Zecca means ‘mint’ in Italian: ace, sweet, cool, new or, more apt, licence to print money. Whoever coined (geddit?) the restaurant's name, be it partner Chef Richard Sim or father and son business combo, Leslie and Mark Jones, judging from the trauma I had to book for dinner (‘I’ve got a table at 3.45pm. Friday week…’), one of them must have stared into their crystal ball before deciding to buck the national restaurant trend of closures and heartbreak.
I’ve often wondered why so-called experienced restaurateurs open venues in locations befitting a lap-dancing club or a Netto rather than a high-end restaurant with prices to match, and wonder why they have to close a few months down the line. But this opening in the Northumberland fishing village of Amble, isn’t just down to inexperience, vanity or stupidity; these guys have done their research, and then some; tapping into reports that have indicated that Amble, its inhabitants and the tourists who manage to get lost on their way to Warkworth or Alnwick, were positively gagging for somewhere half decent to eat. Of course it’s still a risk but if they carry on as they’ve started off, they’ll have done exactly what they promised to do and more.
Housed in a former bakery, I don’t know if people were just drunk or intoxicated with relief that they could get a good meal but waves of enjoyment positively bounced off the black and white pics of the coast and Specials’ blackboard gracing the walls. It’s casual chic at its best – a venue and a menu that manages to be both informal if all you want is a pizza (from £5.50, some gluten free) with the kids after work or alternatively, somewhere really special to butter up your other half with a bottle of Meursault (£39.55) and lobster (£20.50) fresh from Amble’s very own salty dogs.
Sim (who is also Executive Chef at BALTIC) carries on his laudable love affair with local produce here from Carroll’s Heritage potatoes to meat from award-winning farmer Steve Ramsay, and his fresh fish specials were exactly that. Fresh. The simple retro smoked salmon and prawns (£6.25) had nothing bar a few on-trend pea shoots, the intense pea flavour aiding and abetting the gloriousness of the fish. My risotto (£6.95) sang with abandon with fresh crab and surf clams. Simple it may have looked but it was one of the finest bowls of gloopy rice I have had the pleasure to eat. As was my roast bream (£12.95) – joined by incredible king prawns - the flesh was sweet and firm, the skin as crisp as a bag of Walkers and the piscine equivalent of pork scratchings. A big meaty plateful arrived in the form of three lamb chops (£12.50), succulent and flavoursome with a simple salad and a small pot of roasted red pepper mayonnaise to give it the Zecca touch. The side order of lemon bean salad (£2.50) could have had a little more zing, but the puddings were classics mixed with a little 70s nostalgia – both the tiramisu (rich, dark and cholesterol inducing) and the Peach melba (£4.50 each) were as big on flavour as they were on sentiment.
There has been talk of Amble becoming the new Padstow, with Sim the new Stein. And while I admit I did a little eye-rolling at the thought, after visiting I could actually believe it. One or two of the staff are a little raw but they’re charming with it and while Amble may currently be the poor relation of bigger draws such as Alnwick and Bamburgh, food-wise, thanks to Zecca, it sticks two fingers up to them both.
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