In late summer of 2011, half man, half tapas machine, José Pizarro finally opened up an eatery with his name above the door. Simply titled, ‘José’, the shoe box of a tapas bar opened to droves of salivating bloggers and regular folk alike. Their motivation being that Mr. Pizarro is singularly credited as the man that created our present day concept of what tapas is in London.
After learning his trade in Extremadura, then developing it at Meson de Doña Filo in Madrid, he then made the move to London. Years as the Chef Partner at Tapas Brindisa in Borough Market cemented a reputation which led to the opening of two more restaurants under the Brindisa banner. Then in 2011 came a one-two punch of back to back eponymous restaurants. Namely José which was shortly followed by Pizarro (which I’ll cover in another review). Both lie only minutes apart on Bermondsey St. just five minutes from José’s home. He can usually be found slicing Iberico jamon, helping in the kitchen and doing the rounds at Pizarro on a daily basis.
As the saying goes, “you get out what you put in”, and that is the foundation of José’s cooking. Well chosen ingredients presented simply; just cooked really well. There’s an unfettered purity to it.
Jamon Iberico Maldonado £9
Slices of jamon Iberico were generous; cut just thick enough to get some purchase on. Immediately the quality of the ham registered, as I recalled the last time I tried jamon Iberico elsewhere in London. It’s the same intensely sweet flavour, just more so.
There were Iberico croquetas that arrived searingly hot, with inners that had a texture like bechamel, though could have done with more prominent morsels of Iberico.
Prawns, chili, garlic £7.5
Prawns with chili and garlic were utterly huge, undeniably fresh and ideally cooked.
Hake, allioli £6
Hake is a fish José considers to be severely underutilised in the UK, with a lot of the British hake being exported to Spain for its higher fat content. A fillet of hake was so soft and moist and encased in a batter so light it could have been operating on lunar gravity. A topping of allioli was cool and creamy with a scattering of Spanish spices for added kick.
Pluma Iberica £9.5
There was a plate of pluma Iberica which is a cut from the trapezius area of the pig. The season just ended so I was lucky to have paid a visit just in a knick of time. Pork cooked rare in this way – closely resembling a beef steak – is an unusual sight to behold for Brits. Rest assured it is perfectly safe to eat and very tender just like beef that was cooked likewise.
Orange, chocolate pot £4
For dessert I had a trivial looking glass of orange chocolate mousse which was pretty rich and just the right side of being too dense.
The sprightly staff willingly came to my aid whenever I had a question. As the lunch shift was underway, the diminutive space swiftly packed-out with local workers who knew they were going to be well fed without cutting significantly into their day’s wages. This discrete tapas bar is open daily from noon until 10:30pm (except Sunday when it closes at 5:30pm). You can’t book, but to be honest you’ll get why when you see it. José is an ultra-casual street corner sherry bar that serves expectedly excellent tapas, and a fine first showing for the man who forged your idea of what tapas is.
food : 8/10
service : 8/10
ambience : 7/10
value : 9/10
104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3UB
020 7403 4902