I’m auditioning for a new local Italian. Somewhere close to home where you can easily pop past for a bowl pasta and a glass of red, or a collection of antipasto that will help tame the hunger beasts. The kind of place that you walk in, feel at home and you think- ‘my mum would like this place’.

We’ve found them all over the world. In Sydney it was Sopra and Vini. In New York it was Torrisi on Mulberry Street. We even found one in Las Vegas (B&B Ristorante)

Last weekend in London we auditioned Zucca.

As a suburb, Bermondsey treads a line between being sweet and achingly hip. It’s close enough to London Bridge to be convenient, but buffered by enough East Village style bars to make you wonder if you should have spent a little more time on your outfit selection.

Inside Zucca is clean and minimalist. It’s also very white, and the tables are set nicely with sparkling cutlery. The kitchen hugs one wall and is partially open, providing extra entertainment for those struggling with conversation. It’s a popular place but at 6.30 pm the room is fairly hushed with twosomes enjoying date night. We’re a group of three. Tonight The Hungry One and I have brought along one of his ‘second wives’.

No, we’re not into polygamy. It’s his term for for when he comes home to find one of my girls with me.  Usually the ladies are be pottering in the kitchen, drinking wine. With a look of delight he’s prone to say  when he arrives home “I have two wives tonight!”

Just wait til Christmas and he discovers that he’s got three. (Before anyone gets too worried when he comes home I get a real kiss, wives from number 2 and beyond  make do with hugs. And it’s absolutely to the spare room for the guests).

So tonight he’s flanked by two ladies and we’re out to celebrate  the second chapter in the ‘festival of Tori’. A chaser of a birthday meal, this time cooked by someone else.

To start there are startlingly cheap and well balanced negronis from a small cocktail list.The last time I drank negronis before dinner it ended badly. Luckily they both promise to keep an eye on me.

The menu is a neat one page divided into antipasti, pasta, fish and meat. The wine list is long, Italian driven and with some very friendly price points.  Soon there’s warm foccacia  on the table and some pleasantly peppery Planeta olive oil to dip.

The eight antipasti on the menu bounce between three and four pounds a serving and shift depending on what is seasonal and good. Considering the quality of what comes out,  they’re a cracking bargain. For us it’s a  carpaccio of sea bream which is sweet and soft. It’s given punctuation by some little flecks of chilli flesh and some more of the peppery olive oil.

Soon on the table there’s also some prosciutto di parma with figs and some seared venison with balsamic vinegar that was tender and pink.  But it was the namesake dish that got everyone really excited. The zucca fritti are strips of tempura style pumpkin, a casing of crunch and a yielding centre like a fat baby’s thigh. But what takes it over the top are the crispy fried sage leaves that are playing hide and seek in the pile . Sage was created to be crisped and coated in fat and here it lives up to its birthright.

Main course pastas are generous portions for under a tenner.  A game ragu with buccatini is savoury and has a threadbare texture like the fringe of a well loved scarf.  NB buccatini, like long skinny straws creates some interesting crevices for the sauce to slip down- and some potential for it to trickle down your chin. Probably not the best thing to order on a first date. But if you’re out on the town with two wives, go nuts.

For me, the protein based main courses lost some  zeal.  Halved and grilled scampi decorated with a salsa verde spiked with chilli the scampi are an impressive size, but somewhat unwieldy. If the room wasn’t so artful I may have been tempted to tuck in with my fingers. Instead the elbows stayed off the table and we battled on with cutlery. A fennel slaw is rustically chunky, rather than the gossamer slivers you might have expected.

As a counterpoint the braised beef cheek is real rib sticking stuff for a blustery evening. The main courses are much more about substance over style, with the the wet polenta providing a lumpish but sturdy companion to the slow cooked beef. With both of these dishes a few small touches may have really made them sing. A visit from a herb to the fennel slaw; perhaps mint, or a sprinkling of gremolata on the beef cheeks might have given some cut through and sparkle. Though these are minor quibbles in the face of such earlier successes.

Highlights among desserts include an outrageously generous portion of housemade vanilla gelato for an affogato, which you can mix and muddle to your heart’s content at the table.

The other winner was a  simple slice of chocolate cake that had the texture of a mud pie and a taste of pure indulgence. Add a spill of cream and the shimmer of a birthday candle courtesy of the caring floor staff and you’ve got all you need for a lovely birthday eve.

By the time we’re finished at at 9pm they’re prepping the table for the second sitting and the noise level has ratcheted up.  It seems Zucca is popular for a reason. And like many others, we’ve been converted to its charms. Local Italian, found.

So, Mum, when you come over there’s a good chance The Hungry One and I are bringing you here. But never fear. You don’t have to play second wife.  Because that would be a little bit weird.


(020) 7378 6809

184 Bermondsey Street
London, SE1 3
Zucca on Urbanspoon

  1. Teehee, love the multiple wices story! Sounds far less complicated than what they get up to on Big Love 😉

    I'm also envious of the quality of that affogato… I adore affogatos but so often get served dodgy supermarket-quality ice cream when I order it out. Sigh!

  2. It is great to find a perfect Italian restaurant, isn't it? We revisited ours yesterday and were reminded of why we love it so.

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