The restaurants of Rome – part 1
The big sights of the historic city are certainly impressive no matter where in the world you are – but what made Rome really great was that there was something incredible around every corner. As much as there is to describe, this is a food blog, not a travel blog, so I shall mostly focus on the cuisine. Before I visited had heard mixed reports, from forlorn travellers at overpriced tourist traps to proclamations of perfect pasta. Other than one Michelin starred experience, we hadn’t booked any tables before we went out, identifying at random where we went each evening based on cursory glances at review sites.
Our first port of call was following a long day of travel and happened to be a pizzeria close to our accommodation near the Piazza del Popolo. PizzaRé was everything I expected or hoped it might be. We arrived approaching 9pm on a weekend but it was busy and atmospheric. All the classics were on the menu of course and I went for a simple salami number. Pizza shouldn’t be expensive and whilst it wasn’t massive I couldn’t argue with the €10 price tag.
The following day lunch was also stumbled upon nearby the Victor Emmanuel II monument. A walk away from the crowds took us to Ristorante Abruzzi for a table just set back from a side road, in Rome you can be yards from chaos but find quiet refuge. From the pizza of the night before we moved to the other pantheon (reference intended) of Italian cuisine. Many Italian dishes are more subtle and light than their English interpretation, we are often heavy handed with sauce or use more ingredients. Having that said the first pasta in this trip was a puttanesca, a dish that slaps you around the face with garlic, tomato and olives. After a morning’s walking in the sun this and a cold beer provided excellent fuel.
That evening was the 3* fine dining (a story for another day but an incredible experience). The following days exploration took us to Piazza Navona, the open square the site of a former Roman stadium. Reconnaissance of the restaurants directly on the piazza led us to believe they were tourist hotspots. It might have been the prices, it might have been the giant menus with pictures and 8 languages, who knows. The Via dei Coronari tempted us down it’s cobbled streets and Osteria Dell’Antiquario was a pretty little restaurant in a tiny piazza, the romance heightened by the trickling of a water fountain in the background. The experience was a little more upmarket than previous days, but not necessarily the better for it. I was rather excited by my prawn and fresh tomato pasta, sounding fresh and summary. I couldn’t argue that it was both of those things, there just wasn’t much flavour and too little prawn too. For one of the most expensive lunches, the pasta costing close to €15, I couldn’t quite say I was short changed but I was certainly short on praise.
After exploring Janiculum, a hill / park a few mins walk West of the city that I would thoroughly recommend, we were ready for some further sustenance. As it was Saturday evening we initially struggled as a couple of places were understandably fully booked. We found Vito’s toward the Vatican that had good reviews, particularly that it was traditional and welcoming. The praised service was only observed in that an Italian waiter is ruthlessly efficient but supremely disinterested. It also appeared to be a sports bar, or at least that would be an excuse for the handful of big screens playing live football. The food was not bad, it was simple but unrefined. A antipasti looked thrown together but not unreasonable for what we paid. As a lover of shellfish Spaghetti vongole was a dish I had earmarked for my visit to Italy, in hindsight it may seem odd that I decided to choose it here. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though. The clams were a little gritty and didn’t have the sweetness and the best examples, though the pasta well cooked as ever of course.