Pizarro is an expanded version of Jose, Spanish restaurateur and chef Jose Pizarro’s teeny sherry bar up the road, but even though it has room for seating, Pizarro gets just as packed. Luckily, this place takes reservations. We highly recommend you take advantage unless you’re prepared to put up with a long wait. Big windows let hungry punters catch a peek at the long, sharing tables which are usually heaving with food and glasses of sherry. It’s hard to just wander by without getting tempted inside. The best spot’s up at the bar though, where you can keep an eye on the action in the kitchen-a great spot for a date if you don’t mind that it can get a touch loud. The food’s seasonal, delicious and decidedly Spanish. You can plump for sharing a selection of the small plates or go all out with a starter and main each. Not forgetting dessert either, of course. And if you’ve still room after all that, pop up the road to Jose for a digestif.
40 Maltby street is dominated by a bar. There’s a pretty comprehensive wine menu, but the food’s limited to a few “small bites” scrawled on a blackboard. Still, remember that old saying, quality, not quantity? Prime example. Essentially British-style tapas, everything is served with a generous portion of fresh bread and butter to sop up sources and sandwich meats. The food is seasonal, the vibe is chilled out and the place is always packed with young families and friends taking a break from the buzz of Maltby Street Market.
Entering Bar Tozino is a bit like being teleported to the middle of Spain. Giant hams hang from wooden rafters, the fino flows freely and customers crowd round the dark wooden bar for round after round of wine and platters heaving with tapas. The ceiling decor might be a bit of a giveaway, but a major draw here is the jamon. Pick the quality your budget can handle, elbow your way to a seat at the bar and tuck in. Surrounded by all the goodies on offer at Maltby Street Market this a great place to pop into for mid- shop pitstop or an informal date.
A former public toilet in Bermondsey might not be the first place you’d look for first class cooking, but it’s where Tom Sellers (formerly of Noma and Tom Aitkens) decided to set up shop with Restaurant Story, his whimsical solo venture. Now Sellers is churning out his own stuff in a striking, state of the art building, featuring massive glass windows and a peekaboo kitchen (not a whiff of the WC about it) and it’s all pretty spectacular. We love this place for the high-end food put together with tongue-in-cheek nod to childhood stories. Signature dishes include a beef dripping candle and three bears’ porridge. Unusually for this style of cooking, the setting is relaxed and slightly playful with chefs joining diners at the table to explain the story behind the food. Guests are treated to a flurry of ‘pre-starters’ before tucking into either the 6 or 10 course tasting menus, priced at £45 and £65 respectively – pretty reasonable for this quality of cooking – we reckon it’s only a matter of time before the Michelin man awards a star or two – but beware, booze will inevitably bump up the bill.
From the guys behind the much-loved Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park (there aren’t many more pleasant places to do a weekend brunch), this unpretentious little wine bar/restaurant on the outskirts of Borough Market ups the game a little bit to pack a punch alongside heavyweights like Brindisa and Wrights. Exposed brick walls and a big, raised bar give it a casual feel, so licence to pig out then. The menu transforms daily to align with whatever looks exciting in the market that day – my kinda personal shopping! The format’s very St John Bread and Wine – you can do a selection of little plates to share or just each have one big main. Go with your gut, it all tastes good and comes with heaps of freshly-baked bread (literally still steaming fresh last time we went) to mop any plates clean with. If you go on a week-day lunch, we hear the burger’s very good. Curse the working week, we haven’t had a chance to sample it yet. Of course the pint-sized place packs out, but you can reserve (hallelujah), so make sure you do.
Bermondsey Street has fast become every foodies’ favourite hang out, with Zucca leading the trend. Hailed as the new River Café (if the London institution were up-ended to somewhere accessible and the prices yanked down from their current astronomical heights), it’s hard not to see this place as a general win. The space is unostentatious; all smooth lines and slick white furniture overseen by the long nut-coloured bar. It fits perfectly with the unpretentious, but perfectly executed food. In fact everything is kept simple, right down to the menu, which only features around 5 mains, each more appetizing than the next, mind you. Dishes, of course, change seasonally, but a few signature faves like the zucca fritti and pork chop tend to stick around. Zucca’s got a lot of press recently (well-deserved), but it has had the unfortunate consequence that the place is always packed. Make sure to book ahead.
Perched above Borough market like a floating glasshouse, the impressively lofty dining room is excuse enough to visit this celebrator of the classic English roast. Wall-to-ceiling windows offer views of the bustling market stalls from the bar or right across to St. Paul’s from the raised dining area. Nab a table near them for some serious views while dining. Never fear if there’s no space – the other side of the restaurant is a prime spot for peeking into the open-plan kitchen. The specialities here are, you guessed it, a selection of roasted fish, fowl and meat, that the well-heeled clientele scoff down with relish. Diners who need to dash can go for the takeaway option at the downstairs sandwich stand where the sandwiches stuffed full of roast meats are the perfect hangover cure if you’re wandering the market on a Sunday morning.
There are plenty of pretenders to the tapas bar title in London, but few rock the look as authentically as Jose, which really is a bar (Sherry being the tipple of choice) first and restaurant second. That’s not to say that the food – which is really top-notch – is incidental. The place has pedigree after all; owner Jose Pizarro made a name for himself Brindisa, now legendary for its tapas. It’s just that this tiny Bermondsey bar is more about grazing while you drink than sitting down to eat. In fact, there’s not much space to sit at all. Squeeze round the marble topped bar if you can, but most of the time you’ll find yourself standing up and crowd round one of the strategically-placed barrels that serve as tables. That’s just the way it works, and of course there’s no reservations. If you feel the need for something a bit more relaxed, head up the road to Jose’s sister, Pizarro, which is more traditional. Just remember, Jose is about glugging and snacking, not dining – and it works.