Overlooking the picturesque Church of Mary Magdalen on the historic but trendy Bermondsey Street, Pizarro is an 80-seater bar and restaurant offering classical Spanish cooking freshened up for the modern diner. Nestled between the stylish (but impossible to book) Zucca and the more rustic Antico, Pizarro is just one of a plethora of foodie destinations positioned on this buzzing street.
And buzzing Pizarro certainly is. Whilst, in comparison to Jose, its sister sherry and tapas bar at number 104, diners can book at Pizarro – rendering the space much less hectic – it nevertheless fills up quickly on weekend evenings. The restaurant offers reservations for tables for two to four persons, banquette seating for four to six, a large round table for larger parties, as well as a private dining room seating eight to ten guests. That you can book at Pizarro certainly has its advantages and is something of a rareity in London these days. What’s more, it doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the establishment in comparison to more traditional Spanish tapas bars, where patrons come and go as they please, standing, perching and overflowing onto the streets, creating an atmosphere of total convivality. Bar and informal shared seating at the front of the restaurant is held for walk-ins only, so everyone get the opportunity to dine.
The masculine space pairs old-Spanish interiors – Iberican tiles, warm wood and marble tops– with a stripped-down industrial Bermondsey look – take the exposed brick walls for instance. Diners can sit at either snug booths for relaxed eating, bar-style seating facing the street – ideal for people-watching – or at the kitchen bar. When my companion and I dined there, we were lucky enough to be offered two seats at the kitchen bar – my favourite place to dine at any restaurant and which I’d booked just the evening before. Such a seat lends a whole new dimension to eating out. The Spanish chefs were happy to chat and explain the methods of their cooking. Watching them artfully assemble the dishes was a visual feast.
Bright flavours, simple techniques and not too many ingredients. This is Jose Pizarro’s description of his cooking and that’s exactly what it is. Dishes are not especially experimental but rather a selection of mostly traditional foods prepared with immense care and skill, and with the finest ingredients available sourced from both the UK and Spain. Indeed this kind of cooking – four or five ingredients, wonderful olive oil and simple, knowledgeable execution – always looks easy when you’re in Spain but it depends on the quality of its suppliers.
The menu is more extensive than at the tapas-only José. To start, my companion and I shared a side of Padron Peppers (£5) and a Requeson salad (£6.50). Whilst, as spice lovers, we were disappointed to not discover the one spicy pepper that can usually be found in a plate of pardon peppers, they were deliciously salty, sufficiently oily and arrived in a mini-frying pan. The salad, meanwhile, was composed of a beautifully creamy, lemony ricotta which complemented the roasted peppers and peppery rocket well. Further crunch was provided by pecans and walnuts. We also enjoyed a “pica pica” of Pan con tomate (£3.50). The simplicity of its preparation made the dish even more enjoyable. I watched as the chefs grated fresh tomato to create a pungent puree, which was delicately seasoned with sea salt, garlic and olive oil, before being lightly toasted on slices of chargrilled rustic bread with a further lash of olive oil.
For mains, my companion and I decided – in true tapas style – to share the Bittersweet roasted aubergine (£12) sautéed with rainbow chard, and Baby potatotes (£3) which were well seasoned with olive oil and thyme. Whilst the colourful chard was well-cooked and the aubergine was a visual delight, garnished with crunchy breadcrumbs, it was extremely chewy and could have done with a touch more cooking time.
Pizarro serves beautifully cooked, evocatively Spanish food. For those diners interested in trying their own hand at some of his dishes, the Guardian features many of Pizarro’s recipes (http://www.theguardian.com/profile/jose-pizarro). This tapas restaurant would be an ideal date venue or, as we noticed on our visit, a fantastic choice for any couple trying to impress parents!
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