Zucca opened on Bermondsey Street back in March 2010, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve unsuccessfully tried once every month or two to get a table there. If you think Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner is a hot ticket these days, Zucca is still going strong 14 months later. Last week, I finally gave up on snagging a weekend table and took a Tuesday evening spot.
So what’s Zucca’s appeal? Oh, I don’t know. Chic decor; good service; simple, fresh Italian cooking and low prices? A dime a dozen in London, right? Sure.
There were plenty of tempting-sounding starters on the menu. Jon and I ordered three to share, and while all of them were good, if I had to prioritize, I’d put the zucca fritti (fried pumpkin) at the bottom of the list. Sure, they’re a house specialty, but diminishing returns kicked in after just one or two of these. Perhaps better to order them if you’re with a bigger group.
Grilled asparagus, egg and parmesan was as described on the tin. Each component was fresh and well-prepared (the egg and asparagus, that is), but the flavors never came together. Maybe it needed a sauce?
Loved the creamy fresh mozzarella complemented by the earthy, meaty lentils. The garlic shoots lacked bite, but I’m biased towards scare-away-your-date strong garlic flavors, I must confess. The mozzarella and lentils could have easily taken on stronger garlic taste, though.
Highlights of our dinner were definitely the pastas and the main we shared. Rustic casarecce pasta retained a chewy al dente texture, and the pork ragu was stunningly good with a great balance of acidity, sweetness, salt and meatiness.
The taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs was lifted from ordinariness by a slight citrus flavor. If I had to complain, I’d ask that the kitchen go a little lighter on the olive oil next time.
And the veal chop is as good as everyone says it is. Tender, juicy, charred. Unbelievably good value for £14.75. I contrast Zucca’s version with the similarly-excellent one I ate at Paris’s L’Agrume a couple of months ago, which cost 32 euros.
I couldn’t resist ending dinner with affogato, which was a generous serving but how sad that there were bits of ice/freezer burn in the scoops of vanilla.
The room is large and comfortable, and while the furniture isn’t quite as luxurious as that of L’Anima, the all-white contemporary look of the two restaurants is similar. And Zucca is about 1/3 the price of L’Anima. With a couple of glasses of prosecco and wine, our total for two came to £65.
If you can afford to be choosy about tables (i.e., you’re not like me and just incredibly grateful to have finally landed a reservation), avoid the one or two right in front of the kitchen pass. The servers hover there waiting to ferry dishes to customers, and you’ll end up feeling like there are four pairs of eyes watching your every move (which I assume you agree is a minus, but if you consider it a plus, then by all means request it).
Zucca, 184 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 31Q; 0207 378 6809; closest Tube station: London Bridge (it’s still a 15-minute walk from the Tube station, though).