Review of Amico Bio (Barbican) By Rosemin Anderson.
The concepts of “vegetarian” and “Italian restaurant” are not traditionally on the menu, but head chef and owner of Amico Bio, Pasquale Amico, has blended the two to create distinctly unique fare. Amico Bio uses fresh produce from his family’s organic farm in Italy, and promises a fresh, rustic approach to cooking that should appeal to those looking for simpler Italian cuisine.
The restaurant is tucked away on a quiet street near Barbican station, in an accessible location for those City workers looking for vegan or vegetarian offerings. The quirky thumbprint logo is hard to miss, though the street itself is fairly hidden away.
The rustic theme of the cuisine is carried over into the dining space, with cute, intimate tables and funky faux vegetables decorating the walls. The candles on the table don’t quite conjure enough heat to imagine that you’re sitting in Italy, but it’s a nice enough gesture. My guest and I arrive early, so unfortunately there are few occupying the restaurant to begin with, but the chatter picks up as professionals arrive after work.
Our server is very friendly and appears to be Italian, which I find is always helpful for creating an authentic ambiance! We’re tantalised by the menu, which admittedly is brief but looks exciting. Drinks are ordered and I’m absolutely delighted by the organic wine – my first taste of such wine, I might add – which is smooth, almost like chocolate in texture, without even a hint of acidic aftertaste. My guest, H, chooses a Prosecco and that proves to be as refreshing as I’d hope for.
We opt for a shared plate, as well as an individual starter each. The selection of focaccia bread arrives with olives and organic extra virgin olive oil, and is offered on a lovely wooden platter. Though the olives are delicious and the olive oil devoid of the gritty tang of cheaper types, the focaccia is a tad damp, and the bread stick that accompanies it is slightly stale.
However, the starters are redeemed by the lovely individual dishes. H’s aubergine salad is perfectly chilled and presented beautifully, allowing the simple tastes of the vegetables to flourish. My breaded tofu with mushrooms is placed in Tetris-fashion on my plate and it’s as fun to eat as it is to look at.
I’m eager to try something completely new, and after a quick description of seitan by the waiter (who really knew her stuff) I choose to have it roasted, with mashed potato and cabbage. H’s choice is Pappardelle with mushrooms, which – being the priciest option on the menu – promises delights.
Unfortunately, neither dish really lives up to expectation. Instead of the inventive pasta dish I was expecting, a fairly banal creation arrives. It is, bluntly put, simply pasta with mushrooms, and this seems a great shame given the flair for taste we had discovered during the starters. My option is a little drab as well, and the mashed potato is not the creamy concoction I was hoping for. That being said, the cabbage is delectable, which redeems the dish somewhat.
Unimaginative as the main dishes are, the cheeky side order of fried courgette chips cheers us up – so wonderfully moreish that we are loathe to leave any morsels on our plates!
Still slightly disappointed by the main dishes, H and I are excited to select from the well-chosen desserts on offer. H’s rum baba is exquisite, without the heady scent of alcohol that we were expecting; instead, it is lightly flavoured and accompanied by a lovely syrup-soaked amerene cherry. My chocolate “bar”, as it is described, is dark and strong in flavour and complemented beautifully by the caramelised nectarine segments it is served with.
I won’t lie; I expected more of this highly-praised Italian restaurant. Amico Bio did not quite meet my expectations. However, I applaud its efforts to change the idea of Italian food from a meat focus to a more organic, plant based, healthier approach. Some aspects of the meal were lovely, and I would definitely consider having lunch at the new branch opening in Holborn, given the strength of its salads. It’s reasonably priced, and for those working close to Covent Garden and the City side of the capital, quite a welcome option for vegans and vegetarians.
Rosemin Anderson for Ethical-Hedonist.com; Edited by Alison Jane Reid.
Starters average price: £4.50
Mains average price: £8.50
Desserts average price: £5
Set lunch menu: £10
Average cost of three course meal with wine: £23-25
Address: Amico Bio Barbican, 44 Cloth Fair, London, EC1A 7JQ
Telephone number: 020 7600 7778
Website address: www.amicobio.co.uk
Extras: Cookery courses available with head chef/owner Pasquale Amico
Copyright Alison Jane Reid/Rosemin Anderson. All rights reserved.