Iberica – Great Chefs Great Causes Campaign

Ibérica are currently running a ‘Great Chefs Great Causes Campaign’ which features a collection of special signature tapas dishes created using recipes from the most celebrated Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American chefs, the majority of which were recently recognised as part of the 50 Best Restaurants in The World Awards. The tapas dishes are priced from £7 and will be rotated on a weekly basis throughout the London restaurants. The campaign ends on 23 August 2015, and the profits from the campaign will be shared equally amongst the chef’s chosen charities such as Unicef and Action Against Hunger.

I recently attended a preview tasting of this special collection of tapas dishes at the Great Portland Street branch of Ibérica. The evening began with a ‘Caipiritxa’ by Chef Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi in Spain (N°19 *). A beautiful green colour, this was a refreshing concoction made from capirinha and Spanish sparkling wine.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Caipiritxa by Azurmendi

Iberica – Caipiritxa by Azurmendi

Next was the razor clam with yellow pepper and black quinoa by Chef Virgilio Martinez of Central in Peru (N°4 *). This was my favourite dish of the evening. Beautiful soft razaor clams had been tempered with a delicate yellow pepper foam which combined beautifully with the clams. The spritely texture of the quinoa also added a lovely contrast and completed what was a mesmerising dish.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Razor clam by Central

Iberica – Razor clam by Central

Oysters with cucumber and lychee by Chef Daniel Redondo, of Mani in Brazil (N°41 *) was an interesting contrast in flavours and sensations. The lychee added sweetness to the savoury earthiness of the oyster, and the cucumber, served as a slice and as a jelly provided a refreshing twist to the dish.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Oysters by Mani

Iberica – Oysters by Mani

Mango, beer and black pudding by Chef Juan Mari Arzak, of Arzak in Spain (N°17 *), served in a beer can was visually arresting. The black pudding was well made, but on the whole this tapa was unremarkable.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Mango & beer By Arzak

Iberica – Mango & beer By Arzak

Beef tartare with vinaigrette and anchovies by Chef Dieter Koschina of Vila Joya in Portugal (N°98 *) came within inches of perfection. This was a delight to eat with the anchovies providing the perfect contrast and seasoning to the depth of flavour in the beef. But the spread of the anchovies in the tartare was a little uneven, and with a few more anchovies the tartare would have been absolutely perfect.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Beef tartare by Vila Joya

Iberica – Beef tartare by Vila Joya

Avocado toast with bone marrow salsa, cucumber and sea urchin by Chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol in Mexico (N°16 *) was interesting with its eclectic combination of ingredients. But as unusual as it was, every element came together wonderfully to provide a harmonious union of flavours. There was earthiness from the avocado, fatty creaminess from the marrow, and an extravagant sea flavour from the sea urchin, which was well balanced and not overpowering.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Avocado toast by Pujol

Iberica – Avocado toast by Pujol

Foie Cuba libre with lemon frost by Chef Quique Dacosta of Quique Dacosta Restaurant in Spain (N°39 *) was also delicious. The base of a beautifully creamy foie gras had been topped with a delicately flavoured lemon frost. This was delicious but not particularly disimilar to other foie gras parfaits you might try elsewhere.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Foie Cuba by Quique Dacosta

Iberica – Foie Cuba by Quique Dacosta

Fresh chorizo tartar by Chef Bittor Arguinzoniz of Asador Etxebarri in Spain (N°13 *) was next, and I didn’t understand the point of this dish. It lacked the intensity of flavour you might ordinarily get from chorizo. Furthermore it had a slightly odd texture. The tartar was original in it is conception but not particularly memorable for its flavour.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Fresh chorizo tartar by Asador Etxebarri

Iberica – Fresh chorizo tartar by Asador Etxebarri

Squid parmentier with red smoked Spanish paprika and squid stock by Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain (The World’s Best Restaurant *) was a lovely dish and beautifully presented. The squid was soft and the paprika graced the squid with a hint of spiciness. At the based of the dish was a bed of lovely mashed potato. But the highlight was undoubtedly the squid stock, an exquisite concoction of intense flavour that brought the dish together.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Squid parmentier by El Celler de Can Roca

Iberica – Squid parmentier by El Celler de Can Roca

Rustic bread with fresh pancetta and spring herbs by Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in Spain (N°6 *) was scrumptious in its simplicity. Lusciously fatty pieces of pancetta and fresh herbs served on warm bread provided a lovely explosion of flavours, especially as some of the fattiness of the pancetta had melted with the heat of the toast. Comparatively speaking, this tapa was less interesting than some of the others that preceded it. Yet there was no lack of flavour.

