Rome – Eating well on the Esquilino
Rome is expensive and I find it difficult to stay inside my budget when I’m here. By way of example, the Hotel Colombia, a mid-range three-star where work puts me up, is €154 a night! More than anything I could afford if I came here as a tourist.
Tip: if you want to change rooms in an Italian hotel, look at the fire diagrams on the corridor walls to identify the biggest ones.
The TV has CNN and BBC, but in common with the phone, mine had a broken speaker making the programmes virtually unlistenable. Wi-Fi in your room is charged at an extortionate €3 per 30 minutes although there are much cheaper places nearby (see below).
On the positive side, breakfast (good cereals, fresh fruit, cakes, bread, cheese, ham, juice and well-made coffee) can be eaten outside on the pretty top-floor terrace which is a great way to start the day. The staff here have always been friendly and helpful over the years and it always seems fully booked.
The hotel is on the Esquiline, one of the Sheffield’s, whoops I mean Rome’s, legendary seven hills. Looking at a map of modern Rome, it can be defined as the area east of Via Nazionale and south of Termini station, which is the main entry point for travellers to the city.
From the Esquiline you can reach the old medieval centre by foot in about 30 minutes if you walk at a brisk pace. It’s best to walk everywhere in central Rome really, not just because taxis are very expensive but also because the city has a very small metro system. This I’m guessing is mainly due to the hills and also the archaology, which is probably why there are no metro stops in the ancient centre.
The area offers better chances of eating cheaply than down in the expensive centre. However, to eat well and inexpensively, you still have to know where to go:
Er Buchetto (Elementary A), 2F Via del Viminale (diagonally left over the road from the doorway of the Hotel Colombia) GEM ALERT!
This is a favourite of mine that I just have to visit every time I’m here; a tiny hole-in-the-wall place that’s easily missed. I love the atmosphere as much as the food.
Specialising in Porchetta Romana (baby suckling pig with rosemary and garlic stuffing), it’s basically one small room with three tables and benches and stools for a maximum of ten people.
Opened in 1890, it’s like stepping back in time with old black and white photos on the walls and a warm homey feel.
The pork is carved and weighed in front of you, in 100g (l’etto), portions and put on a piece of greaseproof paper with a bread roll, nothing fancy but totally delicious.
With a quartino of the house fairly decent Castelli Romani white wine (better than the red I think) my bill came to €7.50. Alternatively you can get a sandwich to go (for a long train journey?) for about €2.50. Some cold buffet items in jars available too but not sure if they get eaten much.
Closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
La Gallina Bianca (Intermediate B), 9
Via Antonio Rosmini
This is a pleasant everyday pizzeria and grill house fairly near the hotel that’s popular with the locals.
I had a Pizza Romana (tomatoes, mozzarella, capers, olives, anchovies and oregano) for €9 which was very good. A quartino of frizzantino white was €3.50. Pasta courses cost €7.50-12, secondos are €10-16 and salads are €9.50.
The decor is on a farmyard theme, the service is efficient and it’s open on Sundays (many places aren’t). I’ve heard it has had a refit since I was there last but is still thriving.
Maharajah (Intermediate A), 124 Via Serpenti, Tel. 06 4747144
There are three Indian restaurants in this area of town, but this one is the best. It even gets a mention in Gambero Rosso, a rare accolade for an non-Italian restaurant.
The atmosphere is luxurious and the service is attentive but the lighting is a little dark . Upon arrival you get a complimentary glass of Prosecco as well as the usual pickle tray and papadoms.
There are lots of attractive things on offer in the leather-bound a la carte menu but perhaps look first at the triangular plastic menu at the side of the table. It shows the three tasting menus on offer; veg, meat and fish, all sounding very good, and in the range of €20-24.
I went for the meat option and received a drumstick of Tandoori Chicken, a Rogan Josh, a Saag Aloo and a Channa Dahl with pilau rice and naan, all excellent. There were lots of Indian families eating here too which further recommends the place. In short, a posh restaurant selling refined Indian food that’s very good value for money.
And some to avoid…
Ristorante al Viminale (C), 3 via Palermo (down the side of Minestero Interno).
This was the cheapest Italian place I found near the hotel and I gave it a whirl for research purposes. The €15 Menu Touristico gives you a choice of one first and one second course but no drinks. No cover charge either, but you still get some tasteless unsalted bread.
