Love is rarely convenient and I can see where this new infatuation is headed. I’ll be hanging around unfamiliar parts of town, feasting, laughing, drinking too much, and looking for any excuse to introduce my friends to my new amore.
Thankfully, Italians appreciate strong emotions – especially about food – and I trust that chef Pasquale Amico will indulge my crush on Amico Bio, the gem of a restaurant in Barbican, central London, that he runs and co-owns with cousins Enrico Amico and Bruno Zarzaca.
Anyway, if Chef Pasquale doesn’t want diners to come over all starry-eyed and start gibbering superlatives he should remove Amico Bio from its charming side-street and get rid of the mouth-watering pictures of plump tomatoes and perfect peppers that adorn the walls. The rustic wooden tables will have to go too, and the endearing family photographs.
That might have saved me from love at first sight. But it wouldn’t have helped once I tasted the voluptuous warm black olives and took a sip of the (organic vegan) Nero d’Avola red wine. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for rustic Italian cooking. Make that rustic, Italian, vegetarian cooking with organic produce from the Amico family farm near Naples and you have my heart.
The vegetables are of such exquisite quality that the lettuce in my starter of grilled aubergine and marinated tofu salad was as robust and flavourful as its accompaniments. My friend had a salad with citrus, gorgonzola and pomegranate seeds, which set her cooing. We lustfully eyed up the passing plates, in particular one of fried polenta with grilled peppers, and another of lacy tempura vegetables served in an old-fashioned paper cone.
For the mains we chose saffron wholemeal risotto and a pan-fried spelt cake with crispy aubergines and salsa verde. It is a tribute to my friend’s generosity and self-restraint that she relinquished some of the melting, creamy yet al dente risotto in exchange for a sample of the autumnal spelt cake and its earthy lentil salsa.
We were salivating over the pudding choices when Chef Pasquale whisked past. Spotting the menus he came and took our order personally, another thing he’ll have to stop if he doesn’t want customers to fawn over Amico Bio like lovesick teenagers. The rum baba, served with four juicy amarene cherries perched on dollops of cream, had enough of the titular spirit to set a sailor right – and put the finishing touch on my newfound love affair. My friend and I then clashed spoons over her warm wheat and ricotto tart – a Mediterranean take on cheesecake that puts the gloopy Anglo-American versions to shame.
Satiated yet reluctant to leave, we lingered over wine, coveted our neighbour’s cheeseboard and plotted our next visit. When you’re in love, a reunion can never come soon enough.