José Pizarro

In another of my posts you’ll have read my review on José’s in Bermondsey Street. Whilst I was there devouring his dishes, he popped in to say hello. Ever the journalist, I seized the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

It always been José’s dream to open his own restaurant and have a ham hanging from the ceiling. He wanted to create a place where people can come and go, eat, drink, and waste a day. Well, it’s clear that his dream is well on the way to coming true.

He’s got his tapas bar in Bermondsey Street, not just the one ham but three, and he chose SE1 because he lives in the area and loves it, he saw the opportunity and seized it with both hands.

He credits his mother, and both grandmothers for his love of food and his Spanish mentor Julio Reoyo and David Eyre. José worked with Michelin-starred chef Julio at El Meson de Dona Filo in Madrid. When he came back to London he worked for the Eyre brothers – both he says changed the way he cooked – forever.

Seasonality is his thing, he grew up on a small farm in a small town in Cacares, Extremedura, a part of Spain like any other where good, simple food is cooked, His parents were, unsurprisingly, farmers and there’s a fantastic picture in his first cook book of all three together. He grew up smelling and handling the food grown on the farm and so it’s inherent it’s reflected in his cooking. So he’s got a very strong opinion on eating out of season, importing asparagus from Peru it’s simply wrong but everyone’s doing it and as a result we’re destroying our world.

If you don’t own ‘José’s Seasonal Spanish Food’ then go treat yourself its more than a recipe book. It’s almost a journal of his life, a wonderful food journey with the watchwords, seasonality, simplicity, locality and above all love. His enthusiasm for good quality seasonal ingredients is infectious and jumps out from each page and he’s exactly like that when we meet.. He takes food, season by season, exploring his favourite ingredients the result of which are his simple recipes. The book is interspersed with Spanish tales of days gone by.

José’s in Bermondsey is what he calls “a corner of Spain in Bermondsey Street” and you’ll see from my review he’s cracked it all ways around. It feels Spanish too, from the moment you cross the threshold. It’s those hams, the draft lager on tap, the bare brick walls, marble and ornate tiled bar, and the overwhelming smell of garlic and fresh tomatoes being cooked.

So, what was the reason behind the specially selected wine list? One wine can destroy a meal, the acidity from the food paired with the acidity from the wine can make good food awful with one sip. Is it a case of re-educating diners? No, more teaching. Sherry for one thing is so I under-rated, people think it’s a Granny’s drink but it’s not. This wine list was created by two masters with the food in mind. The staff know the food and drink menu well so if you don’t, be swayed.

People want quality and they want simplicity. For instance, my ham is expensive but people want quality and they want flavour. To watch that plate of ham leave my kitchen, to watch the diner taste that piece of meat and, watch them smile and say wow means more to me than anything.

Up next is the restaurant ‘Pizarro’ he loves José the tapas bar but as a chef he needs to have a restaurant. It’s not just about tapas and it’s not just about paella, it’s not just about fine dining he’s going to create a local restaurant and out of the kitchen will come amazing, simple dishes. Lucky old foodies South of the River.

His team are as important as him. Whilst his name is above the threshold it has to be, it’s his place but he says him without them and he’s nothing. Now I liked José from the moment he came in and greeted me like a long lost friend and after hearing him speak of his staff so well I like him just a little bit more.

It’s not just the Olympics to look forward to in 2012, José’s second cook book is being published in May. his first book dedicated to his mother and father, and all the family and friends who helped make his career a success. This book will look at five regions of Spain, north, east, central, south and the islands.

So what’s the one dish that sums up José’s heritage? Gazpacho, pure and simple. He talks with real fondness as if it was only yesterday. His mother collecting tomatoes, cooking the dish all day for him to go to the fridge in the searing heat, take out a jar containing the fruits of her labour, and drink it the simplicity and quality of the dish refreshing and filling.

Does he miss Spain? Of course he misses friends and family, he thinks he sounds crazy when he tells me he doesn’t miss the country but he’s just so happy here in London.

And what can we expect from the restaurant? Well, it’s under wraps for the moment but what I can reveal is there will be Spanish tapas cookery lessons, wine tastings and food pairing.

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In the shadow of the shard a neighbourhood tapas bar is enjoying great success. Measured, certainly on my visit, by those being turned away at the door, and later discovering that one meaty Bellota ham lasts just two days. So lucky to have José Pizarro, former head chef of the Brindisa restaurants, living in the area, locals and those who enjoy brilliant tapas are now reaping the rewards of the first José in Bermondsey Street.

Don’t confuse this with the hundreds of tapas eateries in London knocking out mediocre dishes. This is something else, it wouldn’t look out of place in any Spanish city and it’s the kind Spaniards come to rely on at the end of their street to meet up with friends without the formality of a full blown sit down meal.

The space is a delight, serving food, wine and sherry. You cant just pop in for a glass of wine, it’s not big enough for starters I’d say just enough room to swing that black hoofed Bellota, and their license does not allow it. So it’s strictly tapas and drink. The space though has been used to full effect and I marvel that four chefs manage to work in such a confined area.

