On the eve of the opening of José Pizarro’s eponymous new space, the man himself was good enough to throw open the doors to a bustling crowd and invite us down to sample the wares.

I think everyone has already described the space as ‘cosy’ – and that’s as much down to the service and the atmosphere as the bijou size of the place. It seats seventeen covers apparently, and the house speciality is small sharing plates. We guzzled gazpacho (given that I’m not a huge tomato fan, this even took me by surprise) and tussled over tortilla, accompanied by a great Cava and a Fino – will have to go back and study the lists properly. What a chore, eh?

With his strong focus on both the sherry selection and daily market specials, José has created a spot that you could pop into over and over again – just to make sure you’re not missing out, of course. We loved the hake with aioli, the croquettas, the manchego – and it went on and on. Plenty of justification for visiting again in the very near future.

Thank you to the gorgeous Hannah at Nourish for inviting us.

José, 104 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UB

Open:  Mon-Fri 12:00-22:30; Sat 10:00-22:30; Sun 10:00-18:00

T: 020 7403 4902 (no reservations)

Fernandez and Leluu + Unearthed = Action Against Hunger

Imagine being a small or artisan food producer – possibly a family firm, making a product you believe in, to what’s probably a tried and tested recipe. Something you’re passionate about and believe in, and want to be able to focus on perfecting.

Or a committed foodie, a consummate party-thrower, someone for whom “fun” is inviting thirty strangers over to your house three times a week and producing dish after dish of marvellous morsels to an unknown audience.

Simon Day created Unearthed Foods as a way to not only showcase but to distribute fantastic regional continental foods in the UK. With links into major retailers, they can get great exposure for smaller brands and allow the manufacturers to concentrate on production. Importantly, they also operate a robust supply chain so that the logistics make sense and they can import goods from a number of different locations in Europe efficiently. That makes more goods affordable for the consumer here too, and helps support the company’s aim of introducing regional specialties to this market. I guess that, technically, coordinated shipping reduces the carbon footprint too?

Fernandez and Leluu are long-time favourites of mine and they were a great pairing with Unearthed.  Simon  Fcame up with some fantastic combinations, using Unearthed products along with original dishes – sweetcorn soup with chorizo oil drizzle above. The first course included unctuous rillettes from Le Mans, not unlike the ones I had when I spent time in that city as a teenager. Nothing you could have told me as a seventeen year old would have convinced me that a couple of decades later I’d be wolfing them down, I loathed them then. But paired with oyster mushrooms cooked in wine and butter, and they were unbelievably moreish.  This was probably my favourite course of the evening – or was it the pears poached in champagne and vanilla? The broken rice was damn good too. As were the flamenquines.  We were also treated to Campo Viejo wines and both the Rioja and the cava went down really well.

There was such a buzzy crowd, the chatter was so loud we were on the verge of yodelling at each other, while cooing over each successive course as it appeared before us. Conversation and consumption aside, there was actually a more important reason for us all to be gathered together.

Action Against Hunger.  They’ve moved on from their ‘Fight Hunger Eat Out‘ campaign in September and October to focus on ‘Fight Hunger Eat In’. You see where they’re going with this.  I’ve had many fabulous meals in supperclubs for a donation of about £35. That’s roughly the amount of money that’s required to treat a child for malnutrition which is pretty sobering. Providing tools for a family costs around £20 (and if you donate online and are a UK taxpayer, boost your donation with Gift Aid).  Unearthed will donate 1p from all sales, and they’re aiming to support a project in Zambia for grandparent-headed families, where parents have died (mainly due to AIDS) and the children are now the responsibility of elderly relatives who may be unable to work or support them.

Check out Fernandez and Leluu’s great tips on entertaining, stock up on Unearthed tapas if you don’t want to cook and get some friends around.  Cook for them and ask them to make a donation to the charity as ‘payment’.  If you’re allergic to kitchens perhaps consider buying the charity lunch – donating the same amount as your next restaurant meal. It really is all in a good cause.

Thanks to Fernandez and Leluu, Unearthed, and Wildcard.

Dishoom Restaurant – London’s got it

I love Twitter. On Thursday night post-movie, we were struggling to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat and I quickly posted as much as we wandered around. Immediately a response from @dishoomLondon popped up: “Come on over, we can squeeze you in!”.  I don’t know if they connected work-me with Twitter-me but I’ve been aware of this Bombay Cafe’s imminent launch for some time as I did some work with them a few months back. It’s like when a good friend is pregnant and you’re anxiously waiting to see if all of the fingers and toes are intact and if they call it Moon Unit. There was an exceptionally clear vision behind this concept – would they pull it off?

When we walked in, I saw architect’s drawings come to life in front of me.  Dishoom‘s walls are lined with framed photographs and original ads from Bombay newspapers. Twisted black electrical cables loop from the light fittings across the room like long ropes of liquorice, between authentically wobbly ceiling fans.  On each marble-topped table sits a plate stand to stack up main course plates, and a canteen of sparkling cutlery for you to help yourself. Dishoom is modelled on Bombay institutions such as the Britannia Cafe and Leopold’s, some of the last outposts of an Iranian cafe culture that has all but disappeared. The detailing in the main dining room, from the glowing filament light bulbs through to the almost Escher-worthy tiling is perfect, the overall atmosphere calming and elegant during our evening visit but with a decided air of bustle coming from the open kitchen and sidealong bar. We watched as the barman made two deep pink Bollybellinis for us (rose, lychee and raspberry). Yeah yeah, you say. But what about the food?

