Our General Manager, Bengt Baumgartner recently headed over to Italy visiting many of the wine regions. To end the trip he spent four days in Rome, his first time there. He has a strong affinity with wine and food, and loves delving into the historical context. Read on to find out where you should go if you’re lucky enough to find yourself there…
Rome. What a vast city. I arrived tired but ravenous. I thought I had prepared myself for the immensity of this place. That was a bit of an understatement. I walked constantly on the first day, covering close to 20 clicks. I paid for it, well my cobble-stoned calves did. But over the next few days I started feeling a sense of familiarity with the well worn streets and buildings, a far cry from feeling lost!
No global roaming, meant awkward paper maps. Lucky I’m of the belief that getting lost is important. Keeping your head up and closely observing your surroundings opens it up a little more. Google maps is a handy thing for sure, but I do feel you miss the chance to take in the little things when your head is always buried in your phone. My concession to technology here, is that if you’re not travelling solo, you also have someone else to blame when you’ve taken your umpteenth wrong turn.
At any rate, my expectation was that four days would afford me a little window into Roman culture and life. A mere reccy, to be repeated again.
Having travelled with Fred Plotkin’s beautifully written tome, Italy for the Gourmet Traveller before, this was indispensable. I would never question its weight as I lugged it around the country. His referrals have never disappointed. Cross referencing Plotkin’s suggestions with the Slow Food osteria guide, and personal recommendations from customers (thank you again; an overwhelming response!), friends and colleagues – there was no shortage of options.
A special mention to Katie Parla’s amazing, extensive blog and enlightening book ‘Tasting Rome’. Reason being, it’s one thing to know a place is good. But to have some sense of the culture and history of the dishes is equally important to my enjoyment of a menu and the hospitality. These were invaluable and highly readable resources that made my short stay as wonderful as it was.
I was determined not to eat a bad meal, which as I traipsed around, could see was easily possible. I had my map and a long list of notes as guide, knowing that for each place I chose to go to, there would always be an opportunity cost – or a place to return to for the next visit!
So here’s my short list to eat well in Roma:
~ L’Arcangelo ~ a quiet Monday lunch in a gorgeous, homely dining room. Parisian style fittings, wonderful, well-presented food with lovely detail.
~ Roscioli wine bar ~ stunning selection of wine from a huge French and Italian list. Things you’d like to drink many times over. Well-judged mixture of creative food and classic flavours. A confident, bustling and fun place.
~ Da Cesare al Casaletto ~ at the end of the number 8 tram line. A detour for sure but worth it. Places like this excite me. Suburban, no standing on ceremony, just focused on a good product. In the dining room, a couple with a baby, two blokes having pasta. Tables of twos sharing a quiet lunch, a family meeting up for a subdued birthday celebration. A fella with a hard hat going over some plans and a three doing a lot of drinking over a very long business lunch. When you see customer cross pollination like this it generally is a good clue. It’s an indicator that people always come to a place for good food and hospitality. Amazing fried starters as promised by Katie. You could make a meal just of these. But then you’d miss the other treasures. Carbonara as a light as a feather. I could have perhaps taken a half portion of that, as the ox tail to follow was equally generous. But I conquered it. Wine list of brilliant things at extremely fair prices. Worth the tram trip out and makes you feel like Melbourne.
~ Armando Al Pantheon ~ a very satisfying meal to end my time in Rome. When you see a small melee of people lining up outside a restaurant at the same time as your booking, alarm bells start to ring. That is never a good formula for the kitchen, the dining room or you. Everyone feels like they’ll be swamped. But no alarm needed. Given the popularity of this place, they go about their business, with quiet, unhurried confidence. Every person who came to the door with the hopes of a walk-in spot was greeted and respectfully turned away without an air of arrogance. After a few questions, half a conversation and a dialogue later, there is a lovely rapport developing, and some brilliant suggestions, I’m glad I’ve taken. Well plated and judged generous food with robust flavours. Anchovy with butter and bread, a bowl of alla gricia and the ox tail classic coda alla vaccinara. Of course, there’s room for the excellent dessert.
A stroll in the spring sunshine through the many gathered at the Pantheon. Are they aware this exceptional dining room is right in front of their noses? Then a quick pit stop for a Roscioli picnic pack for the long wait at the airport, before a long fast home on the plane.
Feel free to drop me a line in case I missed any of your favourite spots, as there is always a next time.
Ciao a tutti!