Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Zucca, Bermondsey

Zucca is a breath of fresh air. It pleases in so many ways. My not-at-all-vegetarian mother was dubious about coming all the way into London for an Italian meal, her apprehension building as I dragged her down Bermondsey Street repeatedly if not exactly confidently assuring her that “it wasn’t much further, honest,” but she ended the evening conceding that it had been more than worth it.

The room is simple as can be: white chairs, white tables, open kitchen, the only real splash of colour coming from an (aptly) pumpkin-coloured daisy on each table. The bread – ciabatta and foccacia – was fresh and served with two sizeable cubes of frittata and a bowl of green, clean Sicilian olive oil for dipping. Note there was no cover charge for all that.
The menu is small, with only two or three dishes in each category, but almost everything sounded appealing; I presume there will always be one meat and one vegetarian pasta dish available.

To begin I went with the baked onion, which was served not with ricotta as the menu stated, but with an assertive Italian goat’s cheese. I doubt there are many places that would consider serving up half an onion baked in its skin, but this, though simplicity itself, was a lovely pairing: the sweetness of the onion combining with the saltiness of the cheese, all elevated by a generous scattering of tarragon.

My mother went for the smoked eel bruschetta and though she found the bread a little too charred, she loved the topping of rich eel coupled with the sharpness of capers and what we were fairly confident was celeriac.

Given the prices (no starter over £4) we’d expected dinky portions, so had also ordered a plate of zucca fritti to share. We were a bit taken aback by the small mountain of fried pumpkin we received, but the batter was light and tempura-like and the addition of a little fried tarragon made it a mountain we were more than capable of scaling.

My plate of fettuccine, asparagus, lemon and parmesan was probably one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had outside of Italy. The pasta was homemade and perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of bite; the flavours were all clear and distinct and complimented one another superbly.

Any combination of pork and beans makes my mother happy so when she spied pork loin, borlotti beans and mustard fruits on the menu her mind was made up, though she was momentarily diverted by the prospect of octopus. This huge hunk of pig was very much to her liking, as was the bed of mustard-flecked beans and spinach on which it sat.

We were feeling quite full by this stage but we valiantly tackled the tart of the day which in this case was a lemon tart. This was everything it should be, tart and lemony, and only let down slightly by slightly underdone pastry. The tart, as with the bread and pasta, was all made on site and it showed. The service was friendly, attentive and informative, though we did have to remind them to bring us our wine (and it’s unwise to make my mother wait for wine). Our bill came to £50 without service - wonderful value for such a high standard of cooking and such generous portions. The fact that they can achieve so much while charging so little made me reflect rather bitterly on the kind of prices you become inured to living in London; I hope other places follow its lead.

The whole set up makes me incredibly keen to go back and not in a vague some-time-down-the-line kind of way, but as soon as I can reasonably (or unreasonably) drag a friend down to Bermondsey.

Zucca on Urbanspoon
Zucca, 184 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TQ 020 7378 6809


  1. Really want to go here it sounds great - the best pasta outside of Italy is a big call!

  2. Perhaps not the absolute very best around, but certainly one of the best I can remember eating in London in a long time (bearing in mind I've not visited The River Cafe or Latium).

  3. Looks lovely, and very reasonabl too. I don't tend to opt for pasta when eating out, but this might change my mind!

  4. Sounds like the perfect compromise! It's been a while since I went to a decent Italian restaurant and with reviews like this one I'm definitely going to have to give it a try!