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Have you eaten at Zucca?
Already likened to the River Café (but much cheaper), this buzzy and unpretentious Bermondsey outfit offers straightforward Italian cooking of a consistently high standard.
The blizzard of PR nonsense which tends to anticipate the arrival of a new London restaurant is too often followed by realisation that it has turned out, in fact, to be AN Other nondescript newcomer, to be dutifully reviewed in lukewarm terms, and quickly forgotten. This Bermondsey newcomer seems to be the very opposite case. Little heralded, it has opened to a blaze of positive reviews.
That's not the only way in which it's rather atypical. Few (non-gastropub) dining rooms put their engine rooms so frankly on display as here, and the open-plan kitchen takes up perhaps a third of the long dining room. (Noise and smell don't seem to be an issue, though - it helps that this is an energy-efficient 'induction' outfit, where the pans are electromagnetically heated.), So this is a determinedly informal sort of dining room, feeling like the canteen of a rather superior architectural practice.
Other reviewers have tended to describe the cuisine as 'cut-down River Café', and we're happy to concur. Chef Sam Harris does indeed hail from the famous Hammersmith temple of cucina, and the menu here is a stripped-down (and almost brutally short) version in the style made famous by his alma mater.
Breads were impressive, but two of our three starters tended to good-ordinary - the San Daniele ham 'n' cheese was nothing remarkable, and a fritto of pumpkin was solidly enjoyable rather than in the celestial choir department. An impeccably dressed salad, however, had a spring it its step.
It was at the main-course stage, however, that we really began to understand the fuss. A generous chop of (English) veal came perfectly seasoned, impeccably timed and full of flavour. It came unadorned, save for some spinach. The handling of fish and seafood - in our case squid - was equally simple, and equally dextrous. And as to the rhubarb and almond tart? Well let's just say our never-eat-more-than-half-a-pudding rule got rudely thrust to one side. Expectations were by this point high, and the coffee did not disappoint.
Wines, all Italian, are also a strength And even the bill impressed. In a good way, for once.
184 Bermondsey St, London, SE1 3TQ
Last orders: 10 pm