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Pizarro Reviewed

Drew Smith pops into Jose Pizarro's second venture in Bermondsey to see if it lives up to the standard set by the first

Written by . Published on December 15th 2011.

Pizarro Reviewed

STRANGE, perhaps, that many of the better new restaurants openings of late have been in the edgier parts of town, or possibly being off the main retail dragways lends a certain determination and individuality, both worthy gastronomic virtues in themselves. 

At first glance it looks and feels like another tapas operation – small glasses of expensive wine, small plates, big bill, but no, as everyone, i.e. the waiters, are keen to point out to you, it is not tapas, it is a proper restaurant.

You can eat as well as anywhere down on Bermondsey High Street these days, if you can get in. Jose’s little tapas bar has been so rammed, that last week he opened a second venue down the road, Pizarro.

At first glance it looks and feels like another tapas operation – small glasses of expensive wine, small plates, big bill, but no, as everyone, i.e. the waiters, are keen to point out to you, it is not tapas, it is a proper restaurant. A Spanish restaurant, olé. Or actually, it is tapas as bigger portions.

Img_1602Communal table

The ground floor is provocatively and cleverly organized so the seating areas are multi-purpose and different – there are alcoves, a big square table to share, a back room bodega, long bars opposite the kitchen and another at the window. A central long table has had as much attention lavished on it as any dish, made out of wooden crates embossed with vineyard tattoos. In fact, there are different woods around which give not quite the whole Desa feel, but a warmth to contrast against the bustle of the open plan kitchen.

The menu is short, seasonal and in the new year will come all day activities with Spanish style eggs for breakfast and a cold bar of hams and cheeses in the afternoon. A stock-up shop at the Maltby Street arches nearby and a Boris bike to hire for brunch or afternoon tea could become a bit of a cult weekend rota.


If you are not sure what you are getting then the menu advertises Cookbook £15 – every serious restaurant should have one – but there are enough visual clues. The menu boldly opens with Jamon Iberico Manuel Maldonado at £20. The leg is sitting on the counter, set up on a stand, its trotters as neatly trimmed as a ballerina’s pumps.

These pigs are cosseted and left to roam in the oak glades to feed on the acorns and are to Spanish cooking what foie gras has become to the French. It is expensive but then you taste it and you think well, that is ok. And it is eco, saving the pigs and the trees and the way of life that goes with it etc, so maybe that is the right way to go. And yes, it does taste really good, ham from another era.

Img_1597Complementary snacks to hold you over while you peruse the menu

The big gold cans of olive are marked Marques de Valdueza. Bread, huge queen olives, a plate of lightly pickled cauliflower arrive almost before the menus. Those of you familiar with Jose – or even his Cookbook – will be familiar with the duck livers, capers and Fino. There is still in these first weeks perhaps an evolution from tapas to bigger dishes, too big even.

There is a stonkingly good dish of canelones layered with Manchego cheese, chard and pine nuts (£12) but it is a heroically large, rich portion for one as a main course. Lamb comes with lentils and raddichio, partridge with white beans.

Img_1615Canelones, enough to feed of four

The Secreto Iberico (£15.50), actually it is a butcher’s secret, a cut under the neck and shoulder, a bit tougher but parallel in texture at least to a rib eye, is served on olive oil mash and some bright red peppers… Again, there is no slouching on the portion size. This is a dinner for boys.

The Office Vegetarian opts for a cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup with Manchego (£5.50), rather than crispy ham, to lift it up which it needs, and a pretty orange roast butternut squash scattered with almonds, pomegranite, cress and Cabrales blue cheese (£6.50) which may just be the most piquant cheese in the northern hemisphere and arrives screeching through the other flavours like a prima donna meteor on uppers. 

Img_1612Secreto Iberico

We could have finished with the chocolate and caramel ice-creams with toast – get it, this is Spanish, i.e. sweet toast, but shared the seasonal rice pudding with stewed clementines (£5.50) that smelled reassuringly like Santa Claus’s aftershave. Make mine a copy of the Cookbook, please Santa.

The wine list is interesting with lots to explore by the glass, Spanish, of course, and also plenty of sherry, but not cheap if you have a mind to be sloshing.

All round the whole operation has a really great feeling. Somehow we managed to get out for £25 a head which is a bit of a snip really.

194 Bermondsey Street

Rating 14/20

Breakdown: 4/5 service
                  4/5 atmosphere
                  6/10 food


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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