An unwillingness to share food has marred many an experience of tapas until recently. So our new coping strategy? Over-order and hope for the best. Which was easy at José Pizarros new sherry bar in Bermondsey, because we wanted everything, in large amounts. Having had it, we want it again soon.
Pizarro co-founded the tapas restaurant offshoot of Borough Markets Brindisa deli, and this is his first solo venture. Another, larger restaurant, will open nearby shortly. Itll definitely be larger because it couldnt be any smaller. At José you perch by a ledge by a window, wall or bar, or stand around a barrel. This isnt somewhere to linger for hours, its for grazing, in authentic Spanish style. You pop in (you cant book and its consistently full), have a glass of sherry and a couple of plates, and move on. Its also the last place in London that anyone with any consideration would think to wheel a large pram with a screaming baby, but the day I went, someone had clearly taken leave of their senses. Fay Maschler took a seat as we were leaving, and Joe Warwick visited twice in the same day, which is of course far more significant than the actions of an entirely deluded yummy mummy. But still Anyway: out with anger, in with lovingly prepared tapas.
We know its wildly fashionable, and all, but sherry really hasnt been our thing until now. A soft, wonderfully caramel Valdespino Viejo Palo Cortado, however, was just what the Jamon Ibérico called for. Here was a plate and a glass that were clearly so much more than good friends. José imports his own Jamon Ibérico, and this is the best youll taste in London, enhanced by that aforementioned sherry no end. The Ibérico is an intense red, slightly sweet, and comes almost imperceptibly warmed as it should do to enhance the streaks of fat. Its utterly sublime. Even better was a special of Pluma Ibérico, which is the missing link between the flavour of pork belly and cured leg. Its a rare (in both senses) cut from the armpit of the pig, and its one of the most sumptuous things weve eaten in years.
Apparently they change the croqueta regularly at José, and on our visit it was a delicate and moreish blue cheese variety. Good though it was, wed also like to visit when the crab and basil one is back on. A bowl of small, soft and rich chorizo sausages in red wine was exemplary. (Supermarkets take note: chorizo-style doesnt cut it.) Technique aside, Pizarros genius is in sourcing the very best produce in Europe. These are simple small plates, with no alchemy or molecular shenanigans. The other plate we fell wildly in love with was a mix of peas and chorizo with a poached egg and little bits of bread fried, seemingly, in chorizo oil; an easy and accessible dish, but powerful and entirely fantastic. The only thing we didnt enthuse entirely about was a hake dish in aioli. The fish itself was more than fine big chunky flakes of flavour but with its slightly spongy coating, it was so slightly airline. Still, it was very posh, turn-left-on-boarding airline; not scratch-card Ryanair.
This stretch of Bermondsey has been a more sophisticated sibling to Shoreditch since long before Hoxton happened, thanks to its early colonisation by the likes of Andrew Logan and Zandra Rhodes. Now, with José Pizarro joining Zucca, the Garrison and Village East, its established itself as one of the best quarters for casual but world-class dining in the capital. If you dont know it, go and discover it at the earliest opportunity.
The ELLEuk Score
Good for: Quick bite after work; Pre-theatre; First date; Romantic; Work lunch/dinner
Style of food: Spanish/tapas
Prices and Other Details at José
Address: 104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UH
Average price per person for two course meal without wine: £15 (three small plates)
Set menu: None
Price of bottle house wine: £18, Casa Maria, Verdejo, Castilla y León (white); El Tesoro, Monastrell/Shiraz, Jumilla (red).
Price of glass house wine: £5, as above.
Price glass house champagne: None - Babot Brut Nature NV Cava available, £6.
Price bottle house champagne: None - Babot Brut Nature NV Cava available, £25.
Private dining? No
Outside dining? No
Bar? For diners
Best tables? There arent any tables as such. The counter tables offer the best views of Pizarro in action in the kitchen, but the counter by the door looking out onto Bermondsey Street makes for brilliant people-watching.
Who goes? Local Bermondsey fashion, architecture and artist types.
Nearest tube: London Bridge
Looking for somewhere a little more formal? See all our restaurant reviews.