London Life was delighted to attend a recent media event showcasing Jerte Picota cherries at Ibérica restaurant in Victoria . An intriguing tasting menu devised by César García and Luis Contreras in this roomy, attractive space soon lifted the spirits on what was an ugly wet evening. I dislike the term "fine dining" but the presented dishes were very fine indeed. Subtle, sophisticated, surprising.
But first, a taste of the cherry in all its naturalness, along with some specially selected Cava to add some sparkle to the evening.
I adore cherries, buying them by the bucketful while their short season lasts and until this evening, have always devoured them in their plump. sweet and juicy natural state. The Jerte Picota variety, much prized in Spain, is a brighter red, not overly sweet, with a solid texture, making it versatile and an ideal ingredient in both sweet and savoury combinations. As for the Cava, I have it on good authority that it was utterly delicious and just look at that bottle! Gaudi inspired!
While my everyday life is just a bowl of cherries, on this enchanting evening, life perked up considerably when it came served up as a soup bowl of smooth cherry gazpacho with a kick of anchovy, a hint of mint and the welcome surprise tastebomb of a floating cheese icecream.
My favourite dish of the evening?
Let us continue!
I can't speak for the Croquetas de Jamón but I can say that the asparagus was as lovely as it looks- vivid green chubbiness, crunchy charred ends, accompanied by grownup Manchego cheese. The remaining impression thanks to onion relish is of a balanced sweetness.
It is so liberating to eat tapas-sized portions! That way you can taste a lot of different flavours in a number of dishes and leave the feast feeling satisfied but not uncomfortable after over-indulging!
This ever so slightly seared tuna was clearly sushi quality. I have never tasted better. I take it all back. I could easily have eaten much more of these meltingly moreish mouthfuls, completed by a pop sensation from the toasted pine nuts and that subtle underlying hint of sweetness from apple. Finished off by popping one of those pickled cherries into my mouth. There can never be too much of a good thing.
This was followed by a pork dish. Readers, this you will have to judge for yourselves. Other diners clearly enjoyed it!
Drum roll for a most interesting vegetarian option. Cauliflower and cherries with pak choi anyone? Me neither, until I tried it.
It was salty, sweet, creamy crunchy, very umami! With a smooth sauce textured with nut. Brave combinations but they worked. Cauliflower cheese, eat your heart out.
There is always room in everyone's stomach for dessert and I was keen to see what the chef would come up with, as I mostly associate cherries with sweet pastry pies.
Mercifully, this dessert was light and fluffy, managing to taste warm, fulfilling that sense of being cosseted from the cold outside world, just as you prepare to re-enter it. And then! The pleasant shock underneath, the refreshing surprise of cold sharper sorbet which is a neat reminder
of the surprise bomb in the gazpacho at the beginning of the meal.
An accomplished menu, with playful touches, like an ongoing amuse bouche, but with more substance, showing respect for the ingredients, especially the honoured ingredient of the evening, the blushing Jerte Picota cherry
I loved it all but it's a tie between the gazpacho and the tuna for first place in my affection. A thoroughly Modern Spanish Food Experience! Which still respects and utilises the food traditions of Spain. Well done guys!
The Jerte Picota season is short and will end all too soon. Still available as I write at Sainsbury's , Morrison's and Tesco .
For more on the provenance, quality and history