Following a tenure as head chef at Tapas Brindisa, José Pizzaro opened José in 2011 – it was the first of London’s new wave of stripped-back, authentic tapas restaurants (also see Bar Tozino). Pizzaro is from Extremadura, a distinctive region of Spain which borders Portugal – the area is famous for its agriculture and in particular, the black Iberico pigs which munch mounds of acorns in oak groves.
José does not accept bookings and has very few seats, so expect to stand for a chunk (or possibly all) of your visit. The staff will take drinks orders when you are in the queue and are great at keeping track of your place in the pecking order, meaning you can wait, relax and enjoy your drink. The chalkboard menu is short and simple, featuring some old classics like tortilla but also including some more unusual Spanish regional dishes, like Catalan butifarra (described below).
We started with a safe bet, patatas bravas (£5), the potatoes (which I think were maris piper) had good colour and were perfectly crispy. They came smothered in a rich tomato and garlic sauce, which was finished with a hint of paprika. There was also a generous helping of very garlicky aioli which had been freshly prepared with good quality eggs. Our next dish was a russian roulette of padron peppers (£5) – whilst the majority were mild and refreshing, a couple of them were so spicy that they made my eyes water. Supposedly around a fifth of the peppers turn out hot, depending on the amount of water and sunlight they are exposed to.
When I spotted butifarra (£7) on the menu I couldn’t resist it, I have fond memories of munching butifarra in Catalonia: raw and thinly sliced, grilled with white beans or fried atop sliced bread. José’s offering was served in pisto, which is a Spanish slant on ratatouille, featuring courgettes and peppers. It was tasty enough, but a bit underseasoned. The butifarra was disappointing: the quality of the meat was not great, it seemed more like offal rather than (as it should have been) leg, shoulder and loin. It must be very hard to source good quality butifarra in Britain; this was possibly an English butcher’s failed attempt to recreate it.
We finished with fried calamares and octopus (£9) which were wonderfully fresh, encased in a light and thin batter – the squid was melt in the mouth and had a mild, sweet flavour; the baby octopus was firm and meaty. And a final note on the (entirely Spanish) wine and sherry lists: these are generally served by the glass and are listed on the blackboard by vineyard (not grape) – so unless you know a lot about Spanish wine I would advise you to ask the staff for some guidance.
Verdict: simple, great value Spanish food in a fun, bustling atmosphere 7.5/10