Affectionately known as “The Godfather of Spanish cooking”, José Pizarro has built a formidable name and business over the past 24 years. The owner of several eponymous restaurants in England and author of six books, Pizarro has stretched himself one step further and expanded the José Pizarro Group into the UAE.
In his first foray into the Middle East, Pizarro made the decision to launch in Abu Dhabi versus the more “obvious” choice of Dubai, a decision he says was influenced by his love of the city. “I love both places but I wanted to make my first restaurant outside of Europe in a small neighbourhood, with more community. I’m not saying Dubai is not but when you see the island, I thought this was the place for me.”
Despite having had interest to expand in the past, Pizarro says the time was never quite right. “Things always happen for a reason. When [The Hilton Group] called me to come see the place, and I saw the potential of this space, I was like: now is the time.”
José by Pizarro is a Spanish restaurant at the Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers. The 40-seater establishment features a selection of tapas and some of the chef’s signature Spanish dishes.
The restaurant interior has red accents and walls adorned with photographs of the chef’s mother to bring what he refers to as a “homely” feel. The size of the restaurant is part of what Pizarro says makes the new establishment special.
“Small can be very good. For me it was like being in Seville in many of those tapas restaurants,” he says. Some of the layout is also reminiscent of his other restaurants. “This area is for standing [while you eat your tapas]. It’s really similar to my tapas bar in London – the first one.”
The training for the local staff was also undertaken in his London restaurants over several weeks, with six members of the London team also spending time in Abu Dhabi to ensure consistency in the offering. Pizarro himself allocated three weeks at José by Pizarro for the initial opening.
“I want to get in to know the people. When I open something, I put my name on it, but it’s not just “sign and go”. It’s important to see how things are working and to spend time with my team,” he says.
Despite opening close to the start of Ramadan, Pizarro is not worried it will affect business.
“Everyone was asking why we don’t wait, but I thought it’s good to be open. We have the trial these days, time to make everything better. Also, bookings are looking okay…and the Hilton group was very happy to open [at that time].”