José, Bermondsey

I was having a conversation on Twitter yesterday about the restaurant Apsley’s. I didn’t like it. I believe I described it as ‘wanky’, ‘over-priced’ (£30-£40 a main course anyone?) and ‘over-fussed’ (I’m being kind – one starter came on 9 separate plates). This sparked off another conversation with a friend about restaurant preferences in general. He asked me, innocently, “you really wouldn’t go to these places (like Apsley’s), even out of curiosity, if money was literally no object?” I couldn’t say ‘NO’ fast enough or with enough emphasis to really sum up the strength of my feeling on the matter and let’s face it, Gmail chat isn’t the easiest medium to communicate a ‘NO’ bearing the force of splenetic juices, unhinged fury, fires of hell and vein-popping frustration. Well you know, I feel quite strongly about it.

My point is that people have different restaurant preferences, which aren’t entirely dependent on whether or not they can bloody afford it. Not everyone wants to go around ticking off the most expensive places like collecting notches on the bedpost. Every few months I go to The Ledbury. This is because it’s a brilliant restaurant; simply outstanding cooking . I fork out the money because I want to go there, as I could with any restaurant in London if I fancied it. I don’t.

The day my friend and I ate at Apsley’s, we also ate at José (Pizarro). It’s a ham and sherry bar, which is so much more up my alley I can’t begin to tell you. It’s a small space on Bermondsey Street with a bar, a few stools dotted about and a couple of chefs beavering away in an open kitchen. The chatter is loud and the laughter unrestrained. We settled in for Manzanilla and snacks.

Croquetas de jamón. I was shocked when I bit into the first. No ham?! Turns out I was just unlucky. In my second the cheesy filling wibbled around hammy jewels. Very good croquetas, although not quite on par with those I ate at Barrafina earlier in the week.

Jamón Ibérico was to die for, as ever; nutty fat slowly, slowly melting away…sigh. The carving was really quite something as you can see from the top photo. I’ve had a go at this myself at Brindisa and let me tell you, it’s not easy.

Having already packed away 3 courses we were really only after a nibble but a special of ‘Pluma Iberica‘ with piquillo pepper was so intriguing it duly got ordered. We looked at it, at each other and back at the plate, a mixture of fear and excitement brewing. Could we eat rare pork? The waiter reassured us of the quality and in we plunged. It had the plancha-charred initial taste and silken texture of rare steak then a deep pork flavour that somehow didn’t make your brain go “argh, raw pig, I’m going to die!”

So that was José; a few snacks effortlessly trumping an earlier elaborate 3 course meal. Fantastic ingredients, served simply and modestly. Of course these two places have completely different aspirations but that’s not my problem. All I have to do is decide where to spend my money. José wins every time.

104 Bermondsey Street
Tel: 0207 403 4902

José on Urbanspoon

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28 thoughts on “José, Bermondsey

  1. I ate pluma iberica at Jose last night and nearing supper-time tonight found myself Googling it, which is how i ended up here. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about a plate of meat a full day later, in that sort of dreamy, nostalgic way.

  2. I love this blog….

    i eat at José (Pizarro) and Apsleys…. and i like both of them.

    the first i raccomand for a normal eveving, the second one for a special day!

  3. Hi Letitia,

    If you’re going to post a comment that you ‘love Apsley’s too’, you might want to wait for me to approve the only other positive comment first 😉

  4. I love Apsleys too……. Actually is the best London restaurant with food quality…. a little expensive but the quality you pay reflect the ingredients.

    better of course than Ledbury and Marcus…… i will not talk about Dinner by Heston….. this was really disappointing food…. overrated, not busy like all the people describe and bad service!!!

    another good place is Ducasse in Dorchester Hotel…

  5. I do not agree with you at all!!!!

    the nine different plates starter you eat at APSLEYS is the fish crudo selection… that is a good value for money if you think that you have blu fin tuna, langustine, sea urchin, scallop, albacor, and other fish…. if you compare to Zuma or Nobu were for only one piece of fish you pay 6 pound!!!

    Plus APsleys is the only restaurant were you have hot fresh baked bread during the all lunch or dinner, plus one of the best dessert variation that you can eat in all uk!!!

    I like Ledbury too!!!

  6. Spot on! I am still trying to get my head around the whole food as performance and sensory art thing. From a distance, on an intellectual and artistic level, I appreciate some of the escapades. But cooking and eating to me are intimate, emotive activities. Too much thinking gets in the way of the experience.

    So when I encounter a dish that smacks of cerebral machination and/or excessive physical manipulation, I lose my appetite altogether. I may be able to admire it visually, but I don’t want to eat it.

    It happens in the other arts too. Take the music of Miles Davis for instance. There are the pieces in which he is playing for the audience and pieces where he is playing only for himself and/or a few other extreme musicheads. The latter strikes me as both unpleasant and self absorbed, and I don’t want to hear it.

  7. Completely and utterly agree about Apsleys. I went but only because I was offered a free meal (or so I thought, most embarrassing time of my life) and it was entirely unmemorable. I love to eat out and if there is one thing I am good at it is spending money, but I can also see when the prices are ridiculous.

  8. Great review. Just got back from Barcelona and craving all things jamon-based! I think the restaurant experience totally depends on the quality of food AND the atmosphere – pretentiousness can be fun if the chef knows what they’re doing and it’s creative without being stuffy. We went to Tickets in Barcelona which is foodie fun from start to finish – pricey but worth every penny.

  9. Well well it seems that at the end the spanish restaurants in england are getting better. In brighton i just reviewd Latino for my blog and was a very nice surprise and i think i will try Jose, look very authentic and that ham really looks very well

  10. Jose is my kinda place too, but I’m not too quick to knock Apsleys which I went to recently.
    There’s a kind of apartheid system works in these places. They charge these prices to make sure oiks (like me) don’t turn up too often, and so the clientele, in this case Belgravia, is comfortable looking at each other. There’s nobody wearing combats. Just possibly flares. And plenty of diamonds shining in the darkness.

    But the food is actually really very good. I didn’t have the nine course starter (I didn’t actually notice it) but what I did have was scrummy.
    I probably won’t go back either, but possibly that’s more because of the price of a single glass of wine in the bar (££££££££)

  11. With you on this one. Most of the happiest, feel-good food doesn’t come with a ridiculous price tag. I love food. I really love it, but no dish is worth that sort of money. A lot of the time people like going to these extortionate places just to gloat the fact that they’ve been there.

  12. You’re actually being kind about the prices at Apsleys – the mains were more like £35 each and that mental 9-course starter was £30 by itself.

    José couldn’t have been a more stark difference. What a fantastic, value-for-money place.

  13. Couldn’t agree with you more about restaurant preferences. I went to Noma last weekend. While it was good, it just didn’t excite me *at all* and I left fairly deflated, especially with a £500+ price tag for two people. I far more enjoyed the atmosphere, general vibe and cooking at Viajante in Bethnal Green which is similar in its cooking and I left with a smile on my face. Although it was a few years ago, The Ledbury just didn’t do it for me, although I think that was more to do with the service than the cooking.

    WIth regard to Spanish places, I really enjoyed Iberico on Great Portland St when I went a few weeks ago – the tortilla was amazing, especially with the egg still runny :) Cambio’s been on my list for years and I must go there soon.

  14. I’m with you on the overly fussy restaurant point. Who needs 9 plates for one dish?

    The rare pig looks amazing. First time I ate pink pork like that, I worried for ages after that i was on the verge of dying of food poisoning. Now I want more.


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