Eliche with beetroot and mushrooms
An Italian vegetarian restaurant that’s near neighbours with Smithfields Market, that cast iron-and-brick cathedral to the meat gods? Nice. Amico Bio boasts about its eco credentials, with a tag line of “Green Thinking, Better Living”. The promise is to serve meat free and organic dishes that will tempt carnivores and veggies alike, with a wine list offering only vegan and vegetarian wines.
The restaurant is found on one of those lovely streets in this part of town that feel like Ye Olde London. A dwarfish wheelbarrow filled with vegetables sits by the front door. Sadly terrible music slightly soils the quiet atmosphere of a small space that has the feel of a townhouse dining room – dark wooden floors and furniture, a narrow fireplace with black and white photographs on the mantelpiece, picture windows out onto an inky dark street.
The menu is set out as a traditional Italian menu would be, with antipasti, pasta and secondi listed. Quite often a secondi section would have little or nothing for the non meat eater, but on this one, of course, everything is a vegetarian option. Off-putting for the veggies though is the surely unnecessarily carnivorous language used to describe some of the dishes, things like steak, scallops, sausage, kebab.
We begin with some simple starters – bruschetta, giant olives and buffalo mozzarella, of which the pea green olives are a highlight amongst the so-so. We then choose our mains. Eliche is an oversized fusilli pasta shape and ours is served bright purple, with a beetroot and mushroom sauce. We can’t quite believe that the pasta isn’t fresh but dried. A pumpkin risotto needs much black pepper to perk it up. Desert features rum soaked brioche and cherries, a chocolate and dried fruit tart and some gelato. Ice cream is a real test, the Italians being the experts of the ice cream world. Ours is delicious but a mean portion is served already melting.
We spent a leisurely Friday evening here, service was friendly and unrushed, and the final bill for a three course meal very reasonable (main courses are only £8, starters around £3). However it’s possible to eat very well without eating meat in London’s many brilliant non-vegetarian Italian restaurants. Amico Bio may claim to be our city’s first ever organic vegetarian Italian eatery, but it’s serving food that just isn’t outstanding enough.
Amico Bio, 44 Cloth Fair, EC1A 7JQ; www.amicobio.co.uk