When they say it’s near London Bridge, they mean remotely near. It was a good 15-min walk.
We booked 3 weeks in advance but still only managed to secure a table at 6:30, the early dinner slot. Décor was minimalistic and white dominated, brightened up with vivid orange tumblers and small purple flowers. Tastefully clean. As we studied the menu and waited for the others to arrive, wafts of gorgeous smelling food were floating from the open kitchen. To refrain from drooling onto the menu, we were offered some zucca fritti to munch on while we waited.
Bread Platter & Tortilla
Bread, especially the foccacia, earned several approving nods from our pastry chef, Miss Betty. Mixed reviews for the tortilla though (me vs others), partly because I’d like more seasoning, mainly because I don’t like cold eggs. But I'm generally easy on freebies.
This was simply beautiful. Ripen pumpkin strips were naturally sweet and tender, enveloped in the lightest, crispiest and greaseless batter, then minimally sprinkled with salt. It was so effortlessly good, as if any other ways of cooking pumpkin were silly. We went for seconds.
Venison, beetroot & balsamic
Seeing there were only two slices, I didn’t really taste it properly. Mister said the meat was soft in texture and packed with flavours; pairing with beetroot was a safe bet and balsamic went unnoticed.
Smoked Eel Bruschetta
This sounded like a viable combination, except something didn’t click. While the cubes of eel were super smoky, full of bounce and juice, the bruschetta was a little too harsh in texture. Perhaps the splash of olive oil didn’t infiltrate through to soften the bread; otherwise it would have been great.
Carpaccio of Sea Bass
The raw slices of fish were palm-size and generously drizzled with olive oil to moisten the gentle fish. Though the bits of pepper did well to liven things up, the truffle oil version I had back in Sakaegawa was just too strong to be overtaken.
White polenta & Brown Crab
This turned out surprisingly well. Polenta was creamy in texture but feather-light on stomach; it helped to draw out the richness and distinctive sweetness of the crab roe. The combination was smooth, runny and totally satisfying. I ended up scooping every bit of the dish with the leftover bruschetta.
We started on a high.
Pappardelle with Hare Ragu & Sorrel
Then things dampened with the pasta. No doubt about the actual pasta itself, al-dente and eggy. What I didn’t fall in love with was the sauce, or the lack of. Pieces of hare were half-shredded and hidden under the pile of pappardelle like half-chewed meat; it was desiccated as if the poor animal was hung on the tree for a good few years before it hit the pan. The dish was separated and felt pretty dead.
Orecchiette, slow cooked broccoli & salted ricotta
(At first I thought Cynthia took a bad picture, then I remembered it really didn't look good)
First impression wasn’t great; dry pasta with bits of dark green and scanty sprinkle of cheese. It tasted exactly as it looked; dry and dull. I wasn’t sure where the flavours were meant to be coming from, withered greens or salted cheese? Maybe it was supposed to follow the lightness of the menu? Then again, I shouldn’t have held my breath over broccoli and cheese pasta.
Roast Halibut, yellow beans, watercress & Almonds
Halibut being one of my favourites, doesn’t do as well roasted because it loses its silky texture as water evaporates from the fish. I think this was just slightly overcooked in the way that I prefer mine slightly undercooked. The almond puree atop worked well though, like an elegant version of satay.
Veal Chop with Spinach & lemon
And we have a winner - this chunk of meat was the saving grace for the mains at Zucca. The veal was just so soft and springy it felt like cutting into a sponge, where the meat juice slowly trickled from the meat and soaked up by the bed of spinach. I don’t remember having a more succulent chop anywhere else.
Pistachio Cake, Almond Tart with Figs & Pannacotta
There wasn’t a dessert menu for us to mull over, instead the waitress recited a long list of items at 265mph in her Italian accent. Err… I think we went for whatever words we could catch, which were inevitable the ones with most syllables.
The generous slice of pistachio cake went down well, especially with a bit of moisture from the cream served on the side. I only wish they wouldn’t glaze the top with the lemon syrup that neutralised the pistachio aroma. This is why I preferred the almond tart (despite having to pick out the figs); the crust was buttery and crumbly. The wobbly pannacotta earned the same sighs of pleasure as we lost ourselves in its ultimate creaminess.
We pretty much covered 70% of the menu; minus the pasta dishes, it was a fabulous meal for the five of us. Lots of wow factors for the antipasti, small plates with big thoughts. As the trend has it, Zucca is not a typical Italian restaurant; heavy cream was kept to the minimum and little emphasis on the traditional recipes. Judging from the waiting crowd at the entrance, the enthusiasm for Zucca is wide spread.
184 Bermondsey Street
Tel: 0207 378 6809