Anchoring the southern end of Bermondsey Street, Zucca has played no small part in the ascendancy of the area. Even this former dodgy end of the street now has an art-house cinema, great bookshop and farmers’ market, and this is before even touching on Maltby Street. It really is an exciting place to be, but Zucca hasn’t strayed from its earnest, unchanging proposition of quality ingredients, zen-like simplicity, fantastic value and a fresh, clean feel.
To start, some antipasti dishes (all a steal at £3-5) including the legendary ‘Zucca fritti’ Which is exactly what is says; fried pumpkin, and it is absolutely delicious. An underdog contender for Zucca’s most cultish dish, the tempura pumpkin is bountiful, hot, crispy, salty, completely without grease and just an excellent snack.
A plate of San Daniele ham and Milano and ventricina salamis is great value too, and the silky San Daniele sits perfectly alongside the spicy, almost chorizo-like ventricina. Breads are baked in-house and served warm. The olive oil is so richly flavoured, it’s almost enough for a whole meal. They have even rebranded it from Planeta to Zucca’s own brand, so great has the demand been for it. It’s a golden yellow but tastes of a greener unfiltered oil.
My friend goes for the casarecci with pork & fennel ragu, parmesan (£8 or 10, astutely generous differential) which is al dente, meaty, with the fennel so bold that you might think there was a shot of absinthe on the table, and piles of pre-added, quality parmesan and black pepper on top. A great plate of comfort food. It’s just as well Zucca only regularly offer 2-3 pastas, as they’re so irresistible that they can pull a diner away from their secondi. But not quite…
Zucca’s veal chop is about £16 and truly something to behold. A perfectly grilled chop, with charring and nicely pink, is served on a bed of spinach and drizzled with lemon juice. In a West End restaurant, you’d end up blowing another twenty quid on sides, but this doesn’t need anything. It’s massive, juicy and full of flavour. And now one of London’s legendary dishes.
A quick affogato for dessert at Zucca means two massive scoops of creamy, malt vanilla floating in a smooth espresso. Among the best I’ve had.
This is the new London school of Italian, definitely taking more inspiration from The River Café than the red sauce ‘pizza-pasta-rias’ of old. And with others like Trullo, Tinello, Bocca di Lupo and of course Russell Norman’s Polpo dens, we’re really starting to be spoiled.
Service is solid – efficient and informed, young yet passionate, without any Dolmio nonsense. Well, a tiny bit. Just enough. And no service charge is added, which is a rarity these days.
So if you want The River Café gastronomic salivations but without the financial palpitations, get yourself down Bermondsey Street, far cooler - and more central - than the arse end of Hammersmith will ever be.
Food – 9/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 9/10
Tap water tales – 7/10
Staff Hotness – 7/10 (young, engaged Italians)