I think my favourite and most used useless fact is that the collective noun for gnu is an implausibility. An implausibility of gnu. Brilliant. And brilliantly useless on many levels too – not least because it’s not implausible at all that there would be a group of gnu (I’ll save you the Google: gnu is another name for wildebeest, and they generally chill out in herds).
One reason I like this pointless trivia is that the inner geek in me simply enjoys collective nouns – you know, a pride of lions, a fesnying of ferrets, a nuisance or irritation of bloggers. That kind of thing. I find it mildly amusing to fire collective nouns back at someone who thinks they know them all; they are invariably defeated by an implausibilty of gnu. Only mildly … but deep down I suspect you’ll admit you’ve had the odd conversation where you’ve done this. Maybe you’ve got a favourite collective noun too. Go on, admit it: you’re going through a list in your head right now.
What, then, might the term of venery be for sherry bars? By sherry bars I don’t mean social clubs stocked with Harvey’s Bristol Cream for the blue rinse brigade, rather trendy little joints that have been springing up in London recently, which ostensibly specialise in the fine variants of booze from Jerez and some expensive cured meat on the side.
A flight of sherry bars? Too obvious. A barrel? Hmm, not so much. How about just translating ‘flight’ into Spanish? Sure, that technique is a bit provincial bistro but, to be honest, I’m a bit too preoccupied with work and life and stuff generally to think of something properly clever. So unless someone can suggest a better option, my affectionate group name for Pepito (in King’s Cross), Capote y Toros (Old Brompton Road) and José (Bermondsey) is a vuelo of sherry bars.
This trio of venues have all been fairly extensively written about in the papers and on the blogs over the last few weeks and months. On that basis and given I don’t think I’d hold your or my attention for three separate posts, it seems apt to stick little bits on each bar in one review.
Pepito got here first – like back in March 2010. It’s a little room decked in Moorish tiles and with a cage of the sherry bottles tempting you as you stand around the barrel topped tables. Situated just off a surprisingly pleasant courtyard in Kings Cross, Pepito, like Camino (its brasher, bigger, louder and non-sherry focussed forebear and neighbour), is a decent first date place – you can get a good drink at both, some casual food if you want, and there’s no where better in London than King’s Cross for being able to quickly make your excuses and jump on a useful and direct bus or tube home if it is all getting a bit awkward and dull.
I’ve found service to be excellent on every occasion I’ve been to Pepito – mostly because, if you wish, the staff give an informed, helpful and patient introduction to the various different types of sherry as well as suggestions for suitable nibbles on the side. The sherry’s good (we’ll assume that’s a given for all of these places) and I’ve taken down some good and well priced red wine there too.
Food wise it’s largely cold cuts prepared simply. Not cheap, but certainly tasty slithers of Spanish hams and cheeses, the ubiquitus olives, pan con tomate combinations and so on. There always seems to be a great atmosphere, whether empty or rammed. Of the three places it’s the least foodie and most bar like – and I personally think it works well that the food is more or less incidental.
camino.uk.com/pepito – Regent’s Quarter, King’s Cross – 020 7841 7331
Capote y Toros
Capote y Toros is the newest addition to the gathering of linked and excellent Spanish eateries on the Old Brompton road (which could well have a collective noun all of their own), of which Cambio de Tercio is the flagship.
I’m not a massive fan of the room. Mostly because it’s narrow and largely filled by a row of normal level beige seats and tables. I’d prefer it to be more bar like, with stools and small but high tables dotted around. I know it’s less practical, but I feel it should be a bar, not just another tapas joint.
Setup aside, the food is very tasty. Capote y Toros probably provides the most substantial food of our three sherry bars – maybe the seating reflects this.
The highlight when I went were the awesome, rich and tender, slow cooked pigs cheeks. A cod dish erred on the over salted side and our portion appeared to be half the size of our neighbours, but was actually still enjoyed and certainly polished off. As were impeccible marinated anchovies and perfect slices of jamon ibérico. Pork meatballs in an unusual savoury yellow sauce (I don’t know what) were close to the pork cheeks on the enjoyability scale. I rather liked a Pedro Ximenez dressed goats cheese side salad too.
Capote y Toros does make the sherry very accessible – a beginner style flight of the 5 main types of sherry is a very reasonable £12.50 and comes with some explanatory words. This is a good thing. (I love how a Palo Cortado’s transmogrification from being a Fino or an Amontillado to something entirely different during the making of it is “inexplicable”).
The atmosphere was aided by an Andalucian guitarist, but those tables and chairs definitely hindered the chatter you might otherwise expect in a self proclaimed ‘ham and sherry’ bar. Worth trying out for an evening though, particularly if you’ve been to Tendido Cero (its more established tapas sibling across the road) before.
Very long web link – Old Brompton Road, SW5 – 020 7373 0567
It may be barely a month old, but José has some pedigree – being the eponymously titled new venture of José Pizarro, one of the founders of Brindisa (the well established and successful importers of quality Spanish produce and excellent tapas venues in their own right).
I’d say this feels like the happy medium between Pepito and Capote y Toros. There are stools and small marble tops for eating, but it is also very much a bar and you’re likely to find yourself standing whilst holding a glass of sherry for at least as long as you get to sit. Food is good, both with basic but quality nibbles (olives, salted almonds, slithers of perfect jamon Ibérico, padron peppers etc) but also more adventurous dishes (breadcrumbed hake with a smokey paprika aioli, unusual and daily changing tortillas, SEARED BUT STILL RARE FATTY PORK (pluma Ibérica) which is beautiful and eye opening and all fear of worms should be put aside).
The food is not all stupendous – that tortilla was lovely and moist but I didn’t think it delivered on the aubergine, blue cheese and walnut flavour in the way that I hoped it would; and though chicken livers were nicely done with nice thin slices of macerated red onion, the capers that also came with lack the expected salty bitterness to cut through the offal, which would’ve been welcome. But even those dishes are still enjoyable.
The difference between what’s on offer at José and at Capote y Toros is that José’s remains finger food or at most something for a fork. Capote y Toros’s scran is definitely knife and fork territory.
Again the sherry (and wine) list at José is really nice; no complaints at all on that front. Service was very good considering the difficulties of working a small and busy room, and the man himself is fully involved in the cooking and overall experience. There’s a cracking buzz in the room.
joserestaurant.co.uk – 104 Bermondsey St, SE1 – 020 7403 4902
Bottom line is that I enjoyed all of them and they’re a very welcome addition to the London bar and casual dining scene. If pushed I’m waivering between Pepito and José for my favourite. Pepito is the truest to being a ‘bar’. José still has that vibe but ticks a few more ‘foodie’ boxes, which I suppose is a good thing too. Capote y Toros is not to be sniffed at, mind, and really it’s just quite nice to say that London has a collection, or a vuelo, of quality sherry joints. You might think it’s implausable, but it’s true.
A vuelto of Sherry bars in 3 words
All enjoyable places.
Up to you, really. The three bars are more or less the same price bracket. You could spend a little (like £15 a head) on a glass or two of sherry, some olives and salted almonds. Or a lot (like £40+) on a flight or a bottle or two, some jamon iberico and the more adventurous or voluminous plates.