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|Address:||195 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5PS|
|Tel:||020 3589 2109|
|Price: £46.00||Wine: £15.50|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sat 11.30am-11.30pm Sun 12N-4pm|
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Michelin-starred chef Nacho Manzano (of Casa Marcial fame, high in the Asturian mountains) has created a unique menu of tapas dishes ‘specifically designed to match a flight of Sherry’ from top producer Gonzålez Byass. Along with Madrid-born Santiago Guerrero, head chef of London’s Ibérica Food and Culture, Manzano has focused on bringing out the individual character of each dish along with notes from the accompanying Sherries. There’s a long-standing relationship between the UK and the Sherry trade (and it goes far beyond your Nan drinking too much at Christmas), including historical links with the Byass family.
Sherry wine became very popular in Great Britain, especially after Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in 1587, and as Hugh Johnson comments in The Story of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, 1998), “Among the spoils Drake brought back after destroying the fleet were 2,900 barrels of Sherry that had been on shore waiting to be loaded aboard Spanish ships.” Christopher Columbus even brought Sherry on his voyage to the New World and when Ferdinand Magellan – who captained the first circumnavigation expedition – prepared to sail around the world in 1519, he spent more on Sherry than on weapons… Dulce, dulce jerez!
So with this in mind I was thrilled to accept an invitation to taste the Sherry and tapas selection at Great Portland Street’s Ibérica, a vast-windowed corner spot with a 15-metre curling Tapas bar and an adjacent delicatessen selling Iberian gourmet goodies for London-living Spaniards and tapas enthusiasts – including some of the best Spanish hams in the country.
You should know that I’d never had Sherry before, it’s ambrosial tones never passing my lips, so this was a new experience for me. “In principle it’s just a one-off,” said Martin Sketon, managing director for Gonzålez Byass UK, commenting on the Sherry/tapas matching, “We’ve had a lot of independent specialists wanting to get behind this. If it’s successful and we get positive feedback then we’ll do it again.” So here’s to the tasting…
I started with hand-carved pata negra Ibérica ham (75% black Iberian pig, also known in Portugal as ‘Alentejano Pig’), tomato and warm bread along with green olive spheres and extra virgin olive oil. The accompanying Sherry was Tino Pepe Fino that has a dry and clean finish (dry due to the absence of sugar), a very clear colouring and didn’t work for me. It tasted light and dry and didn’t contain enough excitement for me. This was followed by small anchovies with fresh sardine skin, crispy red mullet with a light liver alioi and Tio Pepe Fino En Rama Sherry (the Gonzålez Byass 175th anniversary limited release already sold out through The Wine Society), and was of a slightly thicker colouring – but lightly filtered – with a more intensive flavour and a citrus clean finish, a wise match with the sardine skins but still not enough to move me to raptures.
There were more Iberian classics to follow in the shape of succulent salt grilled red prawns ‘carabineros’ served with Viña AB Amontillado Sherry, the unique and delicate nutty flavours refreshed the palate and lends itself perfectly to the seafood.
Then there was a glass of Alfonso Oloroso Seco served with (and this was a first for me), glazed sea urchin, with highlights of yoghurt, dill, apples and celery. The Alfonso Sherry is bone-dry, required to cut through the creaminess of the sea urchin, which arrives in its prickly-bowl-shape like a sawn-in-half hedgehog. I’m told by the waiter that it’s a, “spicy and complex Sherry” and that the, “rich nuttiness compliments the fusion of ‘surf and turf’ elements”. That may well be the case back on the sun-drenched shores of Spanish delights, but it glooped from its casing and into my mouth in a swift movement that I’d do well to forget. I’ll eat seafood everyday of the week but the Iberian sea urchin should not be troubled by my needs, for we shall not meet again anytime soon.
Silky ham and soft cheese croquetas were a highlight and oozed from their casing, warm and powerful. A cimmerian plate of sticky black rice was laced with prawns and cubes of octopus, and had a creamy richness that lubed the throat and stained the tongue.
Moving on to sweeter notes and an Apóstoles Palo Cortado, a candy-coated liquid with hints of butterscotch, was served with creamy Guanaja chocolate and Maldon salt. The addition of a light Arbequina olive oil intensified the dessert and chocolate sensation. I’ve never seen the likes before: chocolate, olive oil and salt. I hear Sat Bains is doing something similar in Nottingham. It certainly works and the three elements compliment each other well, the crunch of Maldon salt underneath the velvety chocolate softens the taste buds and highlights the chocolate flavour.
Finally, the outstanding rich and sweet finish of the long-aged Matusalem Oloroso Dulce served with Espuma of yoghurt with red berries and white chocolate in an explosion of summer flavours: tangy berries coated in a light foam yoghurt play with a rich creaminess of white chocolate sauce, while the complex cinnamon and dried fruit flavours of Dulce Sherry penetrate through. It was a case of saving the best till last. I admired the Matusalem Oloroso Dulce far beyond the others, it’s nose is of soft maple syrup and there’s a distinctive walnut finish around five-seconds after tasting.
This truly was an excellent introduction to Sherry with judicious pairings to fresh tapas. Ibérica Food and Culture offers some of the very best Spanish food in London at very reasonable prices. And if you’re in the mood for a change or experiencing something new, beyond the Rioja’s and Albariño’s, then dip into a Sherry tipple. My suggestion is the Matusalem Oloroso Dulce, but keep away from the sea urchin.