By the light of the torch, there is no ugly woman With apologies to the politically-correct wing of the Leither readership, this time it’s a Spanish proverb. (A la luz de la tea, no hay mujer fea.) I promise I won’t start every review with a proverb. It’s not going to be a theme. I realise that you are about as likely to enjoy themed restaurant reviews as you are to enjoy eating in themed restaurants. But please indulge me this one last time. Iggs is not a themed restaurant, by the way: far from it. In a city that’s lamentably endowed, Spanishrestaurant-wise, with Tapas bars opening and closing with rapidity – and presumably due to our staid residents’ passing whims – the enduring Iggs continues to evoke memories of Castile, the Basque country, Catalonia, with each passing course. Now celebrating its 20 th anniversary, a new summer menu and concept has been introduced. But more of that later. Spain is one of my favourite places. I first visited in 1972. And yes, Franco was still hanging on, and his particular brand of fascism did still hold sway. But he was on his last legs. There was just a chance that he might peg it when I was there and I could join the biggest Spanish party since el batallón británico tried to save the Second Republic, but took a wrong turning and hit the bars of Torremolinos instead. And ok, I was young and innocent and, more pertinently, impatient to learn of the ways of others. Franco managed to survive my visit, but I was captivated by the country and the people. Spain, it could be argued, is one place that is less than the sum of its parts. And that’s not an insult. It touches on the theories of emergence and irreduction, like the story of the student who tries to find an explanation for the properties of water – why, for example, does it extinguish fire when hydrogen burns and oxygen sustains fire? Well Spain’s like that. It doesn’t make sense as a whole but with its rich history, more idiosyncrasies than Don Quixote’s delusions, and fantastic diversity in its regions, Spain is more interesting the more you explore her. OK, there’s Shagaluf - but you know what they say about exceptions. Spanish food too is fantastic, and underrated. Sometimes you can understand why it’s underrated. A visit to any plastic tapas bar on any plastic High Street is enough to dampen any Hispanophile’s enthusiasm. But they don’t offer the real McKay. Iggs does. For those of us with failing eyes, however, Iggs can also be quite dark. Especially if you’re sitting under the only down-light in the restaurant without a lamp, as I was. Let me say at this point that Sweetness was looking gorgeous that night, as always. So the proverb atop this review serves no other purpose than my personal amusement (and yours, I hope). But as my eyes adjusted, I could see why some of the diners on this particular Saturday might welcome the “romantic lighting”. And it really is romantic. The décor is all rustic deep yellows, claret and wood, set off beautifully with white linen napery and simple candles. Artwork – for sale, if you fancy a takeaway – adorns the walls. The staff offer unobtrusive and efficient service, and helped us get quickly into the mood with olives on the house. Actually, we were in the mood even before this, because we had partaken of Iggs sister next door - in as much as we had a couple of fresh-tasting, properly-chilled Manzanilla: that wonderful, salty, dry sherry made only in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. But you have to be careful when ordering this in Spain because as a friend and well-known drunk of this parish once found out to his cost in Barcelona, manzanilla is also Spanish for chamomile tea. I can still picture his wee face as it arrived. He’d been swinging back in his chair, smugly, having ordered seafood paella in one of the best places in an offthe-beaten-track part of town (his favourite town), sun beating down on his expanding forehead, not a care in the world, awaiting the pleasure. “Life doesnae get any better than this”, he had just decreed. And the waiter brought him a plate of crap rice and a cup of tea. Consternation doesn’t begin to describe it. A magical moment. The new concept of Iggy’s (owner and well-known-man-about-town) is that they serve the same extensive menu of tapas, with some dishes suitable as main courses, in all three spaces - Igg’s
restaurant, Barioja and the downstairs Bodega.1 You can therefore opt for casual dining, fine dining, or just a few tapas, depending on your mood or fatness of wallet. Flexibility is the key. We kicked-off sharing 4 tapas, which would also have worked individually as starters – Rinones £3.95 (lamb kidneys with potato puree, sage, panceta in a sherry jus), Caballa £5.25 (pan-fried mackerel, pickled beetroot with apple vinaigrette), Atun £4.95 (chargrilled tuna with salsa verde and lentil dressing), and a duck confit with mash and apple jus. This last one was offered in the absence of the Cocido (duck and ham soup with fideos) which, had it been on, would have been £3.50. All of them were excellent, with the mackerel the star. (Why do Scotland’s fleet catch far more mackerel than any other European country yet we eat much less of it, having to export most of it to our more discerning neighbours? – the Spaniards love it, and it can’t just be down to Picasso’s erotic depiction, can it?) The lamb kidneys were a very close second but missed out on the cigar because Sweetness wasn’t keen on the smokiness of the panceta – I loved it. After this, we were actually quite sated, so ordered only one main, Presa, which I’d never heard of. It was presa iberica (or pork steak), which is a southern Spain speciality from the shoulder of that magic animal, accompanied by marinated pork fillet (the two surprisingly different in look, texture and taste), wild mushrooms and apple sauce. At £16.95, it was very good. Our puds were Tocino de Cielo £5.75 (a flan, much like crème caramel) with orange syrup and three scoops of home-made ice cream – vanilla, chocolate and raspberry with crushed almonds; all excellent. Accompanying booze was a bottle of Albarino at £21. This wine is rarely sold in Scotland, which is a pity because it’s wonderful. It hails from the Rias Baixas wine region and I first stumbled across it a few years ago when enjoying al-fresco seafood in an excellent water-front restaurant near Palma – it’s reminiscent of Riesling and Viognier, both of which are also sadly under-sold. We had the dark, powerful, and raisiny Pedro Ximénez with the puds. This dessert wine is usually the kipper’s knickers. I say usually, because it didn’t go with the flan: my fault. Stick to having it with cheese. I’m already over my word quota and risking this nascent career being strangled at birth (did I tell you how nice a chap the new Chief is?), so I’ll finish now with another Spanish proverb which opines, Barriga llena, corazón contento. Its literal translation is full stomach, happy heart. Its meaning is satisfy desires and ensure compliance. Which pretty neatly sums up this restaurant reviewing lark, don’t you think? Bill for two £74.55 Score 17/20
I had actually visited for lunch before this new menu – purely in the interests of bringing you consistency of reviewing based on more than a sample of one – and have to say that the twocourse lunch then on offer at £15.95 (an extra £3 for a pud) was pretty close to the best value in town.