Thursday, 25 May 2017

Two Days, Two Press Dinners: Iberica and Browns Leeds

My little ol' blog brings me some superb opportunities and sometimes they all happen in the loop space of a short period after a dry patch on events. This happened almost a month ago, now (doesn't time fly by before you can even keep track?!) and it really was a treat to the taste buds for someone who's so much more open to the experience of new food ventures. One week, two press dinners, two beautiful locations in my much loved hometown, and plenty of time to discover fresh favourites, meet up with some lovely bloggers, chat to some passionate, aspiring individuals and soak in the essence of what made each restaurant distinctive in disposition.

First up, was Iberica - the most formal of the two. A traditional Spanish cuisine providing not only food that oozes culture through their established tapas but an absolutely stunning building located in the listed antique Hepper House, perfect for any celebratory special occasion and that real classy feel you may desire on an evening out. The hanging chandeliers, the printed walls, the circular staircase, the high ceilings, the 'most Instagrammable toilets in Leeds', and the separate dining spaces with their own hosting function really give off an authentic ambience. The ground floor holds the main restaurant area which is extremely aesthetically pleasing on the eye, along with a downstairs wine bar (La Bodega) and nibbles area, followed by the grand private rooms upstairs which offer the best kind of banquet quality. 


We began the evening in the basement; a cool, laid back hang out where you're surrounded by the contrast of a variation of ageless wines and culinary meats on show with the modern dream of marble tables and rustic, wooden decor. Both making you feel like you've stepped down the cobbled street of a Spanish village rather than in the city centre of Leeds! The absolutely delicious samples on offer consisted of a selection of cheeses, thin sliced Serrano and Iberico hams, and two lots of bread; Trio de Jamones aka toasted bread with tomato, and simple crusty bread with olive oil; all served with a glass of crisp cava. As a bread fanatic these were the perfect appetisers and if it wasn't for my tendency to bloat, I could have eaten the lot. They may be basic sounding but it doesn't give the mouthwatering flavour justice. The cheeses all varied in strength and the meats unique in value!

Whilst we were waiting to move on to the main event we were also given the chance to experiment with the porrĂ³n, a traditional, Spanish wine carafe that allows you to make the decision of pouring one end directly into your glass as normal or challenge your skill and drink directly from the spout. I've never seen or used one before but was a definite intriguing and comical eye opener. I gave it my best go as instructed and held it up whilst guzzling mid air. I may have spilled water all down myself and unattractively dribbled but at least I learned something new - and it's a definite step up for hygiene sharing! Can't see it working out quite the same if it was to be wine instead, though, especially with my alcohol intolerance... 


After the fun we were whisked upstairs to be introduced to our room for the night. The main dining room that is filled with indescribable character. Amazingly spacious with the most alluring interior; a huge banquet table being the prime attraction with large windows, extravagant paintings, candles, and our own individual name tags next to the presentable set up, completing the picture. It carried a sense of home but also flashy originality - certainly designed to impress. The food, of course, was also insanely exquisite and a step back from the safe options of casual food I'd usually stick to. Way different from your average but something fancy I could totally get on board with. 

Before we began tucking in to the assorted tapas we had a small introduction from the head Michelin-Starred renowned executive chef Nacho Manzano himself for a brief on what to expect and how the highest quality standard is always his aim. The incredible service, friendly greeting and passion from the staff was a continuity all night and you could really tell just how much magic and care the team work on inputting to make their dishes the classiest, tastiest, and best in town.


Showcasing their spring menu with some of the most optimal, seasonal produce was a three course ordeal and by the end of the night, I was both fulfilled with the delivery and presentation of the dishes and filled up with the satisfying savour! First up we had Baby Carrot Tempura, mixing the vegetable ingredient with a battered, crunchy layer was an absolute winner packing a punch of flavour without overdoing it. The Crispy Cauliflower and Pak Choi was another vegetable addition with that extra tang and was washed down perfectly with the Octopus a la Gallega. I'm definitely not a seafood lover and the texture of octopus is just as chewy as the common stereotype states but I was pleasantly surprised with how vibrant the dish was. Combined with a chargrilled cooking method and a singing sauce, the meaty edge really shone through and I enjoyed it. Ensaladilla Rusa was yet another recipe that changed my mindset. I'm not usually a tuna lover but this was absolutely heavenly, you only detect a hint of the tuna whilst the rest of the soft potato based and somewhat sweet salad gratifies your remaining cravings.


The second round of food certainly contained some of my favourite dishes of the night. The Croquetas de Jamon were to die for, totally up my street with a crisp, spongy outside and a light, piping hot filling inside, the smoky zest urging you to want more. The Twice Cooked Lamb was incredible, tender and delicious; it purely melted in your mouth straight away without any effort to cut and teamed with the cherry tomato seasoning, gave it top-scoring status. The Roasted Bone Marrow with Steak Tartar may sound strange but it was in fact a perfect combination of fresh mixed with warmth; rich and succulent, served on a baguette with an egg on top. The last two dishes were a portion of tiny Chicken Wings in Canarian Mojo Picon Sauce which made the loveliest end-snack and a definite highlight - Pitu Chicken Rice.  Rice is often bland but this was far from it, wrapped up in bold flavour making it very moreish. What made it more special was the information we were being fed (pay a visit to Iberica and you don't just get fed with food!). This, along with the croquettas was a certified grandma recipe back in Spain - the team often having to reassure their relatives nothing beats their cooking even if they were telling a tiny white lie. It was a nice touch to hear the personal stories along with the food itself! 


