“Spaniards are shy and they are crap at selling their own product,” says Marcos Fernandez Pardo, who is from Spain and is the managing director of Ibérica, the now four-strong group of upmarket restaurants which sell Spanish food.

It soon becomes apparent that his description of his fellow countrymen does not apply to him.

Fernandez Pardo has become something of a standard bearer for Spain’s higher end cuisine - Ibérica has won the Marques de Busianos award from the Real Academia de Gastronomia for bringing Spanish gastronomy to the world and is often written about as the best Spanish restaurant group outside Spain by leading Spanish restaurant critics.

He sees promoting and improving the quality and perception of Spanish food worldwide as a virtuous circle and something of a personal mission. An increasing proportion of the 15million Brits who holiday in Spain go for the food and Fernandez Pardo has not been coy about telling tourism chiefs at the various functions and conventions he attends that they need to ensure licences for beachside restaurants back home go to quality operators, not someone the licence issuer is related to. He is even sort of happy when his managers leave to open their own restaurants in Spain.

When he starts talking about the luxury tinned food on the Ibérica menu and sold at the restaurants’ delis, you can see exactly how much he believes in what he does and how persuasive he is at getting others to go along with him:

“It is a constant battle with customers to get them to appreciate tins. In England you have tins of tuna that in Spain would be cat food. Spain does sell regular tinned food but we have another level which comes at a much higher price that people are prepared to pay it because it is such good quality.”

This is followed by a history of tinned food going back to caviar for the troops in the Napoleonic Wars and a taste of the, absolutely delicious, £30 tins of gourmet cockles in brine, Don Bocarte anchovies and tinned white tuna belly that, it is true, are way too good for any domestic pet.

He waxes just as lyrically about the different hams, describing the economics of producing them in a country with diminishing space for the mature oak trees required for the pigs to get their fill of the right type of acorns to produce the right taste in the meat.

Fernandez Pardo is as knowledgeable and passionate about every aspect of his business as he is the food it serves from menus created by executive head chef Nacho Manzano, a self-taught Spanish cook with three Michelin stars to his name, two of which were awarded at his Casa Marsial in Asturias. Fernandez Pardo attributes a big part of Ibérica’s success to Manzano’s involvement. He met the chef when Manzano came as a guest to the first Ibérica restaurant’s inaugural event and, as Fernandez Pardo puts it, he “jumped at the opportunity” to get him on board. The interest was mutual and Manzano soon became a minority shareholder. But Fernandez Pardo’s own personal traits have also undoubtedly helped the still relatively small restaurant group make a large impact on the Spanish restaurant scene – this year it is on course to report turnover well in excess of £7m..

Of course, Ibérica is not the only group making waves in this sector of the UK restaurant market. Fernandez Pardo calls Brindisa and Cambio de Tercio Group the grandparents of modern Spanish gastronomy here and names Barafina, Saltyard Group and Camino as compatriots in every sense.

He agrees that this movement has been a long time coming, blaming his native culture’s history under a dictatorship and centuries of immigration predominantly to Latin America, as opposed to the wealthier and more confident United States where many Italians settled, for the fact that its gastronomic light has spent so long under a bushel.

Fernandez Pardo observes that the British, too, are shy about their own gastronomy, despite having had the longest and most comprehensive access to ingredients from around the world, thanks to the days of the British Empire.

Perhaps the fact his own upbringing straddled both cultures helped Fernandez Pardo overcome the inherent reticence in selling their good points that he attributes to Spaniards generally. He first moved from North-Western Spain to England aged two; went back to Spain at the age of seven; moved to Madrid but came back to England every year when the Spanish schools broke up, spending a month in an English primary school to brush up on his language skills. His secondary and higher education years, studying an economics degree, were also spent in England. His Spanish accent now is all but imperctible, just poking through on certain words, but of course his native tongue is still fluent when speaking to the staff.

Fernandez Pardo first worked in an art gallery, then a European cultural magazine, then the record industry, eventually setting up an independent marketing and promotions company in that sector. E-commerce came next and when the IT bubble burst he came back to England intending to get back into the music business. He soon realised that would be hard work for little return in a shrinking market. As a customer he recognised there was a gap in the market in the then fledgling Spanish restaurant sector in the UK and set about filling it, working with his own family (principally his father Emilio, the main shareholder), and seeking other partners to help it come to fruition.

