We even asked the cheffing icon about his guilty food pleasures…

This week What’s On was handed the extraordinary privilege of being the first media outlet to be given a tour of the venue and introduction to the menu of Jose by Pizarro.

The restaurant opens on Friday, March 17 — at the magnificent Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, and is a regional first from Spanish super star chef ‘yes way’ José Pizarro. Known as the “Godfather of Spanish Cuisine”, Chef José is making a culinary offer, us as discerning Abu Dhabi diners, would be unwise to refuse.

The José Pizarro Group operates a clutch of well-respected restaurants across Europe, serving up (rather appropriately for Abu Dhabi’s recent acquisition of the Michelin Guide) Bib Gourmand-recognised great European plates.

As well as an exciting collection of very honestly priced sharing ‘tapas’, there are more substantial mains arriving from Spain (although not on a plane, a huge quantity of the ingredients have been deliberately sourced from premium local suppliers). We tried the chicken paella, and it really genuinely is one of the best things we’ve tasted in the last 12 months.

On the symmetry of Spanish and Middle Eastern food

And there’s a strong synergy between Spanish and Arabian food, not least because of shared threads of heritage. As early as the eighth century, Arab settlers have occupied significant swathes of the Iberian mainland, with influences on language, place names, architecture and food — still poetically observable today.

And what is Tapas if not mezze with a sultry Spanish accent?

Speaking of sultry Spanish accents, we were lucky enough to get a few minutes one-on-one with Chef José. This is What’s On x José Pizarro.

What’s On: You’ve already achieved incredible success in the UK, have any British influences crept into your menu here?

José Pizarro: I’ve been in the UK for 24 years now, but no, not really. I make food to please people, it’s about my customers, my friends. But in my Spanish restaurants, I don’t try to do anything that’s not Spanish. I always wanted a pub, because pubs are like a tapas bar — you can go for a quick drink, some croquetas, and then go. It’s a place for community. For friendship, and very good for a date. And in my pub, I do fish and chips, and I’m doing my Scotch egg, but in my restaurant — you’re coming for Spanish cuisine and I think it has so much diversity that you really don’t need anything else.

WO: What would be your (last) ‘death row’ meal? 

JP: OK, it’s something I used to hate when I was a child but, lentils. My mum makes the best lentils in the world. With different types of meat, it just really takes me back and I cannot adjust the flavour. And I think kitchens and restaurants are about memories. Life is about memories. And even though I didn’t like it, that smell takes me back, it reminds me of being in bed whilst my mum was cooking. It’s weird, but it’s true. And definitely I would have a chocolate pot, I love chocolate.

WO: Not a pot noodle (a sort of British instant ramen) then? 

JP: [Laughs] That is my guilty food pleasure. It’s different, here this is my last meal — so it’s important. I would also like to eat a really lovely roast, the sort I would eat with my mum and dad for celebrations. The baby goat, it’s very simple recipe. Just really amazing meat, with onions and peppers the sort my mother dries, and wine, and bay leaf and water. My mum doesn’t use stock. Smoked paprika, fried potatoes.

WO: We can almost smell it now

JP: Because it’s real. It’s real life, and the last meal has to have memories.

WO: Are there any local flavors that you were excited to include in your menu here? 

JP: I think because there is a lot of shared culture, you know with the Middle East and Spain. So a lot of the ingredients, the flavours are already in my menus. And I’m looking forward to discovering many more new things, because really – this country [the UAE] is amazing, the diversity, the culture for example. And we talked before, when we were cooking about supporting local suppliers and using the farm here at Conrad, which by the way, being able to get there and pick up a lettuce in the morning, in a hotel, in the desert — is incredible,

WO: One of our local dishes here, a very popular street food dish — the Schwannoma, which is like a kebab. If you were going to ‘Pizarro-fy’ it, what would you do to kind of give it the José flavour? 

JP: Paprika, it’s always been a part of my life. And extra virgin olive oil. Smokiness, peppery, I really think it would work.

WO: That literally sounds incredible. Thank you so much José.

Jose by Pizarro opens on Friday, March 17 at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers on the Corniche. We tried sardines on brioche, and a chicken paella — and can confirm, that although Abu Dhabi does not have a lot of Spanish restaurants, it does now have a truly remarkable one.  @josebypizarro

Images: Provided