Why would I go to Bermondsey on a snowy day? Do I sound like an arse? I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my W1, E1, WC1-2 and EC1-2 for food, but, say, due to this one pre-arranged meal with my new lovely blogger friends The Critical Couple and the venue for our rendezvous happened to be this very pleasant, as well as pleasantly new, Italian restaurant called Zucca.
First impression. The place looked a hybrid of a very contemporary, hygienic-looking cafeteria and a young offspring of the River Cafe: no barrier between the dining room and the kitchen and the sight and sound of the well-functioning kitchen–not as of Ramsay‘s Hell–added visual spices to the meal. The menu, reasonably priced with £13.95 being the ceiling price per dish, was simple, elegant and somehow read River Cafe.
First up were the antipasti: Zucca “Fritti” –a.k.a. assorted deep fried vegetables–and Mozzarella, Romanesco, Chilli and Almonds. The Fritti was light, oil-less and crispy. Perfectly cooked vegetables inside too whatever they are; I detected butternut squash and sage. The Mozzarella was also lovely: creamy cheese with the varying degree of crunch from the also perfectly cooked Romanesco and the almond flakes. Chilli gave a light kick making the flavours more refreshing than just boringly cheesy.
Oh, sorry! I forgot to mention the bread that preceded this. A platter of three different types of bread. I nicked the Focaccia, which was crusty rather than spongy. Not bad but just not the texture I was looking for. Also it was a little too salty. Never mind it’s free.
For my pasta, I had this Rigatoni, Cardoons, Spinach and Mascarpone. Again the salt took over, and I couldn’t taste much of other flavours. The pasta was also a minute or so overcooked, no longer al dente but not completely buggered. The combination, however, was a very good one: braised cardoons–also called thistle artichokes and possessing this artichoke-like flavour with the look similar to celery stalks–lightly wilted spinach and runny Mascarpone sauce. Despite the saltiness, I did mop up the plate. Guess I couldn’t really complain, could I?
For the main, I went for Slow Cooked Octopus, Tomato and White Polenta and whoah!! it was the best octopus dish I’d ever had. No unpleasant elastic texture whatsoever. It was bouncy to the tongue and gentle to the teeth; the alarming appearance of my wisdom teeth had recently prevented me from enjoying too rough a texture. What’s more, the octopus soaked up the rich sweetness of the tomato-based sauce. Enough sour and sweetness to make me bang the table for more, but I dared not to. Also noteworthy was the creamy white polenta with a generous dash of aromatic olive oil. Did the white taste different from the yellow polenta? Not really. I found the yellow to be a little rougher in texture but that’s probably the places I had it served up a lot rougher food than Zucca! To be honest, before starting the dish, I was really jealous of my lady friend who ordered the biggest and juiciest piece of veal chop on the bone, but after tasting hers and mine, they were equally good, hence jealousy and food-nicking dropped.
I moved onto desserts of Panna Cotta and Poached Pear. The panna cotta was so unbelievably wobbly I could sit there and play with it for hours!! Thinking about it, the texture was akin to Heston’s Quaking Pudding at the Hind’s Head. Again, I kept repeating it to myself, “Behave, behave!!”. The pud was lightly flavoured with vanilla, a bit sweet rather than being a pudding of neutral taste, which worked with the rather non-aggressive tasting pear. The latter sort of the balanced the flavours off nicely.
One meal done and in a very good company. The dishes were mostly stunningly cooked and presented. River Cafe influences were obvious, but who care?, as long as the flavours could speak for their own rights, I couldn’t care less it’s been inspired by some other kitchen. On a second thought, the food was very similar to Trullo, yet more refined. The only thing I was not so keen on at Zucca–if I could find just one–would be the varying size of the dishes. Nicole’s main was massive; mine medium sized; David–poor, poor David–ended up with more red beans on the plate than pork. This could seriously cause some rift in friendship. Seriously……
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
187 Bermondsey Street
Tel. 020 7378 6809