I'm still sitting on a stack of photos and a post on Jose, Spanish chef Jose Pizarro's cosy and much beloved tapas bar on Bermondsey Street. But for right now I thought it more urgent to tell you about Pizarro, his brand new sit-down restaurant just a few doors down the same street, as they are offering a 50% soft launch discount until Sunday. And dress rehearsal or not, the food is pretty bloody stellar.
Babs and I sneaked out to Pizarro for a cheeky lunch yesterday (in part to celebrate Edible Experiences' first corporate gig sale, but really, I was going to snatch at any excuse) and the lovely renovated rustic space that used to be Bermondsey Kitchen had a first-day-of-opening nervous charm about it -- There was a guy fixing the door; Handsome Herve (front of house chief and Chef Jose's business partner) regularly briefing waiters and barmen with tips big and small, and Chef Jose himself making it a point to personally welcome anyone he recognised and regularly asking them for feedback as the meal progressed, in between goading his kitchen team on like a veteran cox.
We opened with ham and prawn croquettas (above). Be sure to eat them hot! I like these better than the blue-cheese spiked ones at Jose. And when I say I like them, what I mean is you could lay out a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of these croquettas between me and Hell, tell me where it leads, and I probably wouldn't resist.
We absolutely loved this beetroot cured salmon, served with capers and egg yolk. I have no idea if this is at all traditionally Spanish, but it's a spark of bloody genius between a pescatarian steak tartare and a very sophisticated Eggs Royale. The guy sitting across the bar from us loved this dish so much as well that he had to pipe up about it too: "I've known Jose for 6, 7 years now, and he just keep pulling them out of a hat!"
Our 3rd starter (I know, we're weak): Squid, potatos and allioli. When pushed for feedback the only thing I could come up with was that this dish could do with a sprinkle of parsley or paprika, but more for prettiness rather than taste. The squid hit that sweet spot of crunchiness just before the descent into chewiness that very few eateries manage.
And now to the mains. Babs had an absolutely stellar salt cod with potatos, vizcaina and capers. One of those moments where after you bite into it and and it's SO GOOD you can't even hog it, you turn to your partner and say "Holy shit you need to try this."
The meat was wonderfully firm, springy and bitey and had that wonderful seafood sweet-saltiness (I find a lot of restaurant fish fillets to be farmed and pre-processed to the point of blandness by the time they hit the dining table).
Chef Jose once told me that Spanish cooking is very easy, the magic is really to get good ingredients. I always take a chef's humility with a pinch of salt, but nevertheless I will definitely need to find out where he buys his cod...
Drawn in by the black cabbage and clams, I had the hake. I suspect some diners might find the gravy over salty, but I find hake to be a naturally bland fish, so the strongly flavoured gravy was a good balance for me.
And they definitely kept a hawkeye on those clams. All perfectly cooked but still tender, rather than chewy. Well done.
Back in August before renovation works kicked off, we snuck in for a training-period dinner, and tried the iberico fillet with mash and piquillo peppers. I remember absolutely loving the the deep flavour of the pork, but wasn't feeling any magic in the bog-standard looking mash. This dish was on the menu yesterday so I'd love to hear from someone who's tried it more recently.
And now onto desserts. Firstly, I am delighted to note that there are 5 desserts on the menu, compared to the usual 1 or at most 2 at Jose (and 1 of them is usually rice pudding with does absolutely nothing to get my pulse racing).
We had the chocolate, toast and hazelnut ice-cream. My grin got more and more idiotic as I watched Maria make it in front of us at her station at the bar. The menu description was already an easy sell for Babs. The realisation that this was going to be something really special despite its simplicity was watching Maria sprinkle on the salt flakes then drizzle on the olive oil.
At this point I really can't decide between telling you to keep reading or to just hurry up and drop everything and just bloody get over to Pizarro already...
Well for those of your who stayed: An irresistable Cava with pear sorbet. I was expecting maybe a splash or a spike, but no, Maria (the lovely lady in the background) just kept pouring and pouring and pouring! Lovely, light, bittersweet, naughty. I hope they experiment with berry and soft fruit sorbets in summer because this is going to be HUGE on a warm day.
Ok. Enough. NOW GO. Really.
194 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3TQ
No reservations, except for private room.