CESAR Garcia is scraping a cast iron pan vigorously at table to unleash the caramelised ‘soccarat’ crust from a chicken and artichoke paella (above). Iberica’s bearded group head chef is all smiles as he dollops a toasty, crackly tangle of it onto my plate. Like the rice that has absorbed the stock and most of the flavours from the chicken pieces, it is sticky and dry at the same time – delicious Iberian Umami. It’s all about the rice.
It brings back to me my paella initiation in Valencia, capital of the universally regarded (but often misinterpreted) Spanish national dish.
Despite what the beachfront cafes dole out to the toruists seafood generally belongs in the sloppier, more risotto-like arroz meloso dishes (Iberica’s city centre Tapeo serves an excellent meloso de bogavante, involving lobster).
The true Paella de Valencia and the string of villages along its rice-bearing coastal strip traditionally contains, chicken and rabbit and vegetables. If it’s really traditional you might get offered the rabbit head in the centre of the paella (originally the name of the dish it’s cooked in.
The Iberica Spinningfields Valencia version is much more genteel but doesn’t stint on the paprika, saffron and good stock. The minimum serving is for two people at £10 a head; the seafood paella, a concession to our expectations is £10 per person, while the vegetable variant is £6 a head (though I personally can’t see the point).
The temptation at Iberica is to have over-troughed on the best jamon and croquetas in town before you get to a substantial helping of rice.
Best save them for nibbling at the bar alongside an augmented selection of bocadillo sandwiches – check out the pork bocadillo or the crisp squid stuffed one, described by one of our servers as “the ultimate hangover food, better than a kebab”.
Iberica, 14-15 The Avenue, Spinningfields, M3 3HF. 0161 358 1350.