Roll up, roll up. This is a positive review. Which has nothing to do with arriving at the restaurant three sheets to the wind after a morning spent wine tasting. I love José for all the wrong reasons. It’s one of few London places I laud for its no booking policy. I say restaurant – it’s a tiny bar with strategically placed barrels and the odd stool for the lucky few. But thank goodness it’s always full; everything seems to taste better with aching feet. The chef behind the name, José Pizarro, plied his trade in some of the UK’s top Spanish kitchens, by way of Madrid’s renowned Meson de Doña Filo. And the best thing? He’s actually in the kitchen.
If you’ve walked there (or stumbled from Vinopolis) you’ll first appreciate the complimentary still and sparkling water. Then the fact there’s no menu, only a short list of chalked-up daily specials. And finally the swift service, as morsels of tapas zoom around the room. We tried much of what zoomed: Tempura chicken livers (£6), Garlic prawns (£6), Clams (£5), as well as some familiar favourites; Chorizo (£5), Patatas Bravas (£4), Croquetas (£6), and Jamon Iberico (£9). Everything is markedly simple, but evidently uses the freshest ingredients (from nearby Borough Market?) and is prepared with care. Even our vegetarian got stuck into all things meaty. If you’re in a group, portion sizes can be inconsistent, so be prepared to fight for that last mouthful. A light, floral and inoffensive Cata Rosa, Viura, Navarra, 2011 (£19.50) slipped down rather too easily, but I’d recommend utilising the charming staff’s knowledge of sherry, and try an (underpriced!) fino or manzanilla by the glass.
The open kitchen can get very hot and noisy, so those of a civilised disposition will be glad to hear that Pizarro, a more formal, reservable spin-off, can be found just down the road. And yes, they have seating. José’s food isn’t breathtakingly spectacular – but it is tummy-rumblingly comforting. Especially when half-sozzled on a balmy Saturday afternoon.
£70 for 4 (with service)
Food; 7 Service; 8 Ambience; 7
José, 104 Bermondsey Street