José Pizarro is without doubt one of my culinary idols and a chef who I have followed for a while now. I love his style of cooking because it’s all about the raw ingredients. Passionate about his native Spain and the region of Extremadura where he grew up, he reproduces hearty dishes from his childhood while making them fitting for a trendy, food conscious crowd on London’s Bermondsey Street. Boy if I could cook with Mr.Pizarro one day…
For his birthday this year, my sister Christie and I decided to treat our dad to a meal out at Pizarro restaurant (1 of the 2 restaurants José has on Bermondsey Street, from a total of 3 in London). I knew dad was also a fan of José’s cooking after a few appearances he made on Saturday Kitchen Live (he would always bring a plate of Jamón Ibérico and feed it to James Martin, it was amazing). Dad’s always loved Spanish cuisine: he loves the essence of tapas and the wine/sherry pairing opportunities it offers over the course of an evening.
I had high expectations for this one. Yes this was to mark a celebration, but it was also research for me to taste the dishes of a food hero. The parents and I popped down to London one humid Saturday afternoon in late August, picked up my sister from her home in North London (where she prepared some Aperol Spritz, a nice start) and headed straight down to SE1. No messing about.
José, I hope you get to read this review because I’ll say now: this was one of the finest meals I have eaten at a restaurant in both London…and Spain.
Really unique. There’s a Spanish essence with the tiles adorning the main counter and the Spanish you hear being communicated within the open kitchen (I loved that). At the same time, the décor is what I would describe as almost Swiss chalet. The interior is covered with this beautiful wooden tiling and there’s this large clock on one wall, one of those that you might see within a train station in Europe. I guess this unusual mix is a metaphor for the food to be had: authentic but tailored.
It doesn’t shout out at you, but a really nice touch is just behind the front door where there is a picture of José with his parents back on their farm in Extremadura. In the photo he is standing in the middle of them, embracing them both as if to say ‘this is where it all began.’ The restaurant is not massive but feels spacious. It’s somewhere I imagine feels quite cosy in winter while it’s airy in summer, with the floor to ceiling windows at the front of the restaurant open directly on to the street.
We arrived for our booking at 7, and it was quiet at this time for a Saturday. But it soon got busy, and the atmosphere was quite buzzing while always feeling relaxed. Food came pretty sharpish but we were never made to rush. I enjoyed the entire experience as I marvelled at what the chefs were producing in the kitchen.
Food & Drink
A wonderfully simple menu on one page that is carefully thought out. I know it was dad’s birthday and all, but I took the reins when ordering. We began with a gazpacho each, a very healthy portion with some pan tomate (tomato bread) served on this beautiful wholemeal sourdough. The gazpacho had the perfect substance and texture: not too thick, not too garlicky and with a light creaminess to it. I was surprised to see it served with Jamón Ibérico and croutons, as this is not typically done with gazpacho but with salmorejo. But hey, this is José’s restaurant and I ain’t arguing. This was accompanied by some Padrón peppers which, a staple in Spain, were always going to be good.
At this point, if I were in Spain I’d be moving on to the next place. Here, I was quite happy to stay put because the Cuttlefish with confit onions and hazelnuts arrived with the Gambas al Ajillo (garlic prawns). Again good portions. Apart from one piece of cuttlefish I ate that was a bit rubbery for my liking, the other pieces I had were melt in the mouth. The fish was salty, but the flavour was beautifully countered with the sweet onion and crunchy hazelnuts. Cuttlefish is something I ate every week while in Andalucía, and it was a joy to have it again, this time with a little twist.
Round 3, and the part I was most excited for. We ordered the Hake with potato, a dish I came across in José’s latest cookbook ‘Basque.’ It was enjoyable and the fish was cooked perfectly. However, the Bacalao with roasted tomatoes was something else. This Portuguese inspired dish again was beautifully cooked and you could tell the rich tomato stew had been cooking down for a while. I wiped the bowl clean with the bread, nothing was to be wasted. Finally arrived the lamb cutlets with aubergine crisp and purée (which reminded me of what I was eating in Greece a few months prior). I didn’t know what to expect because I had previously been living in a part of Spain where lamb was rarely served. It was exquisite and potentially my favourite dish. The lamb was juicy and tender and the purée went nicely with the aubergine crisp. It definitely had a Greekiness about it so 10 points José!
We were quite full at this point but we had to journey back to Brum so thought pudding was a good idea. We shared the chocolate pot and cream cheese ice cream. The pudding was the last thing on my mind when planning this meal, but the chocolate pot was rich and divine and the cream cheese ice cream felt homemade and surprisingly light.
A pleasure from the start. The team were attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. We actually had an Italian waitress who I initially mistook for Spanish because she was so good. They added to the experience and even let me have a picture next to head chef. Only downside was I didn’t get to meet José…