Friday, 24 May 2013

Jose Pizzaro: Spanish Simplicity

Spain has a long and inspiring culinary history, every province resonates with such a clear cultural identity, forged from a mixture of nature, politics history and the available ingredients. Cantabria with its amazing boquerones, Castilla y León and it's superlative Iberico pork and Valencia with its paella. There's a vibrancy and passion for food that matches both France and Italy, yet is given far less credit by the external food community. While Spain boasts some of the highest ranked restaurants in the world: El Cellar de Can Roca being named the best in 2013, Mugartiz (4th), Arzak (8th) and of course the previously imperious El Bulli; a Spaniard has never even ranked in the top 3 at the fabled Bocuse D'or and the country has only half as many three starred Michelin restaurants as those sausage-eating, sauerkraut-loving Germans.


I have to admit, I too was late in appreciating the pleasures of Spanish cooking. When you visit Spain the respect for domestically grown produce is evident and so is the divine worship of all things pig. Produce export is pretty much the only thing currently holding up the Spanish economy, half the fruit and vegetables in supermarkets in this country as from Spain. Salamanca, a city I have visited many times, is around three hours west of Madrid and deep in jamon country. The city has a street full only of tapas places, each specialising in one dish. We traveled up and down the street sampling plates for a few euros a pop and the complimentary half pint. Glorious suckling pig, gooey croquettas, fiery patatas bravas, octopus, fried solomillo on bread. The fun also came from the genuine social focus that revolves around tapas-style eating. Its just as much about catching up with friends as it is about food, and while the food plays a background role in their evenings they appreciate far more than they appear to (the opposite for some places in London).

Tapas places in the UK used to be hard to come by with La Tasca sadly being most peoples initial foray into El Cocina. Now, like most things, us Londoners are spoilt by Barrafina, Moro, Donostia and Jose Pizzarro bringing some serious class to the area. Jose Pizzaro has two restaurants on Bermondsey Street both named after him. Jose is a standing joint, much more in line with something you'd find in Spain while Pizzaro is a more formal sit down affair. Tapas is an inherently sociable eating format and sitting at private tables only serves to cut you off and dull the atmosphere, saying that Pizzarro keeps bar-side stools and some communal benches which retains a sense of community. I've been to both places half a dozen times and luckily I don't live nearby as it's one of those places I would find myself in far too often mid-week for some jamon and a sherry.

Squid with diced tomatoes and potato puree

The menus are similar up to a point, both have tapas-style small plates, however the second half of Pizzarro's menu is dedicated to slightly larger, more complex plates. Most dishes are fantastic with the odd mis-fire thrown in. Both places have constantly changing menus and a specials board which showcases the freshest ingredients the chefs got their hands on. There are too many dishes to describe so I'll list my favourites:

Jose's crunchy, gooey, salty croquettas studded with pearls of jamon or beef are some of the best I've ever had both in Spain and the UK. Pizzarro offers a more subtle cod fritter which although are moorish lack a bit of seasoning. Pane con tomate (Jose) is a soggy burst of acidic freshness whose intense flavours always surprise me. Any squid dish I've had at either joint has been fantastic, be it the garlic flecked squid with wine (J) or the planches squid with diced tomato and patato puree (P). The scallops too sing with freshness and perfectly cooked. The real prize though is the iberico pork cooked on the planche and served rare/medium-rare served only at Jose. Its ruby red like beef and served simply dowsed in oil and salt. The flavours are hard to describe as it doesnt really taste like pork as we know it in this country. Its a deeper flavour than normal, more intense and nutty. Its like a slice of fillet steak crossed with the flavour of a pork chop. Truly extraordinary and one of my most favourite things to eat in London.

Less impressive were the ox cheeks at Pizarro. The sauce lacked depth of flavour and for £16 seems a little steep. Tripe, whose name was translated as 'beef belly stew' by the waitress surprised me as I assumed some sort of casserole. Luckily it was actually pretty tasty, in a slightly spongey sort of way. Deserts are a weakness in my opinion. The salt chocolate was a bit over the top with the salt and the Santiago tart while initially delicious became a little sickly near the end.

Both Jose and Pizzarro, and indeed Jose himself are great additions to the Spanish cooking scene in London. His are a step above Brindisa and most certainly La Tasca and have a more relaxed, community feel than Barrafina. To me Jose exemplifies social eating more so than almost anywhere else in London. The food is rather special too.

Jose -104 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UB. Nearest tube: Northern line London Bridge
Pizzarro - 194 Bermondsey Street SE1 3TQ. Nearest tube: Northern line Bermondsey/London bridge

Food: 8/10
Value: 8/10

Some more Jose pictures:
Iberico Jamon cooked on the Planche - Amazingly good
Beef Croquettas
Padron peppers
Pane con tomate
Patas Bravas
Chocolate with salt

Some more Pizzarro pictures:
Complimentary Bread and Chorizo
Deep Fried Sweetbreads with Mustard Mayo
Beef Cheeks and Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes,  Pomegranates and Manchego
Cod Croquettas

Santiago Tart
José on Urbanspoon Pizarro on Urbanspoon Square Meal Square Meal

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