The menus – one for food, the other wines selected by Master of Wines Tim Atkin and Jo Ahearne – are small but perfectly formed. Sherry from Jerez and Malaga, white, red, rose and Cava all chosen with care to match the dishes on offer. Sherry is for life and not just for Christmas, and my opinion of the drink changed after going to a wedding in a Vejer Bodegas. So, I appreciate a good glass of fino and so should you. Here, you don’t need any wine knowledge whatsoever, Valentina Cesario guided me through drink and food coupling and I started off with not one but two glasses of sherry. La Gitana is a Spanish favourite dry as a bone and from the house of Hidalgo, a well-respected house in the Coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Extremely pale with a notable sea-saltiness. The Pastrana, however, won me over, aged over 12 years in American oak barrels; this is light, crisp, with a salty tang.

Valentina at work

I tried everything they could throw at me, all my pictures are half-sized tapas, but that’s simply because I wanted to try everything and I was eating alone.

The smoked beef, is a welcome dish for those who aren’t keen on pork.

The croquetas (£6.00) were small balls of hammy cheesiness. No one overpowering flavour, delivered in a light breadcrumb coating. Each day, a different flavour, cheese and crab.

I had to pinch myself when the ham (£9.00) arrived. José buys prize-winning pork and ham from Manuel Maldonado in Extremadura; it’s the best ham in the world because it comes from the best pig in the world. Fed on acorns from pure breed parents and cured for a minimum of twenty-four months you really can taste no finer. My razor thin strips of marbled ham coupled with the red Cal Pla Garnacha was exquisite.

The next arrival was peas, poached egg, migas and chorizo (£6.00). I think the picture does it justice, onion, crouton and chorizo fried to a perfect crisp, sweet oozing garlic and a golden yolk that brought it all together.

France has ratatouille, Italy has Ciambotta and Spain has Pisto. It’s a traditional summer vegetable dish, with a deep tomato base to which aubergine, courgette, onion, garlic and pepper are added. José serves his with a well-fried duck egg, which gives the dish a welcome crunch and the yolk, when broken, cooks a little from the heat of the stew below.

Just when I think the dishes can’t get any better the sea bream arrives. The daily specials board is the measure of any good Spanish tapas bar and today’s Sea Bream with Orange and Black Olives (£7.50) stands the test. A perfectly cooked sea bream fillet crunches as the sweetness of soft oranges strike out against the saltiness of the black olives and fish. No pith in sight as the oranges have been handled by the orange peeling fairies.

Another blackboard special, squid and romesco sauce (£7.50) is another triumph. A terracotta dish is full of delicious squid topped with a piquillo pepper and almond Romesco sauce. Not whizzed in a blender to a pulp but enough bite and crunch to determine the ingredients.

It’s transparent José has picked his staff well, he tells me when we get to chat later, that without his staff he’d be nothing. An unpretentious man who clearly knows the worth of those he employs and his head chef Javier Capella (formerly of the now closed El Faro) is no exception.

I ended my meal on the most magnificent high. The final special I was to try was the Pluma Iberica (£9.00) cooked ‘poco hecho’. But I had to question whether medium rare pork, was normal. The provenance and the fact the pig is fed on 100% acorns was enough to convince me. It’s a fatty cut of Ibérico pork from between the top loin and the presa, served on a plump piquillo pepper. There are no adjectives to do this dish justice, just try it.

I didn’t try the albondigas, they looked just how Spanish meatballs are meant to, nor did I try the Padron peppers. I think those were the only two dishes I didn’t get around to devouring but I have since been back and can confirm they are worth ordering.

I’ll let you know if the restaurant’s as good as the tapas bar when it opens.

Update: October 2011 – Jose received a Bib Gourmand from Michelin for the tapas bar. Congratulations, to him and the team for a well earned accolade.
José on Urbanspoon

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Serious Pig

When I’m asked to review meat products (and if you’re reading foodie PRs who specialise in flesh) I rarely turn these opportunities down.

“Serious Pig” is a relatively new British company, whose idea for snacking salami was thought up over a couple of pints and a few less-than-mediocre snacks down the local.

Thank goodness then that their longing for a tasty snackette produced a classic “slim” salami. This is no foil in a sock wrapped stick of pig fat. It’s a glamorous looking slim salami which, whilst made in Britain, tastes very European. I was sent the classic with cracked black peppercorns, just enough to differentiate the herbs and spices but enough to give it a nice depth of peppery bite.

If you think that making salami is easy, well think on. No, it’s not just a case of making a sausage and hanging it from the ceiling, it takes a little bit of well, a little bit more skill. You need to know your fermentation from your bloom and the fellas behind this clearly do.

What I like about this product is the producers care about where their meat comes from. Their pork is from happy pigs and traceable and anyone who wants to move away from intensive farming gets my support. So, if you’re serious about your pork snacks, want to support our British artisans, want free-range porkie perfection with traceable provenance try Serious Pig.

