Zucca on Bermondsey Street is the sophisticated younger sibling of the (now closed) Maltings Cafe on Tower Bridge Road, a ten minute walk away from this highly rated Italian restaurant. Both were created by chef-proprieter Sam Harris who cut his teeth at The River Cafe. No surprise, then, that there's a strong Italian influence at Zucca - the name comes from the word 'pumpkins' in Italian and the starter dish, 'Zucca' fritti, translates into a plate of perfectly fried pumpkins. Fresh Italian breads come with olive oil from San Casciano in Val di Pesa, about 15 kilometres southwest of Florence. The starters are particularly good and affordable; "a lengthy list of antipasti at astonishingly good prices" (Jay Rayner writes in The Guardian). Choose from carpaccio of seabass, ox tongue or grilled octopus served with squid ink and fennel. Mains are divided into pasta, fish and meat - a simplicity that matches the paired down decor of the dining room - with a choice of two or three dishes under each. Think gnocchi with prawns and chilli, grilled mackerel and roast pork belly. The simple menu is well matched with an all-Italian wine list divided into regions as well as colours and explored through occasional wine tasting nights dedicated to stand-out bottles like Galardi's 'Terre di Lavoro', a cult wine from Campania which sells out every year. The River Cafe without the prohibitive prices, Zucca brings simple, affordable Italian fare to Bermondsey Street.
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