It’s perhaps telling that the “press” section on the VyTA website seems to be mostly links to architecture and interior design sites and publications. To say that the concept is design-led would be an understatement. Venturing into VyTA is like stepping back into 1960s Italy, so much so you half expect to spot Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni lounging on a banquette…
It is, frankly, a stunning interior. A shame then that, on the January evening we visited, staff outnumbered patrons by… well, all of them to two of us. From what we heard from staff, that was an exception not the rule and, given the location – the very corner of Covent Garden – the all-day menu and the large outdoor terrace, that would seem to stack up. There are certainly worse places to sit on a Spring or Summer evening so it probably does have more to do with January’s cold and austere nature than anything VyTA has or hasn’t done.
That becomes even clearer as the meal begins. VyTA is good. In fact, it’s very good. The name is a mystery – a play on “life”, perhaps? – ditto the mix of lower and uppercase and plans to ask for further explanation are rapidly forgotten with the first snap of grissini. We look at each other, and at the breadsticks. We have a similar reaction to the focaccia. As the waiter tops up our water, he confirms what we’re both thinking, that it’s all baked on site each day. Sure, there’s only so much you can do with a breadstick to make it interesting but it’s surprisingly good and hints at talent and ambition in the kitchen.
As more food arrives, that hint gets louder. The website declares a pride in exceptional ingredients, and that’s clearly demonstrated by the Panzanella e Burrata. It is, perhaps, the best example of this cheese I’ve had in London, a spectacularly fresh, oozy ball of joy, pretty as a picture and nicely bolstered by the croutons, tiny sweet tomatoes and capers. Any lingering cynicism my colleague and I felt vanished at that point. The Panzerotto – fried pizza dough with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil – was of similar standard, a dish of deceptive simplicity that let the ingredients and the cooking shine.
Il Vitello Tonnato – veal with tuna, anchovies, mustard and aromatic herbs foam – is the one “cheffy” moment of the evening, but hey, why not have a little foam in this setting? The twist doesn’t detract from this classic dish. It might not add to it, particularly, but it certainly doesn’t detract and, in this room, a little beautification is probably apt. Whatever, I’m rambling, it’s delicious and you can say the same about the risotto of mixed seasonal mushrooms.
We finish with the seasonal gelato with figs and honey, and the “crostata del giorno”, the crostata cake of the day. I confess by this point my notes get a little muddled. For once it’s not alcohol related – we only sample a glass apiece – it’s just incompetence and, actually, a sign we’re simply having a lovely time. Both are simple, clean, delicious, a fine end to a fine meal. And it perhaps gets even better: everything we ate is available as the pre-theatre menu, including a glass of (good) prosecco, for £29.95 per person. If I had a bargain klaxon, I’d be sounding it right now…
21 The Market