If national stereotypes are anything to go by – and they are something Ibérica founder Marco Fernandez Pardo makes reference to over lunch in Marylebone – you might expect free-wheeling creativity to be the driving force behind the con-temporary Spanish restaurant group.

And while Fernandez Pardo does wax lyrical about the great artistic heritage of his compatriots such as Ferran Adrià, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso to name a few, and is happy to give his chefs creative licence, big data, the hard-headed scientific anto-nym plays its part.

Many restaurant operators have wised up to the benefits of using data in recent years, though for the former economist, gleaming insights from customer behaviour is something he has looked to do from the off.

It is a smart approach that has made for notable differences in his menus. In Canary Wharf, animal proteins are the favourite among the more macho finance crowd, while in more genteel Marylebone, diners prefer seafood and salads.

No problem with tinkering

In London, the chefs have tinkered with the gazpacho, introducing red berries and beetroot into the mix, while in Manchester they prefer to stick with tradition.

It’s this combination of art and science that appears to have given Ibérica a winning formula, and unlike tradition-fearing Italians, Fernandez Pardo sees no issue in tinkering with great Spanish dishes such as gazpacho.

“It represents a gastronomic tendency in Spain,” he says. “It’s not static, it evolves. Spain has been quite prolific in making big advancements in gastronomy.”

Nor does he see any conflict between a creative and analytic approach. “I’m an economist by trade. When people see I’m a restaurateur, they see my romantic side, but my job is to help creative people do their job in the most efficient way possible. We’ve always had a very good analytics system from the beginning. You need to keep on adapting. We’re still learning what each new markets wants.”

The past year may have been quiet for Ibérica in terms of expansion, but the group has been busy improving its operational structure, staff retention, and a senior team.

This means a new managing director in the shape of former Busaba Eathai director Joel Falconer, who enjoyed a crash course in Spanish gastronomy before joining last month (September), which will allow Fernandez Pardo to step aside and concentrate on other projects.

“He sits very well with us. We identify a lot with Busaba,” he says. “They have well-designed restaurants and high-quality truthful food. They don’t cut corners with ingredients and, like us, they’re working on a tight margin structure because they’re not an expensive restaurant.”

A new operations director has also been appointed, an internal promotion of Fernando Gonzalez, who was previously an area manager – part of a policy to ensure internal candidates are considered first.

Breaking the chain mould

After a year of working on its operational structure, the group has two new sites lined up, in Covent Garden and Bristol, and is in discussion for a new investment package to get it up to its target of 30 UK sites.

Following Brexit, Fernandez Pardo said the group is less likely to go to sites in the north of England, preferring opportunities in south-east cities such as Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge and Guildford.

And as Ibérica has grown to a staff of 300, with restaurants in Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, this has meant rethinking the way the support office (Fernandez Pardo does not like to call it the head office) communicates with its restaurants.

Crucial to this team are roles like the purchasing manager, who negotiates prices directly with producers, saving some 20% in middleman fees – now needed more than ever as exchange rate changes bite.

If such a structure makes Ibérica sound like a chain, it’s a description the Galician could only hope for.

“I hate it when people call us a chain,” he says. “I wish we were a chain because things would be so much easier. There’s no formula to what we do. We need a team of well-trained chefs. Unless you know how to cook, it won’t work. We give freedom to chefs to do specials and try new things. We need managers who actually call the shots.”

A passionate advocate for Spanish cuisine, Fernandez Pardo is credited with progressing Spanish cuisine, founding the group with two-Michelin star chef Nacho Manzano.

Other irons in the fire include a reported paella restaurant venture with three starred-Alicante chef Quique Dacosta, an attempt to right the wrong of what most British consumers understand as paella.

Full of praise for his peers in the UK industry, such as Brindisa and Barrafina, he is disparaging of fellow Spaniards for serving British tourists “crap” at beachside resorts, and perpetuating a second-rate version of Spanish cuisine.

“I don’t think we have taken advantage of the tourism link we have with Britain, we don’t expose Brits to good Spanish cooking when they come.” La Tasca, he says, successfully consolidated a basic interpretation of Spanish cuisine from the independent and tourist restaurants.

Brexit is an act of self-harm

Now a new generation, including Ibérica, are providing a more authentic offer for the same price, signalling the end for La Tasca, he says.

If there’s one possible bump in the road, it is Brexit, an act of self-harm the restaurateur sees as more in keeping with the trope of mismanaged Spain than calm,collected Britain.

“In a million years I didn’t expect Britain to behave this way,” he says. “It’s the king of democracy, the Government is solid, they don’t do stupid things. Then suddenly you have a bunch of monkeys doing this.”

While he sees the decision as wrong, adding insult to injury has been the Government’s handling of it.

“Brexit is a decision this country has made, but why the hurry? There’s a hurry to trigger Article 50 and now a hurry to get a trade deal.

“It’s like saying we’re opening a restaurant, but the kitchen’s not ready. It’s insane.

“This uncertainty has been created by the Government. The business community is not happy. The Government can’t bow to pressure from an ill-informed public because you take the country down the toilet if you do.