Archive for the Lazio Category

Eating and Drinking in Anzio

Posted in Anzio, Italy, Lazio with tags , , , , on November 26, 2015 by gannet39

As you’d expect there’s a string of good seafood restaurants around the harbour in Anzio. I managed four of them in three days, all enjoyable for different reasons. I list them below in order of expense. There are also a few suggestions for other places that I didn’t have time to go to.

Da Carlo (Elementary A), 9 Via Padre Lombardi, on the corner with Via Porto Neroniano, open every day.

Recommended by a colleague, this is a very plain and quite dilapidated family restaurant where you can get good seafood for next to nothing.

I had four plates of antipasti; prawns, octopus, fish and a big bowl of steamed mussels, all of which were delicious (B+). With a half-litre of not particularly nice house white (C) and a shot of shop-bought Sicilian limoncello (B), the bill came to €15; an absolute bargain.

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La Fraschetta del Mare (Intermediate B+), 38 Corso del Popolo, closed Monday.

I had the Menu Fraschetta which involved ten dishes of antipasti (all B+/C), for €16.

My favourites (all A) were the Insalata di Palamite, a salad involving a small member of the tuna family, Sgombro Cotto al Vapore con Salsa di Cipolle Caramellate, aka steamed mackerel with caramelised onion, and the Merluzzo al Gratin or hake baked with cheese.

The Polenta con Ragu di Mare, Couscous al Sugo di Baccala and Insalata Verde were all fine, as was the fillet of Marmora, a local white fish (all B).

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I wasn’t that impressed with the Sughero con Brocolletti Ripassati, nor the Spaghetti Vongole al Sugo di Tomate which seemed an unusual combination (both C).

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The Lumachine alla Marinara, sea snails with a tomato sauce, were interesting but I didn’t finish them as I was full (B-).

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With a half litre of okay house white (B-) and a homemade limoncello (A), the total cost was a measly €26. Another steal.

Pierino (Advanced A-), 3 Piazza Cesare Battisti

Considered by the locals and many of the guides to be the best place in town, it is indeed very good but comes second to Romolo below in my humble opinion.

The dining room is quite plain and simple and the service is very efficient but not particularly effervescent. The owner seems quite dour but he was considerate and attentive and even gave me a complimentary spoonful of sturgeon eggs when I asked what ‘caviale’ was on the menu.

Before that I began with the Antipasto Misto Mare (all A/B) which involved a plate of diced grilled squid and two canapés with some undetermined white fish.

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Then a mix of battered and fried squid and sardines.

This was followed by a Mazzancolle (king prawn) on a bed of mashed potato (B) alongside a red prawn with tiny slices of raw artichoke.

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Also a fillet of Marmora with a pine nut sauce next to a grantinated crayfish.

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The standout (A) was a salad of diced squid with lambs lettuce and strawberries, over which the waiter grated bottarga secchi (dried grey mullet roe).

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