Josê had been on my list of restaurants to try for a long time yet until a few weeks ago I never quite made it there. Why? Well as most of us I am a bit of a creature of habit and spending a lot of time in central London a journey southward can seem like a lot of effort especially if you don't know if the trip will be worth it. I am also a bit of a novice when it comes to Spanish food, the selection of tapas i had sampled at Barrafina were of course great but my knowledge and enthusiasm for this cuisine was still rather limited. However the minute I walked down Bermondsey street, just a stones throw away from London Bridge station, I was already enchanted by its location and regretted that I hadn't explored this part of London before. The whole street feels like a little village in the shadow of the city and its tall glass buildings, with a variety of pubs, restaurants and little shops lining the street . Exactly this distinctively un-London atmosphere is what I also loved about the restaurant itself. Located in a beautiful corner building Josê's tiny space, just a few high stools and tables in a darkly lit room with an open kitchen that allows you to watch the chefs at action, had a real feeling of authenticity and a genuinely warm and vibrant atmosphere, very seldom found in London where sleek concepts sometimes make the eating experience a little too polished and impersonal. Once sat down the service proved exceptional, the Spanish staff more than happy to recommend dishes from the constantly changing and seasonal menu. Tapas classics like patatas brava (fried potato chunks served with a tomato sauce and delicious aioli) and pan con tomate (fresh tomato and garlic on soft bread) were despite their simplicity in ingredients exceptionally flavourful and dare I say at least in my opinion better executed than at Barrafina. Rather than sticking to classic dishes however they also use British ingredients to create moorish dishes like the salt cod croquettas which are traditionally filled with ham , showing great creativity by the kitchen. It was a real joy sharing and tasting a variety of dishes, decently priced and portioned, that encapsulated the flair of the Spanish cuisine perfectly and really did make me forget about the cold just outside the door. This little bit of Spain in London offers the perfect setting and food to escape the British winter and has truly converted me to tapas.
As many of you may know by now I have a very committed sweet tooth, the dessert for me as much an indicator of a restaurant's cooking ability as a main and something I always look forward to, rather forgoing a starter and leaving that little bit of space for the sweetest and in my opinion best way of finishing a meal. However sadly despite London being filled with countless restaurants, a good dessert is not that easy to come by, many merely seeing it as an afterthought on the menu or playing it safe with dessert classics like tiramisu, chocolate fondant or a creme brûlée, all of which are rarely done well and rather unspectacular in the flavours . However I have found a few exceptional dessert creations, sometimes in the most unlikely of places, that are imaginative, tasty and beautifully presented and every time see me leaving on a sugary high!
Meat Liquor may be more for its burgers that see many queue around the block but I urge anyone that makes it inside to leave a bit of space for the little known dessert options here. Yes, it isnt exactly easy to still fit anything after fries, the infamous dead hippie burger and the addictive deep fried pickles but believe me this sundae is worth being rolled out for. As a bit of a sundae connoiseur I have my fair share of rather disappointing attempts at this American classic in more than one restaurant in London. However this sundae ticks all the boxes. Peanut and chocolate ice cream, slightly salted peanut brittle, chocolate sauce and as crowning glory a Reese's peanut butter cup which in itself has addictive qualities, this is one hell of a sundae
If they do one thing exceptionally well at
Workshop Coffee it is their flavoured mascarpone (something that appears on
their equally inventive brunch menu via coffee and truffle flavoured variations)
and which works a real treat in this unusual dessert. Combined with the warm
and gooey ginger cake, the raspberry mascarpone and hot toffee sauce create a
rather addictive flavor combination that still isn’t too heavy with the tangy
mascarpone and zingy ginger cutting through the richness of the indulgent hot
toffee sauce. It may not be ingredients one would immediately put together in a
dessert but here they work so well that I can safely say it is one of the best I
have sampled in London!
At St John's they like to do things a little different. From their locations, one right in Chinatown, one in a former smoke house, to their menus, desserts here changed constantly to allow the chefs to be truly creative with seasonal ingredients- St John's restaurants are really one of a kind. Though their rather meaty mains menu has never seen me have a full meal there, the desserts i have tried have consistently impressed, always perfectly executed and taking on classic desserts like an Eton mess, spotted dick or in this case the backed Alaska but giving it a creative twist that make them far from average. The Alaska, far removed from the 70's cheesy dessert everyone knows it as , here really is a work of beauty. With a soft meringue shell that melts in the mouth and filled with chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, on an almost slightly bitter chocolate biscuit base, this is as close as you will get to dessert heaven. Being not a massive chocolate fan I was a little hesitant that it would be too rich or too sweet but using high quality, high percentage chocolate and with the light meringue shell this is a perfect marriage of flavours rather impressively presented. A real dessert show stopper.
Apple pie is an absolute must try here and
currently my number 1 dessert obsession. It’s not only the indulgent way the
waiter brings out the whole pie form to serve you up a humongous slice fresh
onto your plate or that you get a pint of cream AND vanilla ice cream to
appropriately drown it in. No, its the pie itself with just the right apple to
crust ratio and a hint of cinnamon that makes this the ultimate comfort food that
will make you come back time after time. And yes the designated pie waiter knows
my face by now but trust me he will know
yours soon too.
Cinnamon roasted pumpkin with fried goats cheese & roast fennel
Camden isn’t exactly known for
its culinary options, far from it I am usually filled with horror thinking of
the hygienically questionable market stalls selling Chinese food with even more
questionable ingredients. That is why I was a little perplexed to hear of Madein Camden, a stones throw from the tourist hell of the market, being included
in the Michelin bib Gourmand category. The bib gourmand basically denotes great
food for decent prices (the closest I will get to trying Michelin starred food
on a student budget) and with only a few others picked alongside it in London
meant that Made in Camden had achieved very high praise indeed. The food served
here is hard to categorize and as someone that hates the term fusion ( it being
a word that became so fashion in the restaurant scene that I don’t think anyone
quite knew what it meant anymore) I hesitate to label it just. However Made inCamden does rather successfully fuse unusual flavours and cooking methods from
all over the globe in each of its small dish options. This results in incredibly
inventive but at the same time far from overcomplicated and pretentious food.
Portions are actually decently sized, minute tapas style dishes that easily
rack up a bit of bill a major pet hate of mine, and each dish that I sampled
(2-3 are recommended per person) introduced me to a completely new flavor
experience. Simple ingredients, for example cauliflower, are made the star of the dish, the
cauliflower here served with creamed tahini and pomegranate molasses,
completely elevating a rather bland vegetable into something quite special. In
actual fact me and my friend stuck to the vegetarian dishes all evening which
all delivered in inventiveness and taste, healthy and light yet strong in
flavor, this is the kind of food that makes eating your five a day fun. Dessert
was as good, as a bit of meringue fiend I had to try their take on Eton mess
(fittingly called the MIC mess) which was a beautifully light concoction of
white chocolate cream, crisp meringue, pistachios and rhubarb. With a regularly
changing and seasonally based menu Made in Camden is a great place to test your
palate and a real gem that is worth seeking out, sometimes the best places to dine in London, hidden
in the most unlikely locations.