Jamon Jamon have two London branches, this one in Soho and another in Camden, with both aiming to provide delicious food in an authentic Spanish atmosphere.
Just off the tourist trap of Charing Cross Road, Jamon Jamon is set down a little side street opposite a large salsa bar. The great location means the restaurant feels like a real respite from the crowds that throng the main stretch. Large glass windows, bright, light walls and Spanish touches such as terracotta tiles and rustic wooden chairs and tables result in a pleasant and welcoming space. The restaurant is plain but suitably rustic, much as you would expect from a traditional tapas bar. Those wooden tables and chairs, and the food served in traditional terracotta dishes give the room an authentic Spanish feel, without giving the impression that they are trying too hard.
Due to the close proximity of West End, Jamon Jamon caters for the theatre crowds, with a number of very reasonable pre theatre deals. As a result the restaurant is busy early on and staff are somewhat stretched, but as the crowds head off to catch a glimpse of all that glitters, the restaurant becomes more relaxed. Tables are close together, and you get the feeling that on a weekend Jamon Jamon is a lively affair. Staff are very friendly, welcoming and more than happy to help you navigate the extensive choices on offer. They are rushed off their feet bringing dish after dish from the kitchen but remain friendly, approachable and attentive, which is impressive.
The traditional menu offers all you'd expect to see from somewhere like this, from Spanish ham and traditional tapas to paella and Rioja. The paella is a communal affair with dishes made to be shared amongst two, three or four people, working out at approximately £8 a head. Traditional tapas dishes (most of which are priced around the £6 mark) make up the bulk of the menu and offer choices which should appeal even to the fussiest of eaters with vegetarians, meat lovers and pescetarians all catered for.
This emphasis on tradition ensures that the menu is a little predictable, and is what you would expect to see in the ubiquitous Spanish high street chains. This is certainly not a fault, as good Spanish food is some of the best in the world; the simplicity allowing the wonderful ingredients to shine. Unfortunately at Jamon Jamon this isn't always the case.
Starting with jamon serrano - apparently imported from Spain and sliced freshly when ordered. The ham unfortunately lacks the deep aroma and bite of good serrano, and sadly tastes more like what you would put in your weekday sarnie. Garnished with two pitted black olives clearly plucked from a jar, the dish is just a bit limp, and doesn't have the satisfying richness that you might expect.
Calamari suffers the fate that befalls it in many restaurants: it's overcooked, in this case to the point of stringiness. There is no sauce to accompany it, which would be fine were the calamari tasty enough to stand alone, but unfortunately it's just bland and chewy. Unfortunately another perennial favourite, Spanish chorizo served in red wine, doesn't fare much better. The top layer of chorizo is overcooked to dryness and any sign of red wine has abated due to what could well be down to the dish being prepared earlier.
Gambas al ajillo (sizzling prawns), have all the sizzle of a damp firework. Served with garlic and chilli in olive oil, the prawns are adequate but the chilli is undetectable. At £6.75 either a few more - or even better, larger prawns - wouldn't go amiss.
One stand out dish is pimientos de padron. It's perfectly cooked, plump, juicy and more-ish, with just right amount of salt. The quality of this dish leaves you mourning for what the other dishes could have been if shown a bit more love. With a better investment in higher quality ingredients and a bit more care taken in cooking, the dishes could be improved greatly, but unfortunately, some of them are simply lacking.
Desserts are mixed – crème brulee certainly looks the part, served in a nice terracotta dish with perfectly caramelised brown sugar on top. Unfortunately appearances can be deceiving and what lurks beneath the sugar coated topping is disappointing; instead of a slightly wobbly creamy dessert the custard is solid and cloying, and not very enjoyable at all. Tartufo is better, with the espresso, ice cream and biscuit all coming together to create a tasty and satisfying dessert.
As you would expect the wine menu consists of mainly Rioja, with a couple of offerings from Navarra thrown in for good measure. Wines range from £16.95 to £35.95 and the house Rioja is very good, delivering a deep, rich, berry hit with delicious undertones of oak. If you fancy something else then you can sup on jugs of sangria and cocktails for £5.95, or beers at £3.25, both if which represent pretty good value.
The Last Word
The Jamon Jamon promise of delicious traditional Spanish food needs to be followed through with a bit of Spanish passion – by using good quality ingredients and a bit of love and care when cooking them. There seems to be plenty of promise, it just doesn't seem to be being fulfilled.