Each Air Dried Salami is £2.00 and is available online via stockists on their website. http://www.seriouspig.co.uk/

Oh, they also make a smoked paprika with a pinch of chilli flakes. I didn’t get sent those as they were “out of stock”. Which doesn’t surprise me.




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Rodizio Rico

It’s true, not just an off-the-cuff statement or a great marketing ploy. When the restaurant Rodizio Rico claims, “no craving is too large” they mean it. On my visit, I don’t think I’ve been offered, or eaten, so much meat before in my life. And, surprisingly I discovered my inner cavewoman a lot more easily than I thought. I had the chicken hearts, more fillet than I could shake an industrial skewer at and still kept the meat arriving at my table. It was the food fiesta that just kept on giving.

The idea behind this Brazilian chain is to give London diners an authentic Brazilian “churrascaria de rodizio”. Not having been to South America I can’t say whether they’ve ticked that box in terms of authenticity, however, for a truly unique dining experience they seem to have cracked it.

Different types of meat are cooked in a Josper Grill on girder-like skewers. These are then taken by passadors (meat carvers) from table-to-table. They slice the meat onto your plate – the only thing you have to do is hold a set of tongs to catch what falls and a knife and fork to eat it. Choose from lamb, beef, pork, chicken, and the speciality … wait for it, chicken hearts. Cooked just how you like it from the cuts that have just finished moo-ing to those who like their’s well done.

Each diner is given a drinks mat-sized disc one side red (for stop) the other green (for go). The idea is you spin the disc to reveal whether you want to eat more or less. I don’t think at any point my disc showed red. I ate everything that came to the table, paused for no one and watched as my hosts and fellow diners jaws hit the table.

If you’ve got room, there’s also a salad bar, lots of grated vegetables, bread, chilli-laden dressings and, what must be a Brazilian delicacy, hard-boiled eggs.

Now, I’m not quite sure where I found my appetite, the energy or the barefaced cheek to keep going, but I did.

This is a great place to meet a bunch of friends, you can eat-all-you-like for what I think is a bargain £23.50, vegetarians are catered for but to be totally honest with you I think they’d have a lousy time. This is for the pure carnivore.

They also know how to mix a mean drink. A Strawberry Caipirinha (£6.80) and the Brazilian national Cocktail the Caipirinha (£6.00) I tried did not skimp on the booze and were reasonably priced.

I think I forgot to mention the caramelised pineapple – my goodness – it was delicious – no need for the ice cream, the sugar brought to the perfect temperature in the grill made for a terrible naughty but welcome palate cleanser.

I decided against the puddings – thank the Lord I started to actually feel incapable of walking to the tube I was so full – although the condensed milk crème caramel looked like a wobbly bowl of gorgeousness (£4.80).

You can find Rodizio Rico at Fulham Broadway, the O2, Islington and Westbourne Grove.

I went to the Fulham Broadway branch – nearest tube Fulham Broadway

11 Jerdan Place, Fulham Broadway, London SW6 1BE
T: 020 7183 6085

Rodizio Rico on Urbanspoon

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It’s the oldest, prettiest and probably the best-marketed shops in the whole of France. A double fronted shop full of cakes and pastries on one side and nougat and chocolate on the other. Everything screams, “eat me” through the glass and it’s no wonder that since 1761 Meert has supplied royalty and the VIP sweet-toothed the world over. Their speciality is the waffle or gaufre, and it’s filled with Madagascar vanilla cream. It sounds sweet, it is sweet, and each bite leaves you needing another, but you just have to try them because it’s the law.

To the rear of the shop, there’s a tearoom and an expensive one at that. So, be warned you will pay a lot for a pot of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cake and ice cream sundaes. If you don’t mind spending 30 Euros on coffee or tea and a couple of cakes, this is a must, if you don’t then buy a cake in the shop to eat elsewhere.

However, if you want to sit down, enjoy what truly is an incredible work of art in the shape of a patisserie, and soak up the atmosphere, then I’d wholly recommend spoiling yourself. The tearoom is very pretty, all white tablecloths and silver cutlery, serving an equal mix of locals and tourists. The courtyard is a beautiful spot, made better with the sunshine, and there’s plenty to gaze at the interior is a large room with a side addition of a conservatory.

The tea menu was long and varied; coffees of various descriptions and their popular liquid chocolate drink were all on offer.

The cakes we tried were what can only be described as some of the best I’ve ever eaten. A lemon meringue ‘bomb’ is made with love and care by the hands of the cake fairy.   A thin biscuit base is topped with thick lemon cream filling and when cut with a fork reveals a small amount of sponge and the most fragile meringue layer.

The apple cake was another matter. Imagine a toffee apple without the mess. The fluffiest toffee mousse atop the lightest sponge sandwich, in there somewhere, is a dense apple filling and the whole creation topped off with a faux apple and a thin chocolate sail.

There is a food menu, I didn’t try it, and you don’t go to Meert to sample their version of the Caesar salad, you need to try LA.

Meert: 27 rue Esquermoise, Lille

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