Food Review: Excellence of José Pizarro at home via Dishpatch
José Pizarro is the Spanish chef who was widely credited with popularising Spanish cuisine in the late 1990s.
Born in Extremadura, he began his career importing Spanish products for Brindisa, in London, and now considers the city his home.
In 2011, he opened his first restaurant José on Bermondsey Street, offering simple and traditional tapas.
His restaurants now include José Pizarro, Pizarro and José Pizarro The Swan Inn, while he has also published a line of regional Spanish cookbooks.
He was one of the first chefs to trade in the dine-at-home market, which flourished when lockdown struck. Offering a range of dishes, most notably brilliant paella, he became the go-to chef for Spanish cuisine.
At a time when ingredients are increasingly hard to come by and a number of local restaurants are cutting back on their opening hours to save on costs, dine at home continues to make its mark. And perhaps that’s no surprise. After all, what’s not to like?
While some delivery services tear themselves apart, as bosses and workers duel, leading to increasingly disrupted services, other couriers flourish.
And so, in the case of Jose Pizzaro, whose food is sold via the brilliant middle-man Dishpatch, boxes are delivered via one of the many brilliant couriers who are teaching the others how it should be done.
Notifications are sent indicating delivery times, problems seldom arise, tracking is provided in real-time and reliability is in-built.
All of which means that home diners can pay a sensible sum, in Pizarro’s case, that’s £39.50 each, for a sumptuous four-course dinner. It’s the same as people would pay to eat similar food in a restaurant, but without the cost and hassle of leaving the house. Win-win.
Sure, there’s a little washing up to be done afterwards, but there’s also the opportunity to cook things precisely the way you might like to.
Dinner started with slices of sourdough, which were fantastic. It’s easy to underestimate the beauty of beautifully, aerated bread, which has a distinctive tang from a years-old starter culture. Yet Pizarro’s provided a reminder that good bread is hard to beat. In an era in which chemical-drenched, pappy loaves dominate the supermarket shelves – and in a time when savvy marketeers try to pass off imitation loaves as ‘sourdough’ – this was the real thing. Chewy, with bags of flavour, light and warmed through in the oven, it was a great way to start.
Two tapas courses followed, pimientos de padron, alongside prawn and garlic corquetas. The pimientos – or, green chillis that were fried lightly in oil from Pizarro, then served with salt – were wonderful.
I like to think of padron chillies as being a super-cool game of chilli roulette. Most are innocuous enough, offering a subtly sweet taste of Spain.
But the odd one slips through the net and has the ability to send your tastebuds somewhere into the ether.
The accompanying prawn and garlic croquetas were divine. Encased in a golden breadcrumb coating that was lightly fried so that it was crisp and piping hot, the croquetas were filled with creamy mash that was mixed with salty/sweet prawns and earthy garlic. They made for happy eating and were quickly dispatched.
The main course was a work of beauty.
Ox cheeks had been gently cooked and were served with a magnificent, Rioja-based sauce.
Ox cheeks were once considered a cheap cut, as the masses opted for leaner, more tender cuts that were easier to cook. And then chefs and customers alike caught on to the fact that slower, tougher cuts, when cooked gently, offer bags more flavour.
Pizzaro’s ox cheeks were magnificent. Gelatinous, soft and meltingly unctuous, they pulled apart under the fork and were served with an exquisite sauce that combined beefy stock with Rioja and vegetables.
I could have just eaten the sauce. I still could. Even now, just writing about it makes me quiver with anticipation. Pizzaro and his teams created a masterful element to a sublime and refined dish.
The ox cheeks and sauce were served over a bed of olive oil mash, with hispi cabbage and maitake mushrooms.
The mash was heavenly. Silky smooth and tasting of Pizzaro’s homeland, it soaked up the sauce and made for delicious eating, alongside the ox cheeks.
The hispi cabbage added bite and a taste of the seasons while the maitake mushrooms were earthy and umami-rich, rounding off a well-conceived and brilliantly executed dish.
Cooking it was easy: the ingredients had been pre-cooked where necessary, or prepared where just a little heat was required. It held the same degree of difficulty as a supermarket, pop-it-in-the-oven dinner, but with immeasurably more flavour and taste.
Dessert was a dreamy dish of natillas, or Spanish custard, with a few crushed biscuits. Served in little pots, the eggs, sugar, vanilla, sugar and cream was heavenly – and utterly indulgent. The biscuits added texture and bite, bringing an end to a superbly thought-through dinner.
Eat at Home dinners have come on in leaps and bounds since the first, post-Covid entrants offered a slice of bacon, an apple, and not much else.
Today’s incarnations provide high-quality produce that’s been cleverly prepared so that minimal cooking is required.
We’re living through challenging times for those in the field of hospitality and chefs need to explore every avenue open to them – including the dine-at-home market. For a populous that is happy not to stick money into the petrol tank, pay for parking, and that can also enjoy the luxury of being able to drink – without having to drive – there’s much to be said for box dinners.
Pizzaro is someone who’s offering has only improved during the past two years and as winter bites, supermarkets run out of tomatoes and cucumbers, and restaurants struggle to make ends meet, great food from the comfort of diners’ own homes becomes increasingly attractive.