What: Two new openings within the Royal Academy of Arts, both helmed by high profile Spanish chef José Pizarro. On the ground floor is the Poster Bar by José, a café and 'informal bar' serving an all-day menu; while upstairs in the Dorfman Senate Room is José Pizarro at the RA, a restaurant with a 'grander' menu of traditional Spanish dishes. The move is being billed as the Pizarro's 'first foray into central London'. The chef, who hails from Extremadura, has two well-established sites on Bermondsey Street: José Tapas Bar, which opened in 2010; and Pizarro Bermondsey. He also operates another eponymous tapas bar in The City and a gastropub in Esher, Surrey, called The Swan Inn. Both the Poster Bar by José and José Pizarro at the RA have been created in collaboration with contract caterer Company of Cooks, which has been involved in the gallery's F&B for many years.
The vibe: The Poster Bar, with its display of exhibition posters from across the RA's history, is certainly the more eye-catching of the two destinations, but the airy upstairs restaurant is a looker too with comfy furniture and huge sash windows letting in plenty of light. Bar and table seating are available in the restaurant, while the downstairs bar has a handful of bar stools and high tables for walk in guests.
The food: The Poster Bar by José serves a more casual, café-style menu of small sharing plates including a range of sandwiches, or bocadillos; empanadas filled with tuna, confit onion and caramelised red pepper; chorizo with wine and quince; and spicy prawn fritters with lemon aïoli. The upstairs restaurant, meanwhile, serves a larger selection of hot and cold tapas plates. They include dishes that are stalwarts of the Pizarro brand, such as orange-stuffed gordal olives; pan con tomate; and presa ibérica with confit peppers. Prices are reasonable, with many plates coming in at under £10, and only a very limited number breaking the £15 mark. Despite the limitations of the kitchen - cooking with over wood or charcoal and over naked flame is prohibited - the menu is impressively wide-ranging and hearty. Other dishes include small and large plates of jamón ibérico; chipirones encebollados, baby squid cooked in caramelised, sweet onions; red prawns cooked with chilli and garlic; hake in salsa verde; and black ink croquetas.
The drink: Drinks are nearly all Spanish. The wine list is laden with bins from Spain's foremost wine making regions including Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat. Pizarro's own chardonnay also features, alongside an extensive list of sherries, and Estrella Damm on tap. Prices remain relatively conservative, with wines by the glass starting £5 and by the bottle at £25. The Poster Bar also has an extensive range of hot beverages available.
And another thing: Both sites are only open during gallery hours, so it's primarily a lunchtime destination; although the restaurant is open for evening meals on the first Friday of every month. Tapas seems like a brilliant fit, given the setting, with the nature of it allowing guests to drop in for a plate or two, or even just a quick glass of wine, in between exhibitions.
Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD