8 June 2011
104 Bermondsey Street
020 7403 4902
It’s rare that I get to be wholeheartedly enthusiastic about a restaurant. So here goes, steel yourself for some unrepentant gush – I loved it.
No ifs, no buts, no “could have been pinker in the middle”, no hesitations, no reservations (really, you can’t make a reservation), Bermondsey Street’s latest foodie addition, José, was the best and most enjoyable restaurant I’ve reviewed in some time. And it did it all so effortlessly.
Shoe-horned into the corner of Morocco Street in an old sandwich shop, José is the first solo venture of the co-founder and executive chef of Brindisa at Borough Market, one José Pizarro. It’s billed as a sherry bar on José's website, it’s small, with space for only 30 at a time, but it is all the better for it.
It is clichéd to even contemplate the phrase “a little piece of (insert country) in Bermondsey,” but I am. José manages to capture the atmosphere and the friendly jostle of a tapas bar in Spain, more so than any other I’ve been to, with windows slightly steamed, packed with noisy locals, and fresh, delicious food.
My girlfriend and I arrived on Saturday night and were met by the affable host, whose job it seemed to be to manage chaos. Somehow he navigated guests through a mêlée of elbows, backs and bottoms, to seats otherwise undiscovered.
As we waited for ours to become available we poured over the menu and had a drink. It's a simple list of around 20 dishes, with the bonus of some specials written on the blackboard and almost as many sherries and wines to try.
Sherry is big business in Spain and with the rise of tapas in the UK it is becoming bigger than ever.
Gone are the days of sneaking a crafty swig of warm Bristol Cream when nan's not looking. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from, ranging from the fresh and dinosaur-bone-dry Manzanillas to a Pedro Ximinez, which is so unctuous and sweet you can pour it over ice-cream.
I tucked into my first glass of the dry stuff as we sat down, knee to knee with another couple, and ordered the food. Part of the reason I love tapas is the relaxed atmosphere; the other is the fun of it. Instead of a normal meal where you must choose two savoury dishes, with tapas you could have eight!
That's eight times you can be impressed and excited - it might be the closest men can get to a multiple orgasm. Perhaps I'm overstating the case, but you get my point.
The interior is all old looking beams, white walls and bar stools - there's not a traditional table in sight. You're either in the window or at the bar talking to the chefs. It’s tight but manages to be friendly, cosy, and enjoyable.
We sat in the restaurant for more than an hour, trying several dishes, and every one of them was lovely. The clams in a wine and spec sauce were perfect with the sherry, and the Iberico ham – cut from pigs fed only on acorns – was delicious. But it was the staggeringly big prawns that were the out and out winners.
They had been taken from the bar top fridge and cooked in chilli, they were slightly sweet, incredibly juicy, and as I tore them to pieces in a frenzy of legs and heads I'm sorry to say that I made an awful mess of my shirt.
For pudding my girlfriend had a chocolate mousse so intensely chocolaty even she couldn't finish it and I had some fresh strawberries and cherries with a cerise reduction. It was a good note to end on and we teetered home with full tummies and happy in the knowledge that we had found another favourite. (Word is José is planning to open a bigger restaurant in the Borough area called Pizarro – can’t wait.)
In recommending José I should warn those who want a formal dinner, possibly in a hushed beige restaurant, hungry for three courses of big food and a quiet chat, to stay away. It might not be for you. But it was my ideal dinner. It’s bubbling with fun and people enjoying a good night out; the food is excellent, as is the service, the drinks, and the
Go and try it. Wait for a table if you have to. And make sure you have the prawns.
(Told you it would be gushing.)
1. At 12:33 PM on 12 Jun 2011, Dominic wrote:
We went to José yesterday with a couple of friends and had a fantastic time. I've never seen anywhere like this is the UK. It was like being in a tapas bar in Barcelona. The atmosphere was unique. The food was perfect, really delicious (especially the huge gambas) and it was great to try some sherry with the food. We loved it and will be back!
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