I had their Rigatoni Amatriciana which was overcooked, and the breaded cutlet was very poor and served with cold chips. The red wine was just about drinkable at €4 a half litre.
The only atmosphere was provided by Milan vs Roma on the TV. No need to reserve, the place was empty when other good places nearby had queues outside.
Ma Gu Chinese Restaurant (C/D), 48 via del Viminale, (diagonally to the right from the doorway of the Hotel Colombia).
Dirt cheap but only just edible food. We paid €10 for the set menu which included a 660ml beer, tolerable dumplings and spring rolls, followed by fried rice and a beef dish. The plates of bony roast pork and squid in sauce that came next were destined for the bin, as was the ‘cake’ (baked brown sludge) to finish.
A veggie friend was rather disappointed with his plate of stir fried carrots, cucumber and celery in sauce and someone else’s food didn’t appear. The owner is brusque but friendly.
Really and truly it’s best to stay away from these ultra-cheap Chinese places if you like good food. It would appear that their only way of competing in the Italian market is to try to undercut everyone else to such an extent that quality is severely diminished.
There used to be a great Chinese place near Santa Maria Maggiore but it has sadly closed. Such a shame that Chinese cuisine isn’t being properly represented.
Trattoria da Danilo (B+), 13 Via Petrarca, (about 20 mins walk from the Colombia, past Santa Maria Maggiore) , closed Sunday.
After saving up for a good restaurant by eating crap for a few days, I thought I would treat myself and try this Gambero Rosso recommended restaurant.
It’s run by a young couple who were generally pleasant but I didn’t like the brusque way the lady owner spoke to a couple of Japanese tourists who were having vocab confusions. On the other hand the waitress was very nice to me, the ambience was pleasant, with lots of old photos on the walls, but the music was a little overbearing at times. Prices were reasonable, €7-12 for pasta dishes and €15-20 for mains.
I had Tonnarelli Tartufo Nero e Porcini (thick spaghetti in a sauce of black truffles and mushrooms)(A) followed by Abbacchio Panato alla Romana (breaded and fried lamb chops) (B) which were small and unsatisfying so I followed up with a second secondo (!) of Filetto di Manzo Grigliato al Pecorino di Fossa (beef fillet in a cheese sauce) (A-) which was very good but served on a freezing cold plate which seriously detracted from the overall pleasure. Washed down with a bottle of red, and finishing with a fancy pud and a great grappa (Sibona ‘Piemontese’ Moscato), my bill came to an extremely greedy €82.50.
This is obviously a restaurant with aspirations to be really good but I felt it was failing in a few areas and I don’t feel the need to go again.
Other useful info:
If you’re really on a tight budget you can get cheap groceries at the indoor Mercato Esquilino at Piazza Amadeo on Via Principe Amedeo.
This area is known as Rome’s Chinatown but is home to many other immigrant communities as well. The market is truly multicultural and makes for an interesting place to walk round with so many kinds of food on show. There is a central fish market with fruit & veg and other grocery stalls in the walkways surrounding it.
Of the three Irish pubs in the area (all with the same owner) I think the best craic is probably to be had at The Fiddler’s Elbow at 43 Via dell’ Olamata. It’s a dive and the beer isn’t great but it has more atmosphere and they often stay open till 1am or later. Sometimes some punters bring Irish instruments and start jamming in the back room.
The Druid’s Den around the corner at 5 Via Sant Martino ai Monti is ok too but smaller whereas the nearer Druid’s Rock at 1 Piazza dell Esquilino is the best place for watching football.
Looking for water? There’s a supermarket at #35 Via del Viminale (The Hotel Colombia is at 15 ). If it’s shut, you can get water from the bar at #47 for €2 a litre, a euro cheaper than the street vendors who are practised extortionists. The cost of bottled water is generally extortionate in Rome.
Here’s a great tip. The water from a ‘nasone’ (big nose!) public drinking fountain is absolutely fine, just take a plastic bottle with you and fill it up. Here’s a map of nasoni around the city. And an article about their history.
There are internet points at 2 Via Firenze (a bit cramped but owned by a friendly African guy called Coco, not open Sunday morning, or when he doesn’t feel like it), 6a Via Principe Amadeo (diagonally to the left from the doorway of the Hotel Colombia, can’t say I like the stroppy owner) and also at 26 Via Napoli (next down from Firenze). They all cost €1.50 for a minimum of 30 mins, although Coco will let you have a 15 minute slot for 75 cents. Good man.