José gains a big brother
Small London Bridge tapas joint José is one of my favourite restaurants to have opened in 2011. It’s therefore an understatement to say that I was excited about the opening of its sister restaurant, Pizarro, just down the road. While José serves up tapas, Pizarro serves up a menu of heartier Spanish mains that changes frequently.
Despite the differently structured menu, Pizarro feels like a larger extension of José with a very similiar decor of a bar decorated with Spanish tiles, wooden floorboards and exposed timbers and brick walls. Unlike the corner shop sized José, Pizarro has more room with several dozen covers and a few stools at the bar facing the kitchen. There are also a few window seats, but they’re a bit draughty which feels unpleasant in cold weather.
First things first
On my first visit with the Euro Hedgie on a Friday evening, just a couple of days into its week long soft launch, we perched on a couple of stools facing the small but busy kitchen. The service was friendly and charming, but there were clearly still kinks to be worked out. My first choice of beetroot cured salmon for starters was unavailable, but from our vantage point into the kitchen we could see that it took around 10-15 minutes for this news to reach us, from the kitchen finding out to my waiter informing me. Still, ironing out these quirks are what soft launches are for.
I started instead with the duck livers served with red onions in fino. As expected they had an offaly flavour to them, but it wasn’t overpowering and was complimented well by the hints of boozy sweetness and a liberal dosage of capers. The livers had a very smooth, fluffy texture to them which went down a treat.
The Euro Hedgie opted for the squid served with potatoes in aioli. It’s a simple but delicious dish with squid that’s tender, but not too soft, and covered in a gently creamy aioli that’s not too overpowering in its garlic flavour. A subtle hint of spiciness is present too thanks to a fine dusting of paprika.
Despite a strong start, our meal faltered a bit when it came to the main dishes. On the Hedgie’s recommendation, I ordered the Iberico pork fillet served with olive oil mashed potatoes and Piquillo peppers. The mash was creamy and delightfully fruity, while the chargrilled peppers were sweet and juicy with a hint of smoke. However, while the slices of pork cooked rare were well-seasoned, they lacked the character and distinctive flavour of the rare pork dish I had at José. Disappointing and, surprisingly, not nearly as tasty as the rendition the Hedgie had the night before.
The Hedgie was also disappointed with his main of lamb served with lentils and radicchio. The lamb was satisfactory but unremarkable, but at least the mint puree was unmistakably and boldly flavoured.
Uncharacteristically, the Hedgie decided to skip dessert but I had to try out the intriguing dessert of chocolate served on olive oil toast with hazelnut ice cream. While the hazelnut ice cream was suitably nutty, the curl of dark chocolate ganache was surprisingly unmemorable but it was complimented remarkably well by the fruity olive oil drizzled sourdough-esque toast. While composed of interesting elements, it didn’t really come together as a coherent dish in its own right.
Second time lucky?
My first meal at Pizarro was disappointingly inconsistent ranging from excellent to average to just plain odd. Given the high quality of the starters, my overwhelmingly positive experience at José and the fact that my first visit occurred during the soft launch week I decided to pay Pizarro a second visit a little over a week later, this time with the aid of Wicket.
Service was even more charming and friendly than it was before and was also noticeably smoother, with the exception of a lengthy delay with our desserts, although it did help that Wicket and I visited on a laid back Sunday lunchtime rather than a hectic and bustling Friday evening.
I started with the Jerusalem artichoke soup flavoured with truffle oil and ham. The creamy soup really did have the sweet, nutty taste of artichokes which was enhanced by the occasional burst of richness courtesy of the truffle oil, although it couldn’t quite match the earthy richness of the chestnut and white truffle soup at Boettners in Munich which did admittedly have the benefit of whole truffle flakes. The slices of crisp bacon-like ham were an odd addition that seemed out of place though.
Wicket had the benefit of a visually arresting starter in the form of a butternut squash husk filled with the squash flesh, leaves and blue cheese. He seemed very impressed with the contrast between the creamy and sweet squash and the strong Gorgonzola-like tang of the blue cheese, while the scattering of pomegranate and rosemary added even more character and diverse flavours. Impressive.
Wicket was less impressed with his main which turned out to be a variation of the Hedgie’s main course from last time – satisfactory but unremarkable lamb paired with lentils but without the benefit of the mint puree. Perhaps winter isn’t the best time to have lamb.
I was more impressed with my main course of hake served with clams and black cabbage. The fish was flaky and subtly salty with a slightly crisp exterior and drizzled with a savoury juice I couldn’t quite place. The saltiness of the fish was accentuated by the juicy clams, while the black cabbage had a coarse texture and salty tang reminiscent of kale. Hake may not be a particularly fancy fish, but when it’s done this well I’m not fussed.
Despite the bitter winter weather outside, I couldn’t resist the cava and pear sorbet. The creamy dollops that eventually made their way to my table tasted more like ice cream than sorbet though. Although not the best ice cream I’ve ever had, it certainly satiated my sweet tooth with several layers of fruity sweetness and a subtle hint of booziness too.
Wicket finished with a dessert of chocolate and hazelnut ice cream on toast. This was similar but quite distinct from the dessert I had on first visit. The toast here was very thin and crispy, almost like melba toast, and topped with a much darker and richer chocolate ganache. The fruity olive oil was gone, but the nutty and creamy hazelnut ice cream was still present. Although improved, I’m still not convinced this dessert works, but it’s interesting and heartening to see that the dishes at Pizarro continue to be refined and improved. In any case, Wicket seemed pleased with it.
Pizarro isn’t a runaway smash like José, but it’s still a fine place to have a delicious and interesting lunch or dinner and I wouldn’t be surprised if the niggling inconsistencies that affected my meals are ironed out in short order. I’m quite jealous of the Hedgie living just around the corner from Pizarro and I suspect we’ll be revisiting this restaurant before too long.
Address: 194 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UB
Phone: 020 7407 7339
Opening Hours: seven days a week noon-15.00 and 18.00-23.00.
Reservations: not taken.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks but excluding tip: £30 approx.