Carpet. In a restaurant. In this decade? It just doesn't sit right with me.
I thought carpets in drinking and dining establishments were exclusive to pubs from the set of Coronation Street that hit you with a face full of eau de stale-beer, and godawful clubs like Infernos in Clapham where the carpet smells of VK Apple and bears the stains and odours of years worth of desperate grinding.
Like bathrooms, carpet does not belong in a restaurant. Why on earth would one choose to have carpet? Ok, for noise absorption. But there must be another way. I’ll make the assumption most restaurants mop their floors at the end of each day. So what happens at Zucca - a daily shampoo?
No doubt this is the clean-freak germ-phobe in me, but as I walked over the threshold and noticed the floor, my nose curled up in a micro expression of ‘ick’.
Let’s raise the eye level and look at the rest of the room. It’s almost identical to the lobby area of my old office building, just with the addition of water glasses, cutlery and the open kitchen. Muted greys and blues, plastic white office-type tables, office-type blinds, grey office-like chairs with the same black mesh at the back we used to have, and of course that carpet.
And as it was a Thursday lunch time, it was full of men in pastel shirts with suit blazers slung on the back of their chair, and women in smart work attire - so, people from offices.
I suppose it makes sense. A restaurant that looks like an office is the perfect setting for a lunch meeting, but if I wanted to eat in a corporate environment I would have dined in The City.
I'll stop myself now before I get too sidetracked with something that will always be secondary to the food. Questionable interiors can be overlooked, even entirely disregarded, if what’s coming from the kitchen is very good (poshed-up-prison-canteen Lyle’s is a great example of this). Except, I’d probably remove the word ‘very’ here.
I like the fact the menu changes frequently in line with what is available and seasonal from Borough Market, and that there are works from featured artists adorning the walls. I also very much favoured the bread which was particularly good - made on site and from scratch, a couple of cubes of pillowy focaccia, a thin slice of something brown, a slice of something white, and a grissini. Perhaps a little meagre for two; I only wish there were more.
‘Zucca’ fritti was a generous pile of deep-fried butternut squash batons which, if were not shared with my dining partner, would be too much of the same thing for one person to clear. The salt crystals were appreciated, but it needed a lick of dip for some lubrication (£6).
Vitello tonnato saw three slices of veal and tuna, both expertly cooked, each nestled atop a mound of mayonnaise featuring the other meat. The tuna mayonnaise was like the fish paste found in those little bottles in Sainsbury’s that I tried in my sandwiches when I was 11, because I felt I needed an alternative for my lunchbox rotation. That's no criticism; I rather liked those sandwiches (£10).
Duck came pink and in long slithers, bisected by an arrangement of pine nuts and parsley - a light and zippy plate (£9). Well-textured pappardelle with bite was coated in the ragu of sweet veal meat (£11 / £16) and the lumache (lumaca is the word for snail in Italian, and so these pasta shapes resemble their shells) with cuttlefish and tomatoes was ok, if not a little ‘fishy’ for want of a better word (£11 / £16).
The remaining gut space was reserved for dolci over secondi, and the chocolate semifreddo with pecan ice cream and caramel sauce was all kinds of right. Parting the slab of frozen mousse with the fork, scooping from the pool of poured-over sauce and finishing with ice cream and a crunchy pecan half was hugely pleasurable on the palate.
There was also a passion fruit cheesecake in a cup which was fine, but it was no semifreddo.
My lunch at Zucca was perfectly adequate, just not especially noteworthy. I felt little of the warmth I associate with the cuisine from both the food and the space. Although, I do feel I need to eat more of their dishes to fully determine if it gets ostracised to the ‘perhaps, if I happen to be in the area’ list.
The restaurant has been a successful stalwart on the Bermondsey Street scene since 2010 and I know a lot of people whose opinion I respect, who wax lyrical about the place. So perhaps, I missed something.
It’s worth noting, the main problem Zucca has is no fault of theirs. They can thank the lofty benchmark for casual Italian dining set by Café Murano, which fed me one of the best lunches I’ve had in forever. Comparison to this unattainable ideal that is now etched in my mind is probably unfair, but I can't help it. I left Café Murano in protest (let me stay until the evening service?) and with a severe case of mentionitis - I couldn’t stop telling everyone about my meal and their blinding cacciuccio.
So, will I eat at Zucca again any time soon? Perhaps, if I happen to be in the area.
Likes less: the office interior design theme
Good for: business lunches, I suspect
My rating: 3/5