Another small London Tapas joint and another queue – well ok I lied about the last bit – but then we did pitch up at 12:30 on a Sunday – by the time we left this place was jumping and they were queuing well out the door. Pure coincidence that we visited here just a week after Barrafina but with that dinner fresh in my mind this is a useful benchmark. Like a number of London’s new restaurants its a 20 cover no booking kinda place. So question is it worth the advance planning and trek out to Bermondsey? Well yes I think it is.
Perched on a corner on the increasingly hip Bermondsey St, José feels like it belongs here. For those not local yes it might be a bit of a mission negotiating your way from London bridge but it’d make a good lunch for example after a wander round Borough Markets more serious neighbour, Maltby St market (where incidentally José also has a stall). The room is small yet atmospheric and whilst busy its not buzzy in the way that Barrafina is. The room is relaxed and spanish. The staff are charming and happily guide you through the menu or in our case prod ,suggest and dare I say gently bully us towards the right choices and steer us away from the incorrect.
“2 tortilla? .. Nah you don’t need 2 Order 1 and see how you go” Well that was us told.
Jose has a short but interesting wine list with everything available by the glass and a focus on Sherry. Some interesting Finos and some rarer Palo Cortado’s on show. We opted for Fino Antique, Fernando de Castilla an interesting fino without some of the rasping astringency that belies many finos and a real bready yeasty finish perfect in fact for Jamon and croquetas.
The Maldonado Hams hang proudly above the bar. This is premier cru stuff and reputed to be amongst the most expensive in the world.Its rich, deep and very very good the sort of thing you think on hours after your meal. I found myself craving it the next day. Its not cheap but then anything this good rarely is. Order, enjoy it, and resign yourself to the fact that after this you’ll compare all Jamon to this. I even found myself researching the stuff online the next day and hatching a plot to sneak a whole one into my kitchen replete with its own carving stand. There can’t be many things that would outshine a kitchen Aid on the counter but I reckon this would.
I wanted to talk about the croquetas one sole specimen you might see evidence of above sadly they all got snaffled but suffice to say they are textbook stuff. We were also steered by our waitress toward some smoked beef again an excellent opening with the jamon.
The menu’s are displayed behind the bar and are as you can see simplicity itself, but don’t be fooled by the menu’s modesty, there is some serious cooking going on here!
The tomato bread is good but if I’m honest not quite as good as that at barrafina (who are more liberal with the oil and salt) but is better than pretty much anything you’ll get outside Spain.
Some nice Padron peppers kick things off quite literally with a hot one from the off.
The iberico meatballs are deeply meaty little nuggets with a great oregano and orange spiked tomato sauce, i would say along with the pluma and sea bream a highlight.
The fish is sparklingly fresh displayed on a counter on the bar. Mackerel is an unforgiving fish if it is even slightly old, so unsurprisingly is as fresh as you’d expect and really very good.
The Tortilla served cold is set bright yellow and deeply flavoured. We saw these being made fresh and the eggs are clearly of the best quality . This tortilla is perhaps more orthodox than those made to order at Barrafina and which come with a liquid centre. The offering here will be more in line with the expectations of the more traditional.
Better still the Sea Bream cooked perfectly a meaty fish that marries well with the caper and piquillo red peppers.
Salads perhaps are overlooked in places like this but care had gone into the dressing of those leaves. The oils and vinegars were clearly of the highest quality, as the dressing just shone through; sweet yet sour a great counterpoint to the bitter leaves.
The Pluma Iberico – for me this is the stand out dish like no ordinary pork dish trust me. Iberico Pork shoulder (pluma) which I suspect is also from the maldonado stable comes medium and is closer in looks and taste to a skirt steak than any pork shoulder you’ve ever had. Deeply flavoured moist and delicious dressed simply with sea salt and good olive oil. – Yes we were bullied into ordering this – no actually I’ll correct that I’m not sure I even ordered it it just came and when questioned the waitress shrugged and said “yes of course you ordered it” . Who we we to argue – and after one bite I had to resign myself to the knowledge that perhaps the staff here know best. This might rub the odd person up the wrong way but it shouldn’t. I am sure some people will welcome these steers because really that what they are from a staff that know their stuff and genuinely wish to share this with you the customer.
A different vibe from Barrafina perhaps but equally as charming and some very good cooking.
So get there early or prepare to queue but its certainly worth it legions of fans already agree.
José, 104 Bermondsey Street SE1 3UBNo booking