Test Driving José Pizarro at the Royal Academy - tapas and art are a winning combination

roomThis is the main José Pizarro restaurant in the Dorfman Senate Rooms.

What can you tell us about José Pizarro at the Royal Academy?

First off, if you don't already know about José Pizarro, he's one of the best Spanish chefs in London today. Alongside this new opening, he has restaurants in Bermondsey and Broadgate, as well as the "José" tapas bar in Bermondsey, easily one of - if not the - very best tapas bars in London. 

And what's he doing in an art gallery?

He's taken over two of the restaurants in the Royal Academy. The main restaurant is in the Dorfman Senate Rooms. That's a sit-down affair with an extensive tapas menu (and lots of counter dining). Downstairs, you'll find the Poster Bar which is more obviously a tapas bar. At the moment, that has a slightly shorter (but still quite extensive) tapas menu alongside a "toast" section. Downstairs is probably best for popping in for a quick drink and a bite, while the setting's a little more formal upstairs. 

roomAnd this is the Poster Bar on the ground floor (stools and high tables just out of sight). 

Where is it?

If somehow, you've managed to miss The Royal Academy building, it's in that huge courtyard just off Piccadilly, about halfway between Green Park and Picadilly Circus stations. As far as where it is within the building, both the restaurant and the Poster Bar are actually at the back, so if you're coming from the north, use the Vigo Street entrance. 

So - once there, where should we sit?

It will really depend on what time you arrive. The restaurant is open during gallery hours, so it's primarily a lunchtime - afternoon destination (although it opens for an evening meal on the first Friday of every month). If you go during the traditional lunchtime hours (roughly 12.30 - 2pm) it gets a little on the busy side, so you may be pressed for choice, seatwise. If you can, grab one of the middle tables on the far right or left as you come in - those will give you the best view of the undeniably impressive room. 

That said - we think the bar stools would be a very handy meeting spot, a perfect space for a quick glass of cava and a chat. 

roomJosé's own sparkling wine is on the menu - ideal as your first glass. 

But what about the food? 

Tapas is pretty perfect for a gallery or museum - you can pop in to refuel if you need a short rest from all that culture, but it's also a great way to finish up a visit. 

The menu is split into cold and hot tapas - and there are about 15 choices in each. So there's an opportunity to visit several exhibitions at the RA and always find an excuse to come back to the restaurant to try something new. Everything's tapas size, some larger than others but we'd say order about 2-3 plates each for more than enough food. 

You'll see some changes from the other Pizarro restaurants - mainly because there are some restrictions on what they can cook (there's no cooking with fire for fairly obvious reasons). Here's a selection of what's on offer...

roomThere are two croquetas on the menu - the jamon Iberica (£8.50) and the changing croquetas del dia (£6.50). 

roomThe acorn-fed Jamon Iberico is a must -  this is 30g at £9.50. 

roomSpicy prawn fritters with lemon allioli (£11) - one of the star tapas dishes

roomMore prawns - and a must-have dish if you've not had it before - whole white prawns with garlic and chilli (£13)

roomEnsaladilla Rusa (£7.50) - Russian salad is a very big thing in Spain, we've seen many a bar in Madrid where they'll have a huge dish of it on the bar. It's one of our favourite dishes and this is absolutely up there with the best. The confit tuna on top makes it a top tier version. 

roomThere are two bocadillos on the menu - either with Ermesenda cheese and truffle (£14.50 - pictured here) or add on Jamon Iberico too (£20)

roomEvery cheese toastie deserves a stretchy cheese shot.

roomFinishing up with Peter's (that's José's partner) almond tart with figs and PX ice cream (£7) - a gloriously light tart after we'd gone big on tapas, and that PX ice cream is divine.

Anything else?

This is just scratching the surface. There's much more on the menu, including José's signature Presa Iberica with confit peppers (£16) - we've had that a few times and it's always excellent. And there's obviously a Basque cheesecake in the dessert section too. 

What about drinks? 

The wine list makes this well worth a trip on its own. It's a completely Spanish list, so Verdejo, Albarino and Rioja all make an appearance. Prices start at £6 for a 175ml glass or £25 a bottle (an Alicante moscatel), with plenty available under the £40 mark. This makes it all extremely reasonable for a glass or two in Mayfair, let alone in such a beautiful room. 

Outside of wine, there's a selection of gin and tonics, a small cocktails list including a negroni with PX sherry and vermouth rojo and a short sherry list on top of that.  

Overall thoughts

As we've said above, tapas and a gallery restaurant just go together very well indeed. It would seem rude to visit the RA and not pop in here too for a glass or two and some tapas - let alone when the quality is so high. We'll definitely be back for some more Cava and Russian salad soon.


More about José Pizarro at the RA

Where is it? Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

How to book: Bookings only at José Pizarro at the RA by emailing reservations@ra.josepizarro.com

Find out more: Follow José Pizarro on Instagram @jose_pizarro.


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