It was a bright morning, promising warmth as the sun rose higher, a good day for the busy Friday market that fills Faversham’s medieval market place and spills out along Court Street. Stallholders were putting the finishing touches to their displays, and shopping trolleys rattled along the cobbles as early shoppers snapped up farm-fresh produce, garden plants gleaming with health and vintage clothes.
Vino is at the Abbey Street end of Court Street, in a handsome small building on the corner of Partridge Lane, its woodwork painted a distinctive mid grey and maroon. I was early for my appointment with Fabio Armenti, the owner of Vino, but I was content to wait, observing the rapport between stallholders and their customers, and the buzz of friendship as well as trade that the market engenders in the town. First to appear at Vino was Abigail, in Faversham for a summer job, down from the University of St Andrews, where she is studying geology.
Customers peer in as the door is opened. ‘Do you sell any tea yet?’ asks one devotee of British beverages wistfully. ‘No, only coffee and wine,’ says Abigail firmly in an intriguing accent more American than Scottish or RP. She is greeted by everyone: ‘I feel I’ve become more of a local than my boyfriend who lives here,’ she says. Vino is in a prime spot at the end of the market, notes Abigail, and it gets incredibly busy. She settles me on a bench outside with a perfect espresso. ‘Fabio is the best boss I ever had,’ she says, ‘but he’s Italian and always late.’ At which point Fabio arrives, gracefully apologetic, charming and unmistakably Italian.
His family hails from Basilicata in southern Italy where his grandfather had a vineyard. Fabio has lived in England for 28 years, 17 of them in Kent. At catering school in Italy the language of service was French, although by the end of his studies English was making an entrance. In due course this prompted a move to England, to Blackheath, where he lived for 15 years before moving to Tankerton, where the family settled and his son and daughter have flourished in good local schools. Having progressed in his metier from wine waiter to head sommelier, Fabio moved on to various positions in the hospitality sector.
There was a stint in London managing a big branch of Vinopolis with more than 300 covers, but Fabio missed his children. The offer of the position of restaurant manager at the Faversham Creek Hotel was timely. He stayed there for two-and-a-half years during which the Red Sails restaurant was awarded a four-star AA rating. He was then at The Limes in Preston Street as pub manager until opening Vino with his business partner David Tyler on 4 April 2017.
Vino’s premises consist of two small rooms, in front the coffee bar and food preparation area, and at the back a cosy space with a grey-painted wooden floor, wine bottles in a fridge and arranged, meticulously labelled, in racks and on compact shelving. Stripped pine tables occupy the centre of the room. Fabio describes Vino as a ‘cutting-edge wine shop’. It’s most definitely not an off-licence, where transactions can be cursory. ‘A lot of people like to buy wine in a shop and enjoy a small measure as a tasting, so they can really choose the wine they buy.’ He adds: ‘There’s a very convivial atmosphere in Vino. It’s a small environment and people interact with each other. They really enjoy themselves.’
I am about to ask whether he has built up a core of regulars, when a sprightly elderly woman, travelling at speed behind her shopping trolley, pauses briefly to say hello (we are still sitting outside the shop on the vintage bench, which encourages communication), and spotting my Moleskine notebook, with perfect timing supplies a very good quote. ‘God, he’s a gem,’ she says. ‘He’s just got style. It’s a place that makes you feel so good. He takes your money as well,’ she offers as a parting shot.
The stylish food is antipasto in generous quantities for two to share – cured meat, fine cheeses and good tomatoes, with almonds and olives as a snack. Trays of cannoli, the delicious Sicilian pastry filled with sweetened ricotta, arrive from Clerkenwell, where there is a big Italian community, every couple of weeks. The wine is predominantly Italian, from all over the peninsular, but from the New World too. ‘The accent is on indigenous grapes and eclectic blends which I carefully taste and source directly from growers and my long-time supplier.’ I mention the vogue for grapes such as Fiano, Greco, Aglianico and Grillo. ‘These are ancient grapes which were used originally to cut other wine. Wine makers are now using modern techniques to make wines from them that suit modern tastes.’
How does he feel it’s going? ‘It is early days’ says Fabio, ‘but I am quite content. I have worked nearly all my life for other people. This allows me to be free.’ Passersby continue to greet him. ‘You know everybody,’ I say. ‘Yes, unfortunately,’ says Fabio with a slightly wicked but happy grin. It occurs to me that Vino and its owner have quickly become a very Faversham institution.
9 Court Street
Telephone: 01795 531875
Text: Sarah. Photography: Lisa