In June 2011 he opened José, a small tapas and sherry bar in Bermondsey: ‘I had always wanted a small tapas bar like in Seville, but where people could see how the food was cooked, in an open kitchen. And with plenty of sherry and wines, because I love it! I didn’t think I would make any money from it, just that I would enjoy it, but it was a big success and it’s still going now.’ Another space came available soon after and in December of the same year he also opened Pizarro: ‘Both of them are doing very well, the food is improving all the time. We are very traditional with our flavours, but we are a little more creative, without going crazy. I wanted people to come here, have a good time, get drunk if they want (or don’t get drunk!) and just enjoy a plate of jamón and leave happy. Everyone is welcome.’
In 2015 he opened his third venue, José Pizarro, in Broadgate Circle in the City. Here, as with his other hugely popular venues, his enormous passion for fresh, simple, seasonal ingredients is at the fore and his dishes showcase both the best of Spanish and the best of local British produce. We asked him about a dish he was particularly excited about: ‘I love the Grilled octopus with baby potatoes, JP’s pimentón & Arbequina olive oil. We have tried to be a little more creative and play with the ingredients in the original recipe (olive oil, potato and pimentón) to show off the octopus. We infused the olive oil with pimentón and made an emulsion with the potato for a really creamy sauce. Then we used drops of cooked egg white over the dish. With Julio Reoyo I learned many techniques which have made me better at traditional cuisine.’ Other highlights of the casual, but beautifully executed, menu include Croquetas caseras, lightly crisp balls of creamy béchamel with different fillings, Empanada with spinach, Torta del Casar cheese and pine nut dressing and Bacalao a la Riojana with crispy garlic chips, a Riojan cod dish with a red pepper sauce. And for afters, Tocino de Cielo, a light, tender caramel flan traditional to southern Spain.
José Pizarro has also written two cookbooks, Seasonal Spanish Food and Spanish Flavours, with another on the way; his third book focuses on the cuisine of San Sebastián. He told us: ‘I really love to go, and to learn a lot, and you learn so much when researching for a book. I’m hoping this book about San Sebastián will be the first of many. I want to do one each on Seville, Catalonia and Barcelona.’ But the proudest moment of his career remains the time when his parents visited his first restaurant, José. He told us with a tear in his eye: ‘When my mum and my dad came, you could see it in their faces. My father is very expressive and you can see when he is happy. And he was very happy.’