José Pizarro's tapas takeover began in 2011, when the smiley Spanish chef opened José. His sherry-swilling, Seville-style spot on a quaint corner of the village-y Bermondsey Street was an instant hit. The former exec chef at Brindisa then opened the bigger, bolder Pizarro on the same road later that year, a welcoming cave of warm wood, black leather banquettes, exposed brick and splashes of painted Spanish tile. You’d have thought that sister restaurants within metres of each other would be a terrible business move – even Pret know they have to spread themselves out a bit more than that – but José’s confidence proved commensurate.
Rambunctious tables are packed with laughing pals and pleasantly sloppy fifth dates – the one where you stop caring about dripping mojo rojo down your chin
In the decade or so after opening, both restaurants are never anything less than heaving, and they’ve since been joined by more José Pizarro joints at Broadgate Circus and in the stunning surrounds of the Royal Academy’s Senate Room. On our way to the SE1 Pizarro we coyly stroll past the casual, no-bookings José. There’s a line out of the door and the tall tables which line the pavement have all been nabbed, even though it’s one of the first chilly nights of early autumn. Pizarro is equally thrumming. Rambunctious tables are packed with laughing pals and pleasantly sloppy fifth dates – the one where you stop caring about dripping mojo rojo down your chin – while the open kitchen is a riot of hollering sous chefs and clattering pans, with José Pizarro himself beaming contentedly by the pass as flames lick the open grill.
This is Bermondsey by way of Barcelona, and the stage is set for a feast of epic proportions, the loud room waiting to be matched by equally voluble flavours. To start, there’s a nutty plate of glistening jamon Iberico which was just the right amount of sweaty, and perfect for laying across moist, £5.50 plates of pan con tomate, like an acorn-fed Rokeby Venus. A plate of Cantabrian anchovies in golden olive oil may seem comparatively steep at £32, but they were the softest, saltiest and glossiest fish in town.
Jamon croquetas were creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside (and six for a reasonable £9), while flamed raw squid with fresh lime was something of a creeper. Its taut texture was initially reminiscent of nibbling on a bit of discarded bicycle tyre, but it was somehow impossible to stop picking at. Then, a Spanish surf and turf of grilled curls of cuttlefish with yet more Jamon – this time in picada form, with creamed potato and pine nuts – and sweet Oloroso sherry sauce, was enticingly earthy. Baked potatoes on bonfire night be damned, get yourself a bowl of this autumnal treat instead.
Mains are elaborate but still relatively rustic. It’s hard to even consider anything else when there’s bogavante y huevos rotos on the menu, which begins with us being shown our handsome native lobster before he heads off to meet his eternal maker. He returned half an hour later, perfectly sauteed and bobbing in a river of garlic butter alongside a platter of egg and chips so gigantic that your local caff would weep. Triple cooked, and with the fried eggs demolished into the spuds tableside by the chef, it made for a marvellously messy Spanish fry up, and though pitched for two, could easily feed twice that. After such richness, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a loose crema catalana with peaches could only underwhelm us, but Pizarro has more than enough pizazz elsewhere.
The vibe A highly rowdy but extremely welcoming Spanish restaurant on the ever-charming Bermondsey Street.
The food A proper feast awaits. There’s classic tapas to start followed by hearty, rustic mains.
The drink Cava and sherry are the way to go here, with lots of both on offer. Try Jose Pizarro’s own Brut Nature Gran Reserva bubbles, at £10 a glass.
Time Out tip Dogs are welcome at Pizarro, so bring your pup to dinner – just remember to keep an eye on your jamon.