Zucca is a spin-off from the nearby Maltings Cafe on Tower Bridge Road. They say they aim to serve "good food at moderate prices". I call it very good value for money, especially when you know the chef/proprietor is ex-River Cafe and Bibendum chef Sam Harris. The influences on the food are clear but, thankfully, not on the prices.
Plain white tables and chairs, exposed concrete, the whole softened by a little wood. Brown carpeting dampens down any clatter from the open kitchen, and the colour palette is enlivened with the orange of glass beakers and, of course, pumpkins (zucca in Italy). Zucca is relaxing, rather than relaxed. Staff are happy to see you, work well together and maintain focus right to the end of service. There is great attention to detail and the prices are low for food of this quality. It's fresh, it's seasonal, it's simple, and that's just what I want.
Excellent fresh Italian breads - three types including a wonderful crispy focaccia - were brought to the table with a good grassy Planeta olive oil for dipping. Generously a fresh basket of bread was offered (and accepted). The food is big on seasonality and in its portions. Starters are £3.95-£4.95. Sardines in Saor were exceptionally good, a generous plate of Zucca Fritti - thick slices of pumpkin and whole sage leaves dipped in a beautifully light tempura batter were crisply fried and perfectly salted. The carpaccio of veal disappointed only in that we expected it to be thinly sliced, rather than diced like a tartare, which results in quite a different texture, I think. Mains are priced around £14.00. The veal chop looked delicious but we tried Ox Liver with lentils and chicoria topped with a punchy herb salsa verde, and Pollock with Cime di Rapa and Fennel in a light herby broth. Both were more than good, in fact the Pollock was the best I have had and finally converted me to this much championed substitute for cod. Our puddings were generous - a slice of light Almond Cake with a blood orange reduction, and a good Affogato. Both were well worth making room for. With 3 glasses Falanghina and 1 of Volpolo the bill came to £72.00 excluding service but we could have spent less.
Maltings Cafe is about a 10 minutes walk away at 169 Tower Bridge Road. It's a neighbourhood cafe which is open from breakfast until the end of the working day. The menu is limited - a pasta dish, a frittata and, perhaps a lamb Kofta alongside sandwiches on good bread - but it's a great place to eat-in or take-out.
With Gergovie Wines already open in Maltby Street, and the imminent arrival of José Pizarro's sherry and tapas bar on Bermondsey Street, only a few doors along from Zucca, Bermondsey is becoming ever more interesting.