With neither a brioche bun or chashu slice in sight, Bar Tozino has burst onto the Maltby Street scene with huge success. Upon my visit at Saturday lunchtime it was absolutely rammed, with many more retreating upon peeking through the door, defeated and crestfallen. For the lucky ones, a real treat awaits.
Cava at a mere £4 a glass was light, fruity and yet complex, tasting closer to a prosecco and unlike many rough, astringent cavas I’ve had over the years. The food, as becomes immediately apparent when looking around you (here meat is indeed curtains) is focused on the exalted jamon iberico.
Cured ham hasn’t been a luxury ingredient in the UK for many a year, and having been wrapped around countless melons, sitting within limp paninis or adorning overpriced pizzas drowning in rocket, isn’t as excited as perhaps it once was. But as a luxury foodstuff, the Spanish have elevated the best legs to a crazy premium and prices of the best iberico can be outrageous.
Bar Tozino succeeds in enabling the best to be affordable and accessible. The menu features a selection of four hams ranging between £5-15 for a small plate, with sourdough con tomate. We had the Huelva bellota (which means acorn-fed, the best) and it was smooth, deep and frankly beautiful. You know it’s special when you’re even craving just the silky fat.
There are a few obvious menu bedfellows to the ham, such as some absolutely delicious acorn-fed chorizo (£5) and cheeses such as manchego or more pan con tomate, but there is also the odd surprise, such as the delicate egg atop bread and a ham and chorizo mix, served in a tapa bowl.
The interior is dark and sultry (or dingy if you don’t like railway arches) but it’s a superb use of the space, especially for the functional hanging of many ham legs overhead. There is a deli counter and separate menu for ‘take away’ which reminded me of the ham ‘bar’ at Iberico on Great Portland Street.
The vibe is pretty riotous – this is not a place for the shy and retiring. It’s loud, crowded and fairly uncomfortable (three types of stools ensure an inconsistent level of comfort – avoid the tiny ones) with staff clamouring to fit through the crowds and deliver the coveted boards and drinks.
Bar Tozino was fantastic, and possibly a victim of its own early success. I was told that later in the afternoon (once most of Maltby/Ropewalk has died down) it’s a lot more relaxed and people settle down for a good ham and booze session, rather than the flighty visit we had.
I’ll be back again and again – the food was unadulterated pleasure, the booze great and you can easily imagine being in somewhere in Barcelona's Born or Raval districts. I'm extremely grateful for something unique on 2012-13 London’s bandwagon-y, predictable foodie landscape. Not to mention adding to quite an already impressive Mediterranean cluster of Zucca, Jose, Pizarro and Antico.
Here’s hoping for more openings in 2013 with as much originality, authenticity and flair.