That was the week that was – Sherry Week, of course – and to help celebrate and discover how one restaurant approaches this international event we sent Victor Smart along to live through the Ibérica Sherry Experience – where every style of sherry is matched with different tapas. But would the staff get the level of education right? After all nobody wants to go back to class on a Saturday night… and how were the sherries tasting and what were the key standout moments?
“Hopefully, these sherry sessions may win a younger generation of converts to the world of sherries,” writes Smart about the Ibérica Sherry Experience
It all starts with a sherry Negroni. We’ve been given a table in a snug corner at Ibérica’s flagship London restaurant in Marylebone. We are here for an experience, specifically, a sherry discovery experience – the restaurant also offers wine and cheese, ham-carving and Spanish gin and tonic experiences at the same price of £45 a head.
I’m with my wife, a wine and spirits influencer, and we happily tuck into our Negronis. In some Spanish Negonis, it’s the gin that gets swapped out, but here it is the vermouth which has been replaced by Amontillado VinaAb. A Negroni is usually pretty irresistible and this is no exception. In spite of the other strong flavours, the subtle oakiness of the Amontillado is quite up front.
Our tasting is to take us through five sherries displaying the full sweetness spectrum from ultra-dry to ultra-sweet. The glasses are already poured at the start and behind them the line of bottles is unopened, thereby averting over-excited tippling. Crucially, each sherry is matched with a food pairing. The whole thing takes about an hour after which you are encouraged to linger over tapas or a full meal.
Of all of the restaurants in the Ibérica chain, Marylebone is probably the most charming. They’ve captured the Spanish casual-dining vibe perfectly, with oversized lanterns and the inevitable profusion of characteristic Iberian tiles. But all the four London sites and the one in Leeds offer “experiences”. Groups, big or small, are welcome.
From the start it’s apparent that the tasting is going to work because of the sheer quality of the food and the skill with which the pairings have been chosen. For openers the ultra-dry Tio Pepe Fino is matched with boquerones gilda, scrummy premium anchovies. The VinaAB comes with Ibérico ham that has been aged for 42-months – the wine cuts through the fattiness of the ham beautifully. Moving up the sweetness scale, the Palo Cortado is paired with nicely-selected Manchego cheese. There’s as much here for a foodie as a wine lover.
For me, there are a couple of surprises. First is the Ibérico sobrasada paired with the Oloroso sherry. Sobrasada, I discover, is a spiced and cured pork and pimentón paste, like a spreadable Chorizo. Terrifyingly, moreish! The second was the sheer sweetness of the Nectar Pedro Ximénez. For my wife, this is divinely luscious. For me it is simply too, too sweet. (There is in fact 370g/l of residual sugar).
Ultimately, the Ibérica chain’s experiences depend on how deftly the staff manage the briefing aspect of the gastronomic exploration. Not everyone wants to spend a Saturday evening learning stuff and, certainly they don’t want to be lectured. There is a quick talk about sherry at the beginning and, yes, there are a few slides flashed on an iPad by the waiter up at your table. But this merely heightens the anticipation. The staff are informed and charming – many are Spanish and very happy to converse about their native wines and foods.
Hopefully, these sherry sessions may win a younger generation of converts to the world of sherries. If that does not appeal, there’s always the quirky ham-carving experience. Either way the experiences are a recipe for a thoroughly delightful way to start an evening before settling in for some serious wine, tapas and chat. ¡Buen Provecho!