Sunday, 17 July 2011
José - London
My relationship with Spain, (or ‘España’ as us people more au fait with it’s ways like to call it, I mean – look, I’ve even used a frigging wiggly accent mark) has matured as I’ve grown older, especially my relationship with it’s food.
As a young man, oft visiting Spain on holiday, I was indifferent to their fine culinary culture and traditions. Dining? Well when I wasn’t seated in a plastic stackable chair in a beachfront café scoffing knock off versions of British dishes, with the obligatory mound of chips and bemoaning the lack of ‘decent sausages and bacon’, I could probably be found in a McDonalds, contentedly tucking into a ‘taste of home’ in a completely non-ironic fashion. I was the epitome of a Philistine and looking back I’m almost embarrassed at how unsophisticated I was in my tastes.
Fast forward 20 odd years, and I stand before you a sophisticated gastronome. A seasoned culinary traveller. Some might say handsome and rugged and I have often been accused of being sensitive and perhaps far too intelligent and impossibly beautiful. It’s a cross I have to bear. But the point is, nowadays I’d no sooner eat pseudo British food abroad than casually take a bite out of my own hand and wash it down with a swig of warm fruity, vintage urine. (I think you’ll all agree, the age is important).
All of which leads me to new Bermondsey Spanish tapas bar José (well not all, ignore the tucking into hands and the imbibing of piss bit, you silly).
It’s good, bloody good in fact. Which isn’t entirely surprising as José Pizzaro, ex head chef of the cracking Tapas Brindisa and extremely nice bloke, is running the show.
It’s certainly one of the most authentic tapas bars you’re going to find in London. It’s small. A short bar runs down one side, with a very compact but beautifully put together open kitchen at one end. There are a couple of tables, some barrels and a few stools lining the bar. A few Jamón swing lazily from the ceiling, a glass chiller cabinet built into the counter displays spankingly fresh fish. A chalkboard announces a handful of specials based on what’s available that morning at nearby Borough Market. That’s it. Entirely authentic in it’s simplicity and the freshness of the ingredients. There’s no booking, it’s very much first come, first served and not unsurprisingly, by all accounts it’s been absolutely packed since it opened a few weeks ago.
‘E’ and I turned up as the doors opened for lunch at 12 o’clock, and straight away pounced on the large central table whilst almost simultaneously ordering a chilled glass of Fino. I love, love, love a nice glass of cold dry sherry, Fino or Manzanilla purlease. It’s the absolute perfect accompaniment to tapas, and happily at José, there’s a nice selection on the wine list.
At this point our friends arrived for lunch, and we promptly ploughed into ordering . Between the six of us we managed to cover a hell of a lot of ground, and spanked the menu heavily.
To begin, a plate of salted Marcona almonds were the perfect nibble to accompany our second glass of sherry. Quickly followed up by a cracking slice of Tortilla.
As I’ve got older, the intense fishy saltiness of anchovy has grown on me. Boquerones in cava vinegar (Fresh anchovy fillets marinated in vinegar until they become white) that we were served at José were by far the best I’ve ever tasted. Subtly meaty and tangy. Absolutely cracking.
A glass of gazpacho with crab from the specials board was phenomenal. I could have eaten it all day long. It was probably one of the best things I ate, and if you go there I urge you to order it.
Not far behind in terms of sheer enjoyment, hake with allioli. A perfectly light, almost ethereally battered piece of fish with a generous accompanying dollop of rasping creamy garlic tang. Superb.
About this point, we started to crack into the Manzanilla – did I mention how much I love sherry?
The croquetas which, when bitten into slowly oozed liquid béchamel and ham were beautifully done.
A generously heaped plate of mackerel escabeche followed, and although not one of my favourite dishes was very good in its fresh clean tangy taste.
A cracking bowl of patatas bravas draped with dual slicks of allioli and a smoky brava sauce are incredibly moreish. I could sit and drink gallons of sherry whilst picking at these for hours.
Lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce are good; although the accompanying toasted bread feels perhaps a bit redundant in that it’s far too thin and crisp to mop up the accompanying sauce in a satisfactory manner. Or maybe, that's just me.
From the special board again, chicken livers in Oloroso are excellent. The sweetness of the sherry complimenting the subtle soft, almost smoky taste of the livers fantastically well.
Also from the specials board, sardines cooked simply with lemon and parsley are delicious. I’m not normally a massive fan of oily fish, but these are obviously incredibly fresh and I’m surprised how much I enjoyed picking at them.
Saving one of the best dishes until last, once again, from the specials board – Pluma Iberica. A plate of thickly sliced, charred and salted pork loin cut from just about the best quality acorn fed pig you can eat. To be honest, its surprisingly rare appearance gave the impression of a good steak, and upon munching on a piece; it was decidedly strange to experience the taste of pork instead. It’s definitely worth ordering if you fancy trying something different.
Finishing up the sherry theme with a sneaky glass of PX, we decided against ordering puddings. José is admirably authentic in that the Spanish don’t really go big on desserts. As such, simple dishes, such as a bowl of seasonal fruit with a splash of sherry feature.
Leaving José’s a bit unsteadily, something to do with the gallons of Manzanilla we’d necked, we decided to head to Soho and the rather excellent Gelupo Gelateria for something sweet. It’s the first time I’ve been. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re in the area. The ice creams and sorbets are bloody amazing, and surprisingly reasonable considering the central location. Just so you know, because I’m sure you’re wondering, I had summer pudding sorbet with an accompanying scoop of cherry and yoghurt ice-cream and it cost just three quid.
Whilst I was licking the remnants from my tub of ice-cream and thoughtfully biting on the wafer, I considered lunch at José’s.
It was really enjoyable. The food is supremely simple, authentic, rustic and fresh. It has a great, relaxed vibe, and it all feels extremely close to the experience of dining out in say, somewhere like Barcelona. If I lived nearby, on a hot summers day, I’d be popping in for some of the excellent gazpacho, a bowl of patatas bravas and a couple of gallons of Manzanilla far, far, too often.
104 Bermondsey Street
7 Archer Street