I have always been a little critical of the Spanish cuisine, it's emphasis on sharing cured meats as part of the tapas experience not exactly ideal to a none meat-eater with plenty of meat eating friends. Of course there is a lot more to tapas, something that I was able to experience during a visit to the legendary Jose tapas bar on London's Bermondsey street a few years back. On that occasion I learnt about the wonders of patatas bravas, crispy chunks of potatoes wonderfully drowned in tomato sauce and garlic aioli, and salt cod croquettes stuffed to the rims with juicy fish and fried to perfection. The only thing I didn't enjoy as much as the wonderful food on offer was the rather crammed and rushed feel of the place. Yes, one could of course argue that the tapas bar vibe, perching on stools and elbowing the diners next to you, is all part of the authentic Spanish dining experience but for me it took a little a way from the culinary wonders that were created here.
Good thing then that the man behind Jose, funnily enough called Jose Pizarro, decided to take his Spanish touch into a more conventional restaurant set up, opening Pizarro a mere few doors up from Jose. I have worked just off Bermondsey street for a good while now, walking past it's enticing smells on my lunch break, and thus so when it came to deciding where to go for a work meal jumped at the chance to give Pizarro a go! Sticking to the seasonal, flavourful cooking of Jose but with less of a tapas-centric and more of a three course style menu, it proved the perfect place to take a bigger group of people for a fresh, incredibly tasty and surprisingly light lunch! While my dining companions couldn't help but order a few of those infamous cured meats, the chorizo almost inhaled in front of me, I was left in awe by an incredibly fresh spinach, olive and mushroom salad that showed a kitchen as confident in frying a fine piece of meat than perfectly dressing a delicate vegetable concoctions. The mains were equally convincing, whether the steak which received rave reviews, to the light as a feather monkfish or my delicious courgette flower in rye, stuffed with aubergine puree, this was food that was simple because it was certain of its perfectly balanced flavours not because of lack of skill and didn't, like so many other restaurants do, rely on an abundance of carbs to fill you up. The house red that accompanied the meal was a complete bargain at £19 a bottle and finished off a meal that in it's soul was still undoubtedly authentically Spanish but with that slightly more refined touch when compared to Jose that makes it so perfectly adapted to London.
I am always up for sampling an unfamiliar cuisine, stemming from a country that on first sight probably seems a little alien to us in its eating habits. In a world where Italian and Chinese food have been so heavily tailored to suit the Western palette I cherish the chance to try dishes that introduce me to completely new and unknown flavours, something that to me is one of the main pleasures of eating out rather than just popping into the nearest Pizza Express. Though On The Bab no doubt has had some Western inspiration in their menu ( their take on the Italian aranchini rice balls finished of with the Korean national dish Kimchi which is unconventionally mixed with cheese), it offered me the perfect introduction into the Korean kitchen. I have always been a big fan of Kimchi, fermented and deliciously spicy Chinese cabbage, which I had tried on numerous occasions in Japanese restaurants and thus had high hopes when I sat down at a table in this small yet bustling new restaurant a few minutes walk from Old Street roundabout.
They may have, alongside 99% of restaurants in London, also bought into the small plates concept but here it really works and allows you to try a little bit of everything Korean food has to offer. And that is as it turned out a lot! Whether the classic bimbimbap, rice topped with juicy, spicy and slow cooked pieces of chicken, a fried egg and lots of fresh veg which was delicious and far from heavy, kimchi pancakes that illustrated the Koreans' love of all things fried ( the fried chicken though not sampled by us no doubt looked finger licking good!) or my absolute favourite of the evening the 'light as cloud' like buns, filled in our case with a spicy yet sweet sauce and incredible vegetable fritters. It is hard to summarise the Korean kitchen in a few words, for me it was lighter than that of the Chinese and very different to the usual Asian flavours I have sampled before in Vietnamese and Japanese cooking. All plates come in a vegetarian, pork, chicken or beef version and are more than generous in their serving, resulting in me and my dining companion leaving stuffed and more than keen to make a return visit to order what we didn't quite have the space left for! Korean food was a pleasant and very tasty surprise and On the Bab with friendly service, flawless presentation ( I was a particular fan of the metal bowls) and amazing prices, the perfect place to get my first but definitely not last taste of this cuisine!