I met Jose Pizarro last year at my first We Feast. I got mildly over excited and asked him for a photo. He looked slightly bemused at the request but nevertheless obliged. At the time I had not eaten in either of his restaurants, so quickly made plans to visit Pizarro for my birthday later that month. It wasn’t until the day that I saw a tweet from him saying the restaurant was shut that night for renovations. I silently sobbed onto my keyboard, and then booked a table at one of my favourite restaurants, Moro. It was a lovely evening but I was gutted I didn’t get to try his fabled sweetbreads.
Anyway, almost a year later, I still hadn’t been to either, so when Seán suggested we went to Jose, I quickly said yes, and arranged to meet him there for a late lunch last Sunday (not the Murray final day, the one before. I’ve got behind in blogging).
As it was a glorious day I thought I would work up an appetite by walking along the river from Westminster. This was a lovely idea in theory, in practice, as soon as I stepped out of Westminster tube and into the swarm of people, I developed a violent case of tourist rage. WHY ARE YOU WALKING SO SLOWLY? IT’S ONLY A BLOODY CLOCK! LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING! I’m normally pretty nice to tourists. I get asked for directions quite often (I have an unintimidating face), and am more than happy to give them, or tell them their plan is rubbish and suggest a better one, but whether it was the heat, or just the sheer volume of them, I completely lost my cool and turned into the huffing elbowing type of Londoner I hate.
After a sweaty, slightly stressful, hour of walking I arrived at Jose on Bermondsey Street and was very thankful to be shown to a seat at the bar almost straight away. I ordered a bottle of chilled water (both still and sparkling is complimentary), and once re-hydrated took in my surroundings. The restaurant is small, with a tiny open kitchen in the corner, and on that day hot and packed full of people. It feels very authentically Spanish with a jamon hanging from the bare brick wall, dark wood wine racks, a cool marble bar and an upturned barrel serving as a table base. Add the sweat dripping down my back, the handsome chefs and waiters, and the elderly male customer with a red nose, straw fedora and classic sock / sandal combination, and I genuinely felt like I was on holiday.
While I waited for Seán (he was actually only 3 minutes late this time, possibly a record) I chatted to the barman about which sherry is a good one to try if you are somewhat of a sherry virgin. He suggested either the Fino Clásico or Manzanilla Clásica (both £4 a glass). When Seán arrived we ordered one of each to share. Both were light and dry, but I personally preferred the Manzanilla which was fresher and sharper, and had a slight saltiness to it from the vines having been grown near the coast. We then entered into a 10 minute, mildly fraught, discussion about what to order. After a long debate, and a few recommendations from the waiter, we ordered 6 dishes to share.
First to arrive were the golden croquetas (£6), the thin crunchy coating giving way to a creamy inside made simply from spinach and a bechamel sauce so rich I could have sworn it has cheese in it. The generous wedge of tortilla (£4), which I had previously had at his pop-up at Hay Festival, was delicious, with the paprika sprinkled yellowy eggs holding together thin slivers of potato. How does he get two such basic ingredients to taste this good? The pan con tomate (£3.50) was slightly disappointing, but then anything that relies heavily on the flavour of the tomatoes used is bound to be, anywhere away from the Mediterranean. The bread was very soft and chewy though. The fresh tiger prawns (£7.50) were served tossed in chunks of sweet garlic and thick strips of fiery chilli. The seabream (£8) was lightly pan-fried with red peppers and tiny pieces of salty, chewy jamon. The quality and cooking of the fish was excellent. My favourite dish however, was one of the waiter’s recommendations, secreto Iberico (£8). The meat, which is cut from the shoulder of the pig, was very very lightly cooked (almost raw), and then sprinkled with sea salt, and a liberal amount of fruity olive oil. It was so simple, but so incredibly delicious, that Sean and I spent the 5 minutes it took to eat it batting away each other’s forks. We finished off with a slice of heavenly peach and cherry tart (£4), and two coffees (con leche for me, no leche for him).
(Apologies for the lack of photos in this post. I took photos of all our dishes but was clearly in such a rush to tuck in, I didn’t check whether they were in focus, and well, most weren’t. I will do better next time!)
I left wondering why I have not eaten there every single week since I moved to London. Seriously. I cannot wait to go back. Neither can Seán, but that might be more to do with the handsomeness of one of the chefs than anything else. Afterwards we walked further along the river to Tower Bridge (luckily this stretch is much less touristy), and ended up at the most perfect cocktail bar. But more on that later…