Amico Bio is a vegetarian Italian restaurant tucked away in a charming side street off Smithfields, next to Barts Hospital. Chef/patron Pasquale Amico worked for several years with Giorgio Locatelli, opening Cecconi’s for example. A few years ago he became vegetarian, and now his own restaurant is fully vegetarian, catering to anyone non-carniverous and able to offer menus to vegans and celiacs, based on organic ingredients from a family farm in Capua in Italy.
The room is simple, with wooden floor, no tablecloths, and walls decorated with a mix of black and white prints and photos of vegetables. The atmosphere is very welcoming: we arrived for a late dinner, and in the same situation in some well-known restaurants we have been made to feel distinctly unwelcome as the last diners. Here was the opposite, with the chef popping out and explaining the menu, and making it clear that we were in no hurry.
The all-Italian wine list was kindly priced. Cantine Volpi Chardonnay 2008 was £19.50 for a wine that retails at around £7, while the Barola Erbaluna 2005 was a modest £30.50 for a wine that costs £24 to buy in the shops. We drank the very pleasant La Corte del Pozzo 2004 at £42.50 for a wine that will set you back around £26 retail.
Bruschetta (£3.50) was pleasant, with simple toast with a hint of garlic butter, and cherry tomatoes that had decent flavour (easily 12/20). Cauliflower fritters (£4.50) with a salad were fine, adequately seasoned and with salad leaves that were properly dressed (12/20). These were much better than arancini (£3), rice balls filled with mozzarella and cabbage that were generous in size but utterly bland, badly lacking in seasoning or indeed flavour of any kind (10/20).
My tagliatelle (£12) with “black truffles” (actually summer truffles) had very nice pasta, home-made and cooked to a soft texture; again this dish desperately lacked seasoning, but after a little application of the salt and pepper this tasted fine (12/20). This was better than paccheri pasta (£7) with butternut squash and sage sauce, which was bland and (a recurring theme) needed more seasoning (11/20).
Rum baba was the star of the night – it is hard to make rum baba moist, but this was. It did have a rather crisp exterior, which is not correct, but still this was a very enjoyable dessert (13/20). This was better than tiramisu whose biscuits did not appear to be marinated at all in alcohol, so were far too dry. Although there was coffee taste, essentially this tasted of dry biscuits and cream (11/20 at best).
The bill for two, with one of the costlier wines, was £45 a head. I actually enjoyed the meal, despite the flaws that appeared, partly because the atmosphere was genuinely welcoming: the next table hosted a group of Italian men clearly enjoying themselves, and the waitress and chef could hardly have been nicer. Overall the food was between 11/20 and 12/20, and the prices were very fair. I would really like to score this higher than I objectively have to.