Australia’s most iconic beachside locale is having a bumper culinary year. We’ve seen cosy Italian-leaning eateries and pasta palaces with stellar views, a revamped Bondi Pavilion complete with a breezy kiosk and finer dining digs and, now, a wine bar taking coastal diners to the pintxos-powered eateries of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
Intimate two-storey restaurant Iberica is the Bondi Road sibling to Ikaria, the Greek spot with a standout saganaki 850 metres down the road. For Iberica, husband-and-wife team Joaquin Saez (former La Palma co-owner and Cho Cho San general manager) and fashion photographer Emily Abay are turning their attention to just-caught seafood, garlicky sobrasada and plentiful paellas.
“It’s a fun offering, but the quality of everything is outstanding,” Saez tells Broadsheet. “[We want to be] fun and approachable, but we’re focused – we take things seriously.”
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From the start of your meal, the fun is in the details. A crusty hunk of house-made bread accompanies a fiery truffle butter. The fatty spread is fashioned into a candle, to be lit once it hits your table – a “little sexy touch” according to Saez – the flame transforming your tealight-like spread into a dippable salty puddle.
In the kitchen, over a charcoal grill, executive chef Ivan Sanchez brings experience from lengthy tenures at the helm of Sydney kitchens like Porteno and Bodega. Having worked with the flavours of Spain for over 15 years, he’s delivering a wide-ranging menu, ideal for sharing. Snacky plates of shaved Iberian ham, topped with the near-fluorescent green of guindilla peppers, join flame-blistered green peppers, pairs of cod croquettes (tipped as a must-order) and pulpo grillado (octopus cooked over flames that Sanchez is dishing up with a smoked potato cream and a dusting of paprika).
On the larger side, fish-of-the-day is charred and served with charred leeks and alubia beans, and there are a couple of grilled meats: spatchcock or sirloin, both charred and infused with the smokiness of the grill. Of course, there’s a pair of signature paellas. A seafood-laden paella de marisco is joined by a green paella de vegetales, the plentiful serves both come topped with charred lemon and salsa – so far, this dish has been ordered to nearly every table.
Iberica is a labour of love for the duo, who’ve worked to ensure the interiors are as transportive as the plates. Intricate art deco ceilings have been given an earthy wash of terracotta, while artful ceramics are on display – detailed vases, funky chilli-covered planters and rustic earthen tableware – and polygon lampshades hover above the central bar. Greenery is splashed around the space, with fluffy fiddle leaf figs in cane baskets, olive-hued leather seating and draped sage curtains (which can be pulled across an arched doorway to create a makeshift private dining space on the upper floor).
Proving they’re all in, pillars throughout the space – and the sinks in the bathrooms – have been rendered with a material used to restore castles. The detail is what will have you stepping off Bondi Road and into the Balearic Islands – on holiday for the length of your meal.