Iberica – London Food Blog - Rustic bread by Mugaritz

Iberica – Rustic bread by Mugaritz

The dessert was watermelon infused in sangria by Chef Albert Adria of Tickets in Spain (The World’s Best Pastry Chef). This was somewhat of a disappointment as it was merely watermelon infused with sangria. I had hoped for a recipe of more innovation from ‘The World’s Best Pastry Chef’.

Iberica - London Food Blog - Watermelon with sangria

Iberica – Watermelon with sangria

There was a plethora of delights to behold as part of The Great Chefs Great Causes campaign at Iberica. Many tapas dishes were original and interesting, with a few that proved to be particularly exceptional and delicious. But there were some which didn’t quite hold the torch as far as a 50 Best Restaurant goes, so chose your week of visit carefully as each of the dishes are rotated on a weekly basis.

Website: http://www.ibericarestaurants.com/great-chefs-great-causes/


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Boqueria Market

BOQUERIA MARKET

Boqueria Market on Queenstown Road is the second branch of Boqueria, a Spanish tapas restaurant group. I visited the original Boqueria on Acre Lane in Brixton about 18 months ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fresh and wholesome and the service was lovely. So once again I found myself south of the river to discover what Boqueria Market had to offer.

Boqueria Market is a really smart looking restaurant. The setting is intimate and the lighting is soft. The restaurant feels relaxed, yet there is a buzzy vibe to it that makes for an engaging dining experience. The menu is similar to the Acre Lane branch and includes a selection of traditional and contemporary tapas as well as a lovely variety of Spanish wines and sherries.

We began our meal with the premium jamón ibérico puro bellota (acorn-fed pure breed Iberico ham – large plate for £18). This was delicious with an intensely sweet flavour and earthy, nutty overtones. The pieces of fat running through the jamón were delicious too, with a melting, soft quality.

London food blog Boqueria - Jamón Ibérico

Boqueria – Jamón Ibérico

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Barrafina Frith Street – Visit No. 2

BARRAFINA

Barrafina Frith Street opened to critical acclaim in 2007 following on from the success of its sister restaurant Fino, both of which are owned by the restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart. 2014 proved to be a great year for the pair, with a second branch of Barrafina opening on Adelaide Street, also to critical acclaim, and the original Barrafina on Frith Street winning a Michelin star.

As most Londoners know, Barrafina Frith Street is a tiny establishment. There are 23 stools which line the L-shaped marbled bar. There is a no-booking policy which means that at peak times diners can expect to wait for at least an hour before being seated. I first visited Barrafina in 2010 and thought it was brilliant (you can read about that visit here). The only thing that deterred me from going back was the thought of that dreaded queue. But with a Michelin Star comes the weight of added expectation. So despite the knowledge that we would have to wait, it felt like the right time for a revisit.

And wait we did, an hour and a half no less, and this was on a Tuesday evening. The saving grace was the fact that we were able to order drinks and nibbles as we stood in line. That said, the service was incredibly slow and we struggled to be noticed or served.

We started with two old favourites, the croquetas and the tortilla. Ham croquetas (2 for £4.50) contained a deliciously creamy béchamel filling and a crunchy exterior. They were a little salty, but they were very tasty. A prawn and piquillo pepper tortilla (£7) came with a runny centre that was lovely and warm. This was also tasty, but in contrast to the croquetas, was a little under seasoned.

Barrafina Frith Street - Ham croquetas

Barrafina Frith Street – Ham croquetas

Barrafina Frith Street - Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street – Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street - Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

Barrafina Frith Street – Prawn & piquillo pepper tortilla

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Fino

FINO

Fino Restaurant opened in 2003 and became one of the first restaurants in London to offer a contemporary brand of Spanish tapas. Others followed, but Fino has managed to carve out a niche as an oldie but a goodie on the London tapas scene. Fino comes from the hands of Sam and Eddie Hart, the well-known restaurateur brothers that also brought the critically acclaimed Barrafina to London. The original branch of Barrafina opened on Frith Street in Soho in 2007 and went on to won a Michelin star in 2014. A second branch of Barrafina also opened on Adelaide Street last year.

Fino’s Executive Head Chef is Nieves Barragán Mohacho who originates from the Basque country. Her menu changes daily, drawing on influences from not only the Basque region but from throughout Spain. The Fino menu makes for a tempting read, interspersing modern influences among much loved Spanish classics.

Fino has an address on Charlotte Street although the entrance itself is located on Rathbone Street. From here, diners are led to Fino’s restaurant and bar area in the basement. The interior is contemporary and boasts of a relaxed ambience. It is also spacious and well laid out, which unlike the tiny spaces of both the Barrafinas, would accommodate large parties well.

We tried the Cecina de León (£9.80), a smoked and dried beef which was maroon in colour. It was juicy with a strong character and a slightly fibrous consistency. Lightly salted and with small bits of fat running through it, the beef was delicious.

