Don’t be fooled by the Spanish-sounding name. Iberia is an ancient name for a region of the Caucasus, between Russia and Turkey on the Black Sea, that we now call Georgia.
Georgian food is something of a mix between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, combining the vibrant use of herbs and sun-ripened vegetables with subtle spicing and full-bodied, unusual wines. Georgian wines, many from grape varieties unique to Georgia, were once the toast of the Soviet Union and are now increasingly found in the UK.
The nouveau riche look of the dining room – from the polished tables to faux-leather chairs – might not do it any favours, but the attentive service reminded us of the country’s famous hospitability.
Georgia has a strong feasting tradition, headed by an eloquent tamada (master of ceremonies) that can last for hours. A meal at Iberia, fortunately, is somewhat speedier.
We were advised to order a meze for two which, although modestly portioned, we thoroughly enjoyed: from subtle steamed spinach balls with ground walnuts and coriander to the bold turmeric-coloured bean stew called lobio, accompanied by flaky khachapuri flatbread (akin to Indian paratha), stuffed with cheese.
Khinkali – large dumplings filled with minced beef and pork – came bare on a plate, but were soft and juicy. These were great a combination with the hot, if too salty, adjika – the Georgian sauce made with red peppers, garlic, herbs and spices.
The vegetarian ‘ratatouille’ layered with fried potatoes was more of a side dish, but grandmotherly delicious.
The cake of honey and condensed milk, and deep, oaky Mukuzani red wine rounded off the meal on a high.
Aside from its over-optimistic pricing and windows facing an Iceland, Iberia’s unhurried welcome and interesting, but uncomplicated food made us want to return for another taste of the Caucasus.