Fondi is a town in Southern Lazio, 10km inland from the sea (it shares a station with Sperlonga a famous beach resort, see next post) and commands a strategic position halfway between Rome and Naples. It has a population of just over 35,000 and is an important agricultural centre with one of the biggest wholesale fruit & veg markets in Europe.
In Roman times it was an important stopping point on the ancient Via Appia, traces of which can still be seen on the outskirts of town. In the old centre there is a rather unappealing castle, built in the style of the Castel Nuovo in Naples, with large round towers at the corners, which also houses the civic museum. Some of the town walls still remain and you can walk on them on certain days when they are open to the public. The oldest and most atmospheric part of the old town is the Giudea, a warren of lava paved streets which was once the home of the Jewish community.
Vicolo di Mblo, 11 Corso Appio Claudio, Fondi, Tel. 0771 502 385 (closed Tuesday)
While I was waiting for the train in Rome I went through all the guides in the station bookshop and this was the place that came up every time, with virtually nowhere else being mentioned. Sure enough, when you come to the door you can barely see thorough it for all the stickers, everyone from Michelin to Gambero Rosso has been here, and for good reason because the food is excellent.
It’s located just by the castle, down a side alley off Corso Appio Claudio, the central street. There’s a big courtyard which is apparently a great place to sit in the summer although it wasn’t being used in May when I went.
Upon arrival you receive a complimentary glass of Prosecco and the attentions of Enzo the owner who would like to recommend his best dishes to you. First up is the local speciality of “Zarvadella”, described by Enzo as a soup but which is really more of a stew, and when made by him (or his wife, it’s a family operation), is a blend of at least eight vegetables (red and yellow peppers, potato, chicoria, chick peas, cannelloni and broad beans, aubergine, mushroom and large croutons) all cooked separately before being mixed together (A).
These all went down with an excellent couple of glasses of Shiraz, another local wine from Aprilia (Casale de Giglio 2009) (A) which could just about stand up to the chilli and also went well with the complimentary slither of beef fillet which had been cooked for several hours in wine, orange and balsamic vinegar, nice but not totally amazing (B+).
To finish, a delicious homemade ice cream with fig sauce with a small Biscotto di Amaretto on the side and a glass of Amarone Grapppa Riserva. All top notch and totally delicious. It would be easy to spend a lot of money here but fortunately there are cheap choices on the menu. Miraculously, all the above came in at a mere €30.
Of course I had to go back another evening to try the seafood dishes. This time Enzo gave me a starter of Tortino de Patate e Alici, layers of thinly sliced potato with anchovies with a couple of olives on the side, which to be honest was a little bland (B) but was transformed when combined with the olives (A). Shame there weren’t more of them.
The next dish was back on form though, Zuppa Gamberoni alla Acgua Pazza, red prawns with small slices of green pepper, in a delicious rich stock (A). Enzo shared his personal Acgua Pazza recipe with me, water and tomato passata (ratio 3:1) flavoured with basil, parsley, bay and celery leaves, a slice of yellow pepper and a tiny drop of Tabasco.
This time the bill came to €53, but was kindly reduced to €45, as I think he liked the cut of my gib. It’s worth every penny though; you would pay a lot more for this quality in the UK, if you can find it.
There’s a deli in the square by the castle called Il Pane in Piazza where I loaded up on tins of sardines from Anzio, a fishing port just up the coast famous for it’s seafood, as well as being the landing point for the Allies during WWII .
I was staying at the Hotel del Conte, a business hotel about 10 minutes walk from the old centre. It’s very attractive with spacious rooms, modern designer (for which read, somewhat impractical) furniture and bathroom fittings, a small dipping pool with sun loungers and free internet (Hallelujah!) via cable connection. The staff are nice and friendly. I had dinner here on the first night as I arrived late but I wouldn’t recommend the food which was edible but nothing to write home about (C). Far better to walk into town.