In a quest to bring authentic Italian street food to London, Jacob Kenedy had opened Vico in busy Cambridge Circus. Describing itself as a “vibrant and welcoming destination for authentic, delicious and inexpensive Italian dining”, my companion and I couldn’t resist a trip to the sister restaurant of Bocca di Lupo to celebrate a new job offer. What’s more, they serve Gelupo gelato. Need I say more?
The idea behind Vico is to offer up a version of its “parent” restaurant’s food in a quasi fast-food setting and at a much lower price (though I still found it pricey, coming in at about £35 per head, for three courses and a couple of red wine carafes). Kenedy says that in Vico, which means “village” in Italian, he has created an indoor piazza. And the interior is stylishly quirky: the centrepiece is an indoor fountain, hand-crafted in Lapis-like terrazzo, which truly brings the indoor piazza to life. Theatrical and audacious, the large vaulted space just across from brightly lit theatre-land recreates the atmosphere of an Italian piazza, with guests seated on stools and steps overlooking an indoor fountain. The feel at Vico is very much a casual one: for hungry Londoners after a quick bite pre- or post-theatre, it’s ideal.
The menu centres on Southern Lazio, charting the journey of the Appian Way, the Roman road that has linked Rome to Brindisi for thousands of years. Indeed, Kenedy’s enthusiasm and knowledge of Italian cooking and culture stems from a deep-rooted, familial love of Italy, spanning three generations. Travelling around Italy and researching its regions and cuisine, further cemented his personal connection to these Southern regions.
The menu was impressively wide-ranging, from tasty salads and Roman pizza, through to Neapolitan pastas. For starters, we shared: Fried Courgette (£6), which I inevitably compared to their Tozi counterparts and found equally as moreish; Artichoke and Courgette Carpaccio (£8) with pecorino romana and mint; and Burrata served with Samphire (£12), which was stunningly salty.
For mains, although tempted by the beautifully-looking charred pizza, I went for Grilled Artichoke, Asparagus, Smoked Ricotta, Oil and Balsamic (£15). The balsamic dressing was a delicious seasoning to the asparagus, and the artichoke was a visual delight, resembling an upside down flower. The ricotta could have packed more punch, especially when I compared it to the taste of my companion’s Ravioli (£14) of wild garlic, ricotta, butter, sage and parmesan. This was probably the most outstanding dish of the evening. The butter sauce was an excellent coating to this very fresh tasting pasta and accompanied by brilliantly crunchy nuts.
For afters, we couldn’t resist a few scoops of the in-house Gelupo. The Mexican Chocolate has a brilliant spicy kick and the gelato had a wonderfully soft and creamy, elastic texture as well as powerfully punchy flavour. The Mandarin sorbet also shouldn’t be ignored; it was refreshingly cold without being too bracingly icy. I’m definitely returning for their Espresso sorbet. If just stopping here for a Geulpo, sit on the concrete benches and pretend you’re in Rome. You won’t be, but the ice cream is still very nice. It’s undoubtedly the best you’ll find in London.
At lunch, Vico is more of a fast-food joint. You choose your pre-prepared dishes from the counter, pay at the till and perch on a stool whist eating and watching the world go by. Food is charged at £3 per 100g.
A modern trattoria which a fun lightbulb ceiling, Vico is a playful way to enjoy Italian food – certainly a renaissance of the building which used to be home to a branch of Pizza Hut. The service, though, is questionable; our waiter was distracted throughout the evening and not at all efficient – probably because he was flirting with his blonde colleague all night. That’s amour for you.
Vico, One Cambridge Circus, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 8PA