Dessert arrived and it was an absolute delight. It completed the fine dining, finger-licking good experience as the night grew dark (and I began to regret not photographing the room in its natural daylight to capture the heart of the place!). First we had Tocinillo de cielo, a divine custard flan and secondly, we were blessed with Crema Catalana Foam which was a dynamic dream of feathery, meringue style cup based cream. All of this was washed down with a choice of red comerge wine and white contante wine only available within Iberica in the UK and then an almost treacle-like Pedro Ximenez sherry to finish it off entirely. 


I had such a fabulous night and stopped way longer than I thought I would, admiring the spots and waiting for the wholesome food to digest as a treat to my gut. I can't wait to head back there and have a full encounter of the Spanish phenomenon!

***

Next, we had Browns Leeds, a living legend in the city - I have grown up with this restaurant so to be called into a more informal evening of laughter, great grub, and plenty of cocktails (I mean, plenty!) with four other Yorkshire bloggers to celebrate their brand new refurbishment and seasonal food and drink menu was a pleasure, I couldn't wait to pay them a visit!


For the entire night we had a posh private dining room all to ourselves with our very own cocktail provider on hand (huge thanks to Steve, an absolute hero, could not fault his efficient service and ability to deal with our independent cocktail making blips with his careful guide, at all!). The room was gorgeous, bright and airy but with a striking, royal feel to it. I didn't even realise there was a separate zone away from the rest of the public in the Brasserie & Bar area but it really added to the luxury atmosphere - especially with the laid out table, industrial lights and shelves carefully structured with symmetrical lay outs, glass bottles, candles and all the freshly green herbs and colourfully assorted ingredients for our cocktail bonanza.

Talking of cocktails - we! never! stopped! Browns were eager for us to test and trial and even whiz up our own drinks from the taste the season cocktail menu and beyond the main menu, too, and I've never known anyone to be as generous. It was a real treat, we were completely spoiled and to make it even better, there wasn't one I disliked (both alcoholic and non alcoholic!). I'm picky when it comes to cocktails, I tend to stick to the fruity, the vanilla, or the basic mix up of spirits but with these garden themed specialities the unique combinations won me over. As they were being shared and passed down we were able to experiment with the distinguishing tastes and elaborated between the four; Gin Basil Smash, English Garden T&T, Spring Green Sour and Cucumber & Mint Cup. The Spring Green Sour was my favourite, refreshing but with a boost of strong, natural flavour, and strangely... sugar snap peas. But it worked and we ended up having more fun than possible with the pods that were seen in every corner of the room! Not only did the cocktails go down delightfully but they also looked the part so we were snapping away with that geo patterned aesthetic all night.


Moving on to the food, which was just as delicious. It was a more casual affair with the team opting for sharing platters filled with a mix of meats, seafood and bread-style dishes but it was incredibly satisfying, well presented and once again unleashed an appetite for foods I'd usually turn my nose up at as the judge in me is keen to presume instead of trying it out for myself!

It began with two platters; first up the Fisherman's Platter which I did initially brush away as I've already mentioned a gazillion times before, it's not my thing, but the warm toasted bread and crispy crouton style slices were undoubtedly going straight on my plate. Mmmmm. The rest of the gang seemed to devour the selection of seafood on offer; from smoked salmon, to Devon crab on toast, and to a pleasant surprise - British mussels! Secondly there was the Browns Sharing Plate which once again featured the fish based produce such as salt & pepper squid and prawn cocktail but then there was the rest of the meats which were all tenderly rich and full of sharp flavour; chicken lollipops, pulled pork, pig cheek crostini, alllll the calamari and something which is now a constant craving of mine - beetroot hummus.


The final round contained more or less the same as the starters, just with bigger portions and an added introduction of pork belly bites, an absolute overload of calamari which for a fish-hater like me was notably great, the most delectable spiralled courgette I've ever savoured, and then the beetroot hummus revamped on fried bread with squares of feta - my ultimate favourite of the night. Certainly one of those toothsome, stand out snacks that you could never get bored of incorporating into your meals. There wasn't any dessert but it definitely wasn't necessary for the feast we had; we left a little tipsy but with a gratifying gut and no grumbles.


I had such a lovely night with brilliant company, accommodating staff and wonderful customer service. They couldn't do enough for us and we really felt like we were part of the welcoming vibe Browns gives out. It's not only the ideal place to hold an event due to its quantifiable size but it's perfect for after work drinks. The seasonal cocktails are all priced at £4.50 which is fantastic value for central Leeds! Thanks so much to the Browns team for inviting me along and giving me a pleasant evening to remember. I'll definitely be back!

Have you visited Iberica or been to Browns before? If not, there may be one located near you, so check the website and make sure to not miss out!

Bridie x
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