Fino - Cecina de León

Cecina de León

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BCN Taste & Tradition – Houston, Texas

BCN Taste & Tradition in Houston, Texas is one of the latest fine dining additions to the Houston dining scene and pays homage to the very best of Spanish cooking. The restaurant is named for the airport code of Barcelona, the birthplace of chef Luis Roger, who began cooking as a child under the guidance of his grandmother. Finding love of cooking at such a young age led him to study at the Spanish culinary school, Escola d’Hostaleria Hofmann and a 20-year career as a chef that has included stints at the esteemed El Bulli.

Today, Roger’s menu at BCN Taste & Tradition brings together all of his culinary experiences and takes the diner on an explosive journey that blends tradition with the latest culinary techniques. Many of the ingredients are imported from Spain to uphold the essence of a true Spanish experience.

Located in a 1920s house in the beautiful artsy residential area of Montrose, BCN Taste & Tradition is discretely tucked away on a street corner. The décor is elegant but understated with a softly spoken colour scheme of sand-and-white. There are original works by greats Miro and Picasso on the walls to uphold he Spanish theme.

BCN Taste & Tradition’s exploration of Spanish delights begins with appetisers including the likes of a beautifully smooth and rich home made foie gras terrine ($22) accompanied by a lightly dressed side salad. Also delightful was a poached quail egg ($16), our dish of the evening which was perfectly cooked with a runny yolk. A dream to eat, it was immersed in a wonderful smooth potato foam and a topping of seasonal truffle.

BCN Taste & Tradition- Foie gras terrine

Foie gras terrine

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Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution is the brainchild of Spanish Chef Omar Allibhoy who noteable includes Ferran Adria’s El Bulli on his CV. With a desire to spread the word on tapas in the UK, Tapas Revolution was borne – both a cookbook and a restaurant chain which sees two branches to its name, one in Westfield’s Shepherd’s Bush, and the other in Bluewater. You can find Tapas Revolution in the centre of the mall surrounded by shops rather than the Southern Terrace ‘restaurant strip’ at Westfield’s. And rather than being a sit-in restaurant, the outlet has been designed as an uncovered eatery where diners perch on bar stools around a rectangular bar area.

Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution

The highlight of our meal was the hams. Jamón ibérico de bellota Guijuelo (£8.95), an Acorn-fed Iberian ham voted the 2013 IFFA best ham in the world, was excellent. Full of flavour, it was also a generous portion for the price. Also tasty was the 18 month cured jamón serrano del consorcio (£5.25), which was again very reasonably priced for both the quality and quantity.

Jamón ibérico & toasted tomato bread

Jamón ibérico & toasted tomato bread

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Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Note: Ametsa was awarded a Michelin Star in September 2013.

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

As the name suggests, Ametsa by Arzak Instruction draws its culinary inspiration from the famous three-Michelin starred Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Arzak made its name by introducing Nouvelle Basque cooking to the world. By taking the traditions of this fine food region and overlaying it with an inspired modern touch, the imagination of Arzak caught the world’s attention. In 1989 it attained its three-Michelin star status, an accolade that it continues to hold to this day.

And so it is that the philosophy behind Ametsa is also one of ‘New Basque Cuisine’, a matching of the traditions of the Basque region with modern techniques. It opened in March 2013 at the Halkin Hotel, taking over the space that was once occupied by David Thompson’s Nahm. A quintet of chefs from Arzak consulted on Ametsa including Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez, and most notably the famous father and daughter pair of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak who was recognised by the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards as the World’s Best Female Chef of 2012.

No expense was spared on the interior and it looks expensive. The most eye-catching aspect of Ametsa’s décor is the ceiling that was created from 7,000 dangling glass receptacles filled with spices. It’s impressive, but the overall feel of the restaurant is quite cold with whitewashed walls and furnishings that give it a rather stark effect. In some respects, it was difficult to warm to the atmosphere of the restaurant.

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Boqueria

There’s no shortage of tapas restaurants in London and Boqueria on Acre Lane is another. It’s a charming looking restaurant perched on the Brixton borders with a relaxed feel to it and a modern décor. Roughly L-shaped, the section towards the back has glass-paneled ceilings overhead that allow in lots of lovely natural light. The menu boasts a reasonable range of choices with both a traditional and contemporary approach.

As is standard at a tapas restaurant we tried a large variety of dishes starting with some marcona almonds (£2.30) to nibble on that were crunchy, nicely seasoned and gloriously delicious. These nuts were a delicious way to being our meal. From the specials, innovative suckling pig croquetas boasted of some lovely sweetness from the suckling pig filling (£6.30) and were really yummy.

Marcona almonds & suckling pig croquetas

Marcona almonds & suckling pig croquetas

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