I try not to write anything about absolutely brand new restaurants, because opening a restaurant is hard, demanding, and things often go wrong, especially in the very early days.
Fantastic dining experiences don’t just spring into being – getting a plate of food from kitchen to table is a very long and expensive journey, and it’s only fair to give a new place the time and space to get the logistics right.
So, Zucco in Meanwood. Open three days, and yet I’m sat here writing something about it.
The simple reason for that is that there’s plenty to say, and it’s all good. Very good indeed.
We chanced on it yesterday following a review I picked up on twitter, and decided to give the “Mum’s away, do you fancy fish & chips, kids?” routine a slight deviation into Italian cuisine – safe territory for most under tens, I find, but with the odd opportunity to cajole them into trying something new.
The dining room looks new and rustic at the same time, a careful clash of polish and smartly sourced and reclaimed materials, used well. There’s a lot of beautiful old timber in there, and that along with the plywood tabletops, simple tiling and industrial bare filament bulbs set a confident note – this is a relaxed place for enjoying food. It isn’t a performance, it isn’t out to impress – instead, it seeks to welcome and serve. It’s a good message for any restaurant.
The menu is fairly short, a collection of small plates intended for sharing. The manager talked us through it with friendly enthusiasm, telling us that the basic idea was to order whatever we wanted for the table and share it out, kind of tapas style. That’s a big bonus for a family – the menu is intrinsically child-friendly in terms of portion size and choice. There wasn’t anything there that either of my kids wouldn’t eat, and they felt good for ordering things from the full menu.
The eldest complain that the menu had ‘too much Italian on it’, so I told him to start learning Italian, at least enough to stumble around a menu.
I count that as a valuable life skill.
Pizzette with tomato and mozzarella was thin and crisp and disappeared within seconds. I’m told it was good, but I was too slow off the mark to try it. The frito misto was a triumph of seafood in light, crisp batter with a few simple salad leaves. It looked and tasted superb. A third polpette to round out the other two golf-ball sized meatballs (the owner’s mother’s recipe, of course …) would have been good, but they were light and tasty and the penne alongside them was well cooked and covered in a rich and intense tomato sauce.
“These are miles better than yours”, I was told. There’s a valid point, there.
My favourite dish was a thick slice of foccaccia, rich in olive oil, topped with milky mozzarella and surrounded by chunky tomatoes – an example of how simplicity and the quality of each ingredient always wins through, but I’d take the lovely arancini instead, if I absolutely had to.
Having been expertly talked into dessert, I had a pear, poached in red wine and covered in a chocolate sauce, which might have been the best dessert I’ve had for a very long time. The kids chose ice cream, served in a ‘playing to the crowds’ fashion. The ice cream went all the way down the cone.
This was a Sunday lunchtime, and Zucco had a certain feel to it. People started arriving for lunch, a few families, the odd couple here and there, a man with a paper, a beer, a bowl of olives and the satisfaction of his own company. It feels like the kind of place where you could happily graze all afternoon.
Paying the bill turned into a training session for one of the waiting staff on how to use a temperamental card machine, but the numbers on it weren’t high by any means. Good value, matched with friendly and enthusiastic service.
It’s difficult to see how Zucco could be anything but a huge success – it looks great, the atmosphere is spot on, the service is unfussy and straightforward and the food is familiar enough to be comfortable, and cooked well enough to be remarkable.