In a nutshell
A new venture for a husband-and-wife team, Nico’s Kitchen is a complete vegan experience, without being preachy or overbearing. It’s all about serving nutritious, traditional-style dishes in a relaxed, cosy environment.
The restaurant feels like an extension of your gran’s sitting room, with mismatched furniture, velvet curtains, an old-fashioned piano in the corner, delicate posies in jam jars and random local artwork for sale on the walls.
This restaurant is Italian chef Nicola Di Russo’s labour of love. After ten years of veganism and perfecting his craft as a chef for the last seven years in Mexico, Italy, Spain and at Notting Hill’s Nama, Nico and his fiancé Georgie Drake started Nico’s Kitchen this year to share their style of eating and living.
The restaurant is a combination of classical cookery with ethical and vegan thinking, which results in a real feel-good dining experience.
Nico’s menu holds nothing scary or too experimental. In fact, the vegan elements are quite subtle, and you may be forgiven for thinking it’s just another café, with ‘herb ham’ and ‘cheese’ listed. On closer inspection, it’s clear to see that all animal products have been eliminated but when the food comes it’s hardly noticeable.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday to Sunday, Nico’s serves three different sharing platters, of which the ingredients change on a weekly basis, depending on the season and what’s available in Nico and Georgie’s well-utilized kitchen garden. Where possible, herbs and vegetables are homegrown, and it shows in the quality and freshness of the dishes. The basil used for the pesto on the red rice risotto with minted walnut pesto was growing in abundance on the top of the restaurant doorway.
For a starter we shared ‘The Tasting One’ platter, which included creamy hummus, minted peas, seed-packed beetroot ‘cream’, olives, mushrooms, courgettes, tomato salsa and a locally made soft and tangy sourdough. Like a British take on ‘mezze’, the platter was full of contrasting and complementing flavours and textures.
What’s the room like/atmosphere
Somewhere between a shabby chic collectables shop and a pop-up restaurant, Nico’s has an effortless style that puts diners at ease. There’s a small bar area, where you can have a couple of drinks and sharing platters, and then there’s the more formal dining area that’s good for groups, or couples looking to settle in for the night.
Menu must-orders and misfires
Do not leave this place without trying the desserts – they are on another level. Although they change regularly, one constant is the chocolate brownie with peanut butter ‘clotted cream’ (£5). Better than many of the brownies I have had, this one uses 100% dark chocolate and is thick and gooey.
We enjoyed a crisp, Sussex-brewed beer and followed with a bottle from the totally organic and vegan wine list. All the wines are small batch from family-run vineyards and are playfully described on the menu. We went for the Montaria 2014 (£20) that promised “mind-blowing juiciness”, which it pretty much delivered.
What else did you like/dislike?
The menu is annotated with GF and GFA symbols, meaning a gluten-free version of that dish is available, on a lot of the dishes, which is a great touch. The restaurant also invites guests to write reviews on the tiles of the bathroom. A pen is provided, alongside the ethical soap.
Vegan cheese has come on leaps and bounds, and Nico’s sources some of the best. The cheeseboard comes with an exciting homemade red wine cabbage pickle and warm sourdough, as well as four different types of vegan cheese. The version of Gruyere was superb, but others were less inspiring. Nevertheless, I love the idea of the vegan cheeseboard and this one has got to be a real treat for a vegan with a hankering for fromage.
Nico’s is worth a visit whether you’re vegan or not – it’s so friendly and relaxing. It’s great value for money, especially when you consider that you’re benefiting from years of vegan culinary exploration.
Written by Liz O’Keefe, September 2016
Nico’s Kitchen (re-opening just before Christmas 2016)
35 Kings Road
St Leonards On Sea