Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Zucca, Bermondsey


It's been a long, long time since I've had an Italian meal as good as the one I was served at Zucca last night. Years, in fact. One of the many benefits of running a food blog is that all of my significant meals are documented and time stamped in obsessive detail, and so I can therefore reveal that the last Italian meal I ate in London that I really thought was worthy of the price paid was all the way back in April 2008, at Zafferano in Belgravia. The difference at Zafferano, however, was that those two delicious but teeny courses, no alcohol and tap water came to £40 a head - quality, in Belgravia, comes at a price. Not so in Bermondsey - look at these numbers:


Not a starter over £4, no mains over £13, and a sumptuous list of seasonal Italian ingredients that are enough to make your head spin. All good meals start with a good menu, and this one read like a dream - smoked eel, rabbit, sea bream, halibut, octopus, it was enough to make me want to order all of it, but decided a more sensible option was to share three antipasti, a bowl of pasta and a main between the two of us.


The only dish I wasn't head over heels in love with was the 'Zucca' fritti - fried pumpkin sticks, which although competently fried and with a light enough batter, just weren't interesting enough to sustain more than a couple of mouthfuls without feeling slightly queasy. I'm quite willing to admit this may just be a personal aversion to deep-fried, battered vegetables (I'm not too keen on tempura either) and my friend quite liked them, so they were probably fine. Buffalo mozzarella and radicchio though, was fantastic - fluffy, fresh mozzarella, seasoned and drizzled with excellent oil, sat on top of a layer of bitter grilled radicchio, producing addictive texture and flavour contrasts.


Even better was a rabbit, pancetta and hazelnut salad, where each element of this superficially simple dish was prepared to absolute perfection. Crunchy, freshly-toasted hazelnuts hid amongst beautifully dressed rocket and endive leaves, and topped with pieces of the most unbelievably juicy rabbit meat. Star of the show, though, were tiny crispy slivers of pancetta, which seasoned the dish and added that all-important 'porkiness'. I'm still slightly stunned that my favourite dish in any restaurant was a salad, but believe me, this was no ordinary salad.


That the asparagus fettucine didn't quite live up to the galactic heights of the rabbit salad is not much of a criticism. Fresh al-dente pasta and dainty strips of asparagus still made a hugely enjoyable plate of food, but by this time I had been spoiled by that amazing pancetta and was craving it like a drug. It is true, as any Sichuan restaurant will tell you, that there aren't many things that can't be improved by the addition of pork.


The veal chop at Zucca is fast becoming their signature dish, and is remarkable not only for its tender flesh and zingy lemon dressing but also for its value - to serve this large chunk of veal (what amounted in fact to a veal T-bone) on a generous bed of perfectly seasoned spinach for less than £13 is an absolute steal. I wonder what it would have been like with some pancetta on top? It's almost too wonderful to think about.


Even the desserts impressed. A lemon tart was as lemony and tarty as you'd want, with a nice firm pastry, and a panacotta was flavoured with some kind of fruit we were told was related to the apricot. It tasted like apricot. It was nice.


So then, the gauntlet has been thrown. From this moment on, it is no longer acceptable to charge £10 for a bowl of spaghetti in tomato sauce, £5 for some greasy microwaved mushrooms or £17 for cheap steak in mass-produced black pepper sauce. Likewise, we also no longer have to pay £40+ a head for excellent, fresh Italian produce cooked with care and served with a smile. Zucca is two fingers up to any cynical restaurateur who ever thought that making a quick buck out of marking up dirt-cheap ingredients and flogging it to clueless tourists was all that London deserved, or anyone else who thought that just because you're serving something better than Bella Pasta you could charge people as much as you like. I have seen the way and its name is Zucca. The revolution starts here.

9/10

Zucca on Urbanspoon

22 comments:

Su-Lin said...

Absolutely gutted that I couldn't a booking for last night! :(

Oh well. Next time. The steak place wasn't too bad!

Lizzie said...

Fucking hell - I want to go IMEEDIATELY. I've had a bit of a reawakening with Italian food recently and This. Looks. Ace.

Emyr Thomas, Bon Vivant said...

I agree, looks fantastic - and at those prices, you really can't complain!

Helen said...

Looks simple, fresh and just bloody good. And cheap! Ha! And in South London! Ha! Brilliant.

Hugh Wright said...

I have booked myself into Zafferano next week and will take a print-out of this post along lest they attempt to charge me pre-revolution prices.

Chris said...

Hugh: Don't get me wrong, Zafferano is lovely. But it is pricey - let me know whether you think it's worth it or not!

Ino said...

This looks absolutely amazing! I love Italian food but I have given up on eating it in restaurants (apart from a lovely tiny Italian in Shrewsbury!) as I realised I can make a nicer, bigger bowl of pasta for about the tenth of the price.
I should really give this a try though!

Ollie said...

Nice one. I've been meaning to get down for ages. Looks stunning, Chris. Agree with you about the veal chop - shocking value.

Sharmila said...

Off here next week and am very excited. I also rarely go out for Italian food in London as I'm invariably disappointed.

jamesramsden said...

Christ on a bike, £13 for that handsome veal chop? Unbelievable. I'm going.

Gav said...

Want that veal chop mmmm

sameer said...

nice post. i live a minute from Zucca and have been meaning to try it but now most certainly will.

both my girlfriend and i think the Italian food in London is pretty sad. the last good Italian meal i had out was also bizarrely at Zafferano (paid for by the Boston Consulting Group).

here's a funny coincidence. the owner of Koya (John) - your previous post trained at Zafferano for a year after he quit his trading job. :-O

sam @moolis

Amy said...

I appreciate your PO very much the picture with the article. Continues to refuel!!

gastrogeek said...

nice review Chris. Incidentally, who was your amazing/brilliant/clearly high-flying dining partner? Didn't catch the name...but I get the impression they were somehow more dazzling, more vivacious and altogether tasty than even that veal chop. You lucky.

Chris said...

gastrogeek: I can't remember, she arrived so late and stayed so briefly I didn't catch her name...

gastrogeek said...

Ah yes, I imagine she was clearly running a tiny bit late from a very, very high powered meeting or something....and yet somehow managed to choose all the finest dishes on the table! I swoon at her brilliance.

Emyr Thomas, Bon Vivant said...

Finally tried Zucca this weekend - loved the veal and the lemon tart and such great value.

More Than Gourmet said...

Everything is very well plated, delicious-looking! Thx for the photos!

Miss Eva Lai said...

lol so in love! So much fun to be in love!

Bermondsey Chris said...

Bang on - a little bit of price creep since opening, but still on the cheap side of yummy. I like the zucca fritti too...

Alex C said...

I tried this on your recommendation and have to say thanks - just as described this was excellent food at very reasonable prices. I spent the difference on wine and did very well with some Kerner (an old friend from the days when the Greyhound on Battersea High St was worth visiting) and an excellent Brunello di Montalcino, which was heavenly even at £55.
Worth considering is that they won't take tips so wine is 12.5% less than anywhere else. They also took great care of it, decanting into very good decanters without being asked to. Would definitely go back.
Thanks
Alex

federilli said...

Mmm... cant wait to go especially as we live only a short scooter ride away.

My only comment - mozzarelly isnt supposed to be fluffy. Actually, I would say the opposite, it should be quite firm and you'd need a knife to cut it.

I will tell you where in London to get the REAL thing. 17 years in the UK and it's the only one is worth really spending money for (trust me, I come from Campania)