On the cusp of September, on a fresh sunny afternoon, I made my way down to Iberica in Manchester’s Spinningfields to lunch with Northern Soul head honcho, Helen Nugent.
It is one of the pleasures of being NS’s Opera Correspondent that I occasionally get to break bread with the inspiration behind our collective endeavour, and catch a glimpse into the mind of our great leader, Kim Jong Helen, as she is affectionately known at Northern Soul Towers. All kidding aside, Helen is good company and to spend time, mano e mano, over a fine lunch is a rare treat. I fear that all this talk of nuclear Armageddon between two of the weirdest haircuts on the planet will make these treats even rarer, so let your friends know how you feel as you might not get another chance. Fearing how dumb the two must be, remember ‘launch’ is one vowel from ‘lunch’.
Our venue of choice was the Spanish eatery, Iberica. We were greeted with a friendly “hola” from Anna as we made our way to the bar for a preambular gin and tonic. Our mixologist, Vince, poured us a fine Gin Mare with rosemary, thyme and olives as we chatted to him about other Spanish gins and the horridness of the country’s Nordic blue tonic. Our advice is to stay well clear of said tonic as I think it glows in the dark.
At the table, Helen started with a cheese board including manchengo, mahon and a Galician san simon, while I went for the meatier trio of jamons, all delicious. Tapas of pardon peppers and Octopus a la Gallega with patatas and pimento de la verde, as well as a traditional Catalan pan con tomate followed bursting with Iberian flavours and charm.
Unusually abstemious, Helen sipped a single glass of tempranillo, I think with an eye on a busy afternoon of writing and editing to keep the NS juggernaut on track. I, on the other hand, having no such affairs of state to attend to, imbibed a small porron of rose. A pale yet robust Zurbal rioja helped to enrich my plate of shared seafood paella. On a recent trip to Barcelona I found some of the paellas to be bulked out with anglerfish and cuttlefish, which let the taste veer towards the bland and heavy. But no such problems here. The rice was light and flavoursome and garnished with prawns and succulent corvettes as we spooned our way to the satisfying bite of the socarrat at the bottom of the paella dish. “Molt be” as they say in Catalan….muy bien!
As our conversation pleasantly meandered from the marketisation of universities to the highness of Michael Gove’s trousers, we arrived at our postres of Crème Catalana Foam and poached apples. Mine was accompanied with Diamantes de Hielo, a dark, sweet dessert cider and a perfect partner for the dish.
Iberica is a light-filled, airy space with a impossibly high ceiling. Decked in white tiles, red wood and brown leather, it is charming, European and exotic enough to make any Brexiteer choke on their tripe. I was also encouraged to see their Spanish policy on breastfeeding as demonstrated by the lovely young lady sat next to us and her very hungry baby. Bravo.
Helen and I said adios to this wonderful place and to each other. As I walked up to Deansgate, I remembered the perilous state of the world (Deansgate will do that to you). But, perhaps in a cheerful nod to Stanley Kubrick, I hummed that splendid ode to hope, “we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”.