Monday, 20 June 2011
Someone pointed out on Twitter the other day that with the launch of Bar Pepito, Capote y Toros (review coming soon on London Confidential if they ever get round to launching the site) and now José in Bermondsey, London now has more dedicated ham and sherry bars than Barcelona. Whether or not this is completely accurate - and I think it's probably a bit unfair to Barcelona where ham and sherry isn't really a Catalan thing - it's nevertheless a trend I can thoroughly get behind. In fact, it's surprising it's taken this country so long to wake up to the combination of Iberico ham and cold sherry, as you'd have to be lacking a significant part of your brain (or be a vegetarian, and let's face it that's more or less the same thing) not to enjoy these most wonderful ingredients. Iberico ham, in particular, is a genuine gastronomic wonder; produced correctly and carved properly it has an almost impossibly rich, complex flavour that builds the longer you hold it in your mouth, with notes of forest and moss and the acorns that the pampered black pigs themselves feed on. It's my Desert Island dish, my Death Row meal, my one true food love.
The Iberico ham at José, you'll be pleased to hear, was superb, sliced into translucent strips and arranged carefully on a salad plate for £9. Great value, and value in the most literal sense - this is a world-class product, expensive to produce and requiring specialist skill to present, and alarm bells should ring if it's ever priced at anything less than a premium. We savoured the silken shards of pig in between mouthfuls of the always wonderful La Gitana Manzanilla, the salty sherry matching it perfectly.
If we'd only gone to José to get deliriously happy on Iberico and Manzanilla it still would have been far from a wasted journey, but certain items on the chalkboard menu just sounded too good to miss so despite a large (and expensive and ultimately rather disappointing, more here anon) lunch elsewhere we still found room to squeeze in a plate of croquettas and something called "Pluma Iberica". Firstly, the croquettas were something approaching perfect - a delicate thin crust broke to reveal a soft béchamel filling shot through with dark chunks of more of that brilliant ham, they were as good as any I've had in Spain or anywhere else for that matter. But the Pluma Iberica was truly astonishing. Strips of pork seasoned and seared to rare, they were served simply with a couple of strips of preserved piquillo peppers (try saying that after a bottle of Manzanilla), and tasted, thanks to aggressive seasoning and expert timing on the grill, like the finest aged beef steak, marbled with fat and bursting with flavour. It's a dish rarely seen in this country, presumably because serving pork even pink is a controversial step to some people, never mind as under as this, but I will be eternally grateful for José for having the cojones to put it on the menu here. I still can't stop thinking about it.
Three tapas and a bottle of Manzanilla may seem like a rather flimsy amount of food to base a whole review around but I have every confidence that everything else at José, including the fresh seafood which looked magnificent presented under a glass case in the counter of the bar, would have been equally wonderful had we found room for it. In fact, you don't even have to take my word - see the Dos Hermanos review here, or the gushing reports that are stacking up on London Eating. Or, and this is something you absolutely must do, just go yourself. José is as good a restaurant as you could ever want.