Ibérica Food & Culture was born. While Fernandez Pardo had no experience of the hospitality industry, he had the cultural understanding and emotional intelligence required plus the proven ability to set up and build a business. The first restaurant launched in London’s Great Portland street in 2008 and was almost immediately a hit with customers and critics alike (although Fernandez Pardo reckons that if he operated a restaurant in the way they first ran in today, it would not last six months – luckily he is a quick learner).

The real turning point, however, was in 2010 when Javier Fernandez Hidalgo, a Spanish food importer by trade who was originally appointed as managing director, left the business (which Fernandez Pardo stresses was a good thing although he remembers the process of getting to that point as painful and time-consuming). Fernandez Pardo took on the role with vigour, appointing renowned Spanish designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán to overhaul the branding and redesign every aspect of the décor; while also building a strong team culture and implementing robust structures to take the group forward.

Within a year of taking the helm EBITDA doubled. That year he also persuaded a number of key investors with vast industry experience to join the business - Jamie Kennell, a former non-exec director of Gordon Ramsay Interactive; Stephen Gee, the former chair of Carluccio’s, and Honorio Fernandez, ceo of La Alpargateria, the Madrid-based restaurant group, and also now managing director of StreetXO (more on which later). The second site opened at Canary Wharf in 2011 and was followed in 2013 by La Terraza – an open air eatery, which operates separately and seasonally, opposite the Canary Wharf restaurant.

Santander, the Spanish bank, agreed a £2m deal with the business for the opening of the smaller format Farringdon restaurant in April last year and the first outlet outside London, in Manchester’s Spinningfields development, which launched this March. A further £3m has just been agreed with the bank to get the next restaurant open in Victoria, London, in August and to convert a former auction house in Leeds into a large restaurant with the group’s first separate wine bar, due to open at a later date yet to be confirmed.

The move outside the capital came sooner than Fernandez Pardo ever originally imagined, thanks to the increasing rents being demanded in London (although he recognises other regions are now not far behind). While Fernandez Pardo says Manchester is currently the highest performing restaurant, doing 400-plus covers on the Friday before this interview, he is realistic enough to say he “wouldn’t count on it yet”, recognising the novelty factor and the high investment made - £1.6m compared to the usual cost of around £1.2m for an Ibérica.

The plan is to get to 10 restaurants by the end of 2016 and Fernandez Pardo has spent two years getting a solid support office team in place to achieve that. Places like Oxford and Cambridge are targets for the smaller model restaurant like Farringdon (where, incidentally, he is investigating the possibility of launching a kiosk-style outlet attached to the restaurant to serve hot chocolate-filled churros to commuters in the mornings), and Glasgow and Edinburgh are top of the list for the next full size Ibéricas.

Yet he expresses some frustration that the firm was not where it is now two years ago.

The pace is not likely to let up any time soon, but Fernandez Pardo thrives on it, relying on regular cigarette breaks during the day to keep him going and his cycle ride to work as his time to think.

Fernandez Pardo needs to work on the next three-year plan for the business before the company’s year-end in September. One thing it won’t include is a strategy to grow the deli side of the business – this makes up less than 10% of sales but Fernandez Pardo says increasing this would require a separate infrastructure, for which there are no plans.

In the meantime, he is also focussing on making cost savings with a view to increasing wage costs by 2% to help with staff retention. This will have to come from operations as food quality will not be compromised and the margins on that side are already tight, even with the savings gleaned from working directly with suppliers and producers.

As for the longer term, Fernandez Pardo is an investor in three other restaurant projects, two with his brother and all with Spanish chefs. He won’t discuss details but one is StreetXO, an Asian fusion street-style restaurant being opened in Mayfair later this year by Spanish chef David Muñoz, with the backing of Ibérica investor Honorio Fernandez, following the success of StreetXO Madrid.

Despite the variety in his early career, Fernandez Pardo is now fully committed to working in the restaurant sector, and with Ibérica for the foreseeable future. He says, however, that he is not the right man for the job if Ibérica truly fulfils the potential he wholeheartedly believes it has. This admission is given bluntly and without any sense that he is, in the typical Spanish style he talked about earlier, selling himself short – rather he is very aware of where his strengths lie.

“We have got 200 employees now but in one year, that will be more than double. I think Ibérica will reach a point when it needs someone who knows how to manage a company with 500-plus employees. That is not me.”