“ Address: 44 Cloth Fair, London, EC1A 7JQ „
Last year having visited the Taste of Christmas exhibitions at London's ExCel Centre I tried a taster plate from an Italian, organic, vegetarian restaurant called Amico Bio. The dish was very interesting and I made a mental note to try the restaurant at the first opportunity. Of course, life gets in the way of doing the fun stuff and I never got round to it until I got an e-mail from the deals company Groupon with an offer for two courses and a glass of prosecco each for two people for £18 (i.e. £9 each). At that price I thought it would be rude not to go and promptly bought the voucher. It didn't take long to persuade my friend Jen to come with me.
When I first phoned to book, I couldn't get in on our first choice date, a Thursday night a week ahead, they were full the entire week, but succeeded in securing an early evening booking for the following Wednesday. The booking process was hampered somewhat by the strong accent of the person taking the booking and our mutual inability to understand each other. We arrived at 7pm and the restaurant was already three-quarters full - due to its proximity to the city it seems to have a busy after-work clientele, and can empty out a bit more, later in the evening.
The restaurant is situated on Cloth Fair which is near Smithfield Market and about a 4 minutes walk from Barbican tube and about 7-8 minutes from St Pauls. Moorgate station is also about a similar distance. It is located on the ground floor of a double fronted building, which looks like it was either two houses or two shops in a previous incarnation, and in spite of an odd layout with the knocked through walls, it still seemed to be light and airy. The décor is quiet simple, with pale walls and either colourful food pictures adorning them or black and white farming images. Furnishings are mid-dark wood with padded seats on the chairs; the emphasis seems to be on the comfortable and homey, rather than a contrived decorative theme. Table location seemed well thought out and space was utilised well, without cramming tables close together. We were seated by the lady who took my booking I believe, as it took us three attempts to understand that cabbage was the risotto of the day.
I handed over the offer voucher and we were given menus and wine lists as well as our complimentary glass of prosecco, which was delicious - crisp and light. The menus were just printed on ordinary paper and not in a book which I thought was odd, but later discovered that they change quite frequently (often daily) as ingredients are all sourced for the family's organic farm in Italy. The restaurant is run by Pasquale Amico who co-owns it with his two cousins, one of which runs the family farm in Capua, Italy, the other a sister vegetarian restaurant in Naples. They also supply local supermarkets with their organic fruit and vegetables.
We had a couple of questions about dishes and they were all answered by one of the other waitresses (we avoided asking the Italian girl). She later told us she had only been working here a few weeks, but she has obviously been well trained and understood the dishes and could answer all our questions.
There is a good range of starters from nibbles such as olives or breads or some interesting sounding rice croquettes with mozzarella and peas (£3.50), to slightly larger starters up to £5.50. Jen had spotted a berlotti bean and cabbage soup in the mains selection, and enquired about it. Our waitress told us that it was quite a substantial soup but that she could do her a starter sized portion if she wished, which Jen was pleased about. The soup was quite a think one, not watery and chock full of beans and cabbage, it had a bit of a subtle dry heat to it and was quite peppery I thought. I went for cauliflower fritters which was served with a green salad. It was a good sized portion of tempura battered pieces of cauliflower and I did enjoy it, although it was a tad salty.
For our mains we both went for the seitan kebab. I had tried seitan before, as the aforementioned taster plate last year but it was new to Jen so she was keen to try it. Seitan is a Japanese meat substitute made from gluten (wheat), soy sauce, ginger and water. In this instance it was served as a wrap in a crispy pitta (I thought it was quite tortilla like myself) with a mint and cucumber dip on a chunky wooden board. Within the packed wraps were lots of finely chopped veg alongside the seitan - carrots, onion, broccoli, peppers (I asked for mine without peppers and this wasn't a problem) and Jen reckons there was some aubergine too. I really loved the textures in this dish. It had a subtle spicy flavour to it, and I could pick out the ginger. As an optional extra I went for a portion of fries and Jen the mixed salad. They were served separately in two small bowls for £2.50 each. The fries were thin cut and clearly home made and delicious. Other main courses included risotto of the day, various pasta dishes plus tempura vegetables, a carrot and aubergine 'cake' and an interesting sounding tomato and courgette bake.
Typical main courses were about £8 which I think is very reasonable and it was clearly marked where dishes were suitable for gluten-intolerants or vegans. Jen had a friend with gluten intolerance and asked our waitress about cross contamination - i.e. is the food prepared separately. She was assured that it was and utensils kept separate, and also that the cheese didn't come in contact with the vegan area for example, which I think would be very reassuring for those with such concerns. It is possible to buy seitan and other Italian grocery products here such as biscotti and dried pasta through their own little section of foods imported directly from Italy.
We chose not to have a dessert as we were both quite full. The selection was limited but did include an interesting cheese board that I may be tempted by if I have room on a future visit. Typical desserts were £5-6. They also offered teas, coffees and liqueurs as well as a small wine list. In addition to our complimentary prosecco we both had a small glass of pinot grigio for £4.50 each. Wines seemed to be between £15-27. Service was generally good, although a bit on the slow side. We did have to wait a while for plates to be cleared and the money to be taken, but it was fairly busy and as there was usually someone rushing past, all we had to do if we needed something was to flag someone down. We did struggle to understand the one waitress but were more than happy with the other waitress and her knowledge of the food and the business.
I visited the ladies which were clean and well stocked with soap, loo paper and paper towels. The wooden seats were a bit scuffed and it probably needed a bit of a touch up with a paint brush, but I found them to be clean, if a little cramped. The restaurant is on one floor, but due to the old building getting to the lavatories would not be possible for wheelchair users.
I really enjoyed the visit and would be keen to return and try a different menu one day. Of course, the offer I had was excellent value, but even without it I think the food is very reasonably priced and I don't hesitate to recommend it for vegetarians, vegans and those with an interest in organic food. In addition I think the original menu would appeal to meat eaters who fancy trying something a bit different.
44 Cloth Fair
Tel: 0207 6007778
Mon-Fri - noon-10.30pm
Sat - 5-10.30pm
Closed Sundays and Public holiday