SHOW stealers at a sampling of Iberica’s new spring menu were the veggie dishes. Who would have thought a clutch of baby Chantenay carrots tempura-battered (£5) could prove so beguiling in the company of glass of Marques de Riscal Limousin-oaked Reserva Verdejo (£10 a glass, £40 a bottle)?
The same rich white was also well-matched with a dish of crispy cauliflower and pak choi in a creamy sauce spiced with cumin and citrus (£4), in a menu not afraid to flirt with the Arabic influences that still underpin the food of Southern Spain and the Islands in particular.
I’m afraid one flirtation didn’t quicken my blood. The chicken wings in a in Canarian Mojo Picón sauce (£7.50) strayed towards Nandos, though I relished the friend plantain discs.
I also don’t get the Spanish infatuation with Russian Salad, invented by a Moscow chef of French descent, Lucien Olivier, back in 1860 but now a tapa staple, with tuna, green olives and piquillo pepping up the mayonnaise-heavy dish in Iberica’s version (£6).
On the plus side, a trio of exemplary dishes from head chef Nacho Linares’ kitchen followed – gloriously gooey Croquetas de Jamón (£12) and benchmark Octopus a la Gallega (£11.50), charred and tender with smoked pimenton and potatoes.
A plaudit, too, for slow cooked lamb with marinated whole cherry tomatoes and red peppers, a speciality of El Bierzo in Leon, beautifully matched by a glass of cherryish, spicy Comenge Crianza 2011 red from Ribera del Duero (£39 a bottle).
But my favourite wine of the whole lunch was the final one, a 30-year-old Noe Pedro Ximenez from Gonzalez Byass, a vastly complex, treacly, silky sweetie, which accompanied a shared glass of Crema Catalana Foam, laced with cider-baked apple and salted caramel ice cream (£5). Luscious.
So spring explored, but it’s the regular stuff that maintains Iberica’s position in a crowded Manchester Spanish restaurant scene. Try the masterclass in hand-sliced has, the Trío de Jamones (£15), which takes you from a mild, young cure to the Juan Pedro Domecq from Jabugo, four times awarded three gold stars as best Ibérico ham.
Four cheeses for £10, with membrillo and watermelon, is a showcase of sheep, goat and cow milk specialities from Galicia to Castilla to Navarra. And the Pan con Tomate (toasted bread smeared with tomato, £3) is, like their ham, the best in town.
Iberica, 14-15 The Avenue, Spinningfields, M3 3HF. 0161 358 1350.