Iberica, a group of Spanish tapas places in central London (and some other UK cities), is what the British refer to as a "Marmite" choice. You either love it or loathe it. In case you don't know - Marmite is a salty uniquely English spread which divides the population into fans and foes. No one is - or can be - neutral about Marmite.
The same is true about the tapas - or small plates to share - concept. If it's not for you, then don't go.
Iberica opened some years ago to rave reviews. But recently they have fallen back to average as former fans say it has become hyped, impersonal and living on past glories.
All I can say is that for a long, leisurely and unusual lunch in London, Iberica Marylebone comes up trumps. Perhaps it has taken notice of the mediocrity accusations, or maybe this particular Iberica is better than others. I really don't know.
But what I do know is that the food was excellent - I'll get onto the wine later. We started sharing a selection of cheeses and Iberian hams - you can't go too wrong with this. Delicious anyway.
We followed with the Padron peppers - a dish of green peppers from Padron in Galicia which consists of mix of mild and hot. And the traditional Omelette. And Asparagus toasts. And crispy chicken. I enjoyed each and every one.
But the best dish was the Venison Loin, moist and succulent. And at £18, but far the most expensive of our tapas (most of the others are in the £5 to £9 range).
You need some bulk - especially for a long lunch (we ended up spending over five hours eating and drinking) so there was plenty of bread and Pitu Rice, a traditional Asturian dish which, it seems, Iberica is the only exponent in London.
The wine is not bargain basement - starting around £27 a bottle. We went for something special - in fact three bottles special (well, there were three of us). The Vinyes Velles at £47 went down wonderfully medium bodied but relatively high alcohol content Catalan wine. The Mira Salinas (£41) was our next tasting - an Alicante wine described (with reason) as "savoury and mature". Finally, the Cinco Fincas, (£62), a big and complex wine which was fabulous (and well worth the money). Many wines on the list are difficult, if not impossible, to find elsewhere in London.
The service was excellent - with each server making up for the lack of detail on the menu with descriptions of the dishes. And as we had our one space in the "library area" - we could enjoy both seclusion but still remain part of the overall space.
Yes, the total (around £90 a head) was expensive (and there are lunchtime deals!). But memorably worth every penny.
Iberica Marylebone 195 Great Portland Street London W1W 5PS
Nearest stations Great Portland Street, Regents Park
Phone 020 7636 8650