Cafe Crisps with their traffic light system of dips, (I really liked the tamarind, the amber of the trio) and Dishoom Calamari to start. Some of the best, most succulent baby morsels of fresh squiddy goodness I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.  The marinade is spiced and sweet, almost honey-like. Next up, Bombay Sausages, with shiny caramelised red onions, along with the excellent House Black Daal and the freshest roomali roti and garlic naan. Nom. I could easily see myself heading here for lunch on colder days for just sausages and daal. No, I wouldn’t share the daal, you’ll have to get your own.  Murgh Malai is an unusual cut of chicken with some fat, which is chargrilled and crisped (don’t expect solid cubes of breast) and the Biryani above was moist, spicy and had meat that fell apart throughout it.

To finish we polished off a Meantime Union – not only does its malty treacle notes hold up well to the meaty carb dishes (it was chosen in a blind trial) but the Grant Wood-esque label works too – and shared a passionfruit and ginger Gola Ice. If they do those for takeaway and this weather holds, they could not only clean up on the Indian food market this summer but could beat the hell out of all the local frozen yoghurt places for the perfect cool-down snack.

Young staff are enthusiastic and friendly. There’s details to admire everywhere, from the cabinets of authentic toiletries in the bathrooms to the house rules on the wall. I can imagine coming here for breakfasts or meetings, sitting in the banquets along the wall (wifi on from today, apparently) and downstairs boasts more tables, a full bar and deep leather-bench booths.  Service, food and atmosphere were great, and this was during soft launch.  They’re fully open from next week.  ‘Dishoom’ is the Bollywood equivalent of ‘Pow!’ or ‘Boom!’ and is also a quality, or self-confidence.  Does their food have that ‘dishoom’? Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d say yes. I know I’ll go back. And if they continue as they’ve started, it’s capable of becoming a London institution. Phew.  Dishoom has got all its fingers and toes.

Dishoom, 12 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9FB

London’s Best Burgers

Where have I been? What a lax attitude to blogging. It might be fair to say that I’m recovering, after a period of intense dining that firstly almost did me in (in the happiest way) and then propelled me onto a diet (less said about that, the better). I’m also working with a chocolate company at the moment. Cooking, eating and thinking about food had slightly taken over from writing about it for a while.

But it would be a shame and probably a disservice to not document The Week of The Burger.  It was a while ago now, but not easily forgotten.  Technically it started on the Sunday at a friend’s birthday party, with regulation bbq burgers.

Photo from Hankoss's Flickr Stream

The next day, it was Burger Monday. Off to Byron in Islington for El Doble – a double patty and some of Daniel’s special El Doble sauce. As Daniel says, the secret to Burger Monday is the extras that you get such as off-menu combos, and the company. It’s recommended.  We went to the 9:30 sitting, ravenous, and managed to devour an admirable amount of sides too.  Tom was on hand to keep the beers flowing too, with a round on the house. If you’re a burger fan then I’ll bet good money you’ve already found Byron, especially as branches are popping up like mushrooms at the moment. Canary Wharf is spacious and the closest to me, so will probably be my most regular haunt, but I still like what I consider the original, on the site of the old Intrepid Fox in Soho. The loos in Wellington St win Best Set Decoration prize.

Tuesday, the burger theme continued, with Sunday’s party bag (we got sent home with much of the uncooked meat) being turned into more of a meatballs affair with lush tomatoes from Natoora. We made a piquant sauce – I think some of our takehome El Doble might have made it in there along with enough fresh chilli to remove most of my tastebuds. So good, so [much] protein, so far.

From Simon Doggett's Flickr stream

We hadn’t planned Wednesday but Mr D (and half of Twitter) pointed out that Yanni would be at the Florence in Herne Hill. The Meatwagon is literally a moveable feast, as long as you manage to get there early enough and hope that the previous however-many order tickets he’s issued don’t have seventeen items on each one. That night I bumped into an old uni friend who’d been to the previous Meatwagon Florence night, and hadn’t managed to get served. She’d arrived first in the queue that evening. That’s dedication from a woman who’s six months pregnant.

We didn’t get served til almost 10:30, having arrived at 7:15pm. Luckily there were plenty of amenable people around to chat with. And Mr D popped out to chat about something around 9:45 and somehow managed to snare a ‘spare’ burger – I didn’t ask – so I didn’t quite resort to eating beer mats. When the food did arrive, after an utter absence of conversation for about ten minutes where we simply stuffed our faces and felt the rush of blood sugar topping up, I made Mr D promise to not let me order a burger next time, because the Philly Cheese is unsurpassable. (Bear in mind I’d had half a burger already so might have been distracted).

I have a funny feeling that there might have been a burger on Thursday too and I’ve just blocked it from my mind.

For Mr D’s birthday, I’d booked a table at Bar Boulud.  Much lauded chef, equally hyped burgers.  We went with the Piggie (bbq pulled pork on top of the patty) and a Frenchie (confit pork belly) and while I’m almost more tempted to bang on about the amazing charcuterie, they were delicious, beautifully presented and delivered promptly. In stark contrast to the Wednesday, there’s literally no waiting around here which was one of Jay Rayner’s bugbears when he reviewed it, being asked to vacate within two hours. It suited us perfectly, served as an almost OTT brunch and we wandered off across Knightsbridge to Clerkenwell to walk it off.  That was a month ago, and I’m still not sure I have worked off that week.

So how do they stack up against each other:

Byron: Consistently great. Easily available. Great value.

MeatwagonJust about worth the wait. Worth getting home well after midnight.  I’m a sucker for novelty too.

Bar Boulud.  A perfectly conceived, concept burger. Great value set lunch.  Slightly surreal crowd.

In fact, I’ve probably listed them in my personal order of preference.