart (to what, I’m sure, would have been my mother’s delight, with the name translating as Saint James). Google tells me this is a traditional almond-based cake found in every pastry shop at the end of the famous Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route through northern Spain, although by this point in the evening I was so merry that my notes consist merely of the word “Santiago”.
Thoroughly sated after one of the best meals we’ve had in the city for a long time, we set off into the night – even making a point of walking to the bus stop on the other side of the city centre, as if to offset the huge amount that we had eaten and drunk. While I can’t guarantee that you will be quite so well looked after if you visit Ibérica Glasgow, I can promise the most authentic Spanish food in the city – and, certainly, the tastiest.
Our meal was complimentary for review purposes, but all views are my own and unbiased.