ZUCCA: SOME BERMONDSEY SQUASH
Fads come and fads go. Was this the year Korean was going to make it big? Can’t remember – too busy following the burgeoning Bánh mi scene. I’m joking, of course.
The real trend over the past couple of years has been the increasing number of Italian restaurants opening. From the fancy-schmancy places of Mayfair through modish West End joints like Bocca di Lupo and Polpo, through to the basic but enjoyable hole-in-the-wall trats like 500. And not forgetting the thousands of new pizza joints.
Something for everyone then, although a more cynical soul than myself (yes, really) would say that since Italian cooking is predicated on a few ingredients, simply prepared then as Arthur Daly said (he sounds a bit Italian) there's a nice little earner to be made.
A blob of pizza dough flattened out and topped with Cheese and Tomato becomes a £15 pizza; a few pence worth of Pasta and a bit of Rabbit stew and, hey presto, a twenty quid primi in a swanky restaurant.
One of the latest openings to get the reviewers all moist is Zucca in Bermondsey Street. I haven’t been down this way for a while and what was once a quiet little residential road with the odd place to eat is now rammed with coffee bars, delis and restaurants with a (gosh) boutique hotel at the end of the road.
Zucca itself is a not unpleasant-looking restaurant. I liked the bright, white décor and furniture – a sort of L’Anima-lite – which is a pleasant change from the dark and the beige although you always run the risk that a messy klutz like myself will visit. Our late mother bought a patterned carpet for that very reason.
The first thing that struck me was how cheap everything was: no starter over £4 or main over £13. It’s always good to see sensible pricing although a part of me always wonders where the catch is or where corners have been cut. At Zucca it was the starters that betrayed the keen prices.
A decent sized plate of the signature “Zucca” Fritti were light and crisp enough but you could taste the oil from the frying and to be honest, pumpkin, even deep-fried pumpkin, can get pretty dull after a few pieces. The addition of other types of veg like fennel might have made things more interesting.
Rabbit, Pancetta and Hazelnut salad was a bit of a mess. It was overdressed and under seasoned so you couldn’t taste the individual ingredients and it really needed something acidic in the mix to lift it. The toasted Hazelnuts were a good addition but the whole thing tasted as tired as an Hermano Primero metaphor.
Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse with the Speck and Pigeon Crostini. The cured meat was drying and curling up at the edges. The Pigeon pâté was dry too and came on cold, burned bread. Why did I have the feeling I was being fed last night’s left-overs? To be fair the waiter did try to steer me towards other dishes but how difficult would it have been to toast a piece of bread properly? Very difficult indeed it appears.
The staff were friendly and I liked the Chianti Classico I was drinking so I would have been happy to just sit there, ignore the food and get shitfaced. Then, in a rabbit-out-of-hat scenario they came up with a cracking main course.
My Veal Chop was an excellent, big hunk of young cow: tasty, moist, perfectly grilled with just a hint of pink. The belt of fat had been left on and had a slight char. It was the chop that kept on giving. Alongside, some nuclear greens that tasted of iron and goodness. Was this the true Zucca?
A selection of Ice Creams impressed too with nice thick textures (save for one which had crystallized) and clean strong flavours. A double Espresso was served with a little biscuit. Which was nice.
By the end of the meal Zucca had won me over but those starters definitely seemed at odds with the rest of the meal. Possibly a Sunday lunchtime wasn’t the best time to visit although no matter what the day of the week or how cheap the food there should still be care taken in its preparation. That’s how you sort out the good places from the merely quotidian. In other words give a fuck. It was touch and go but I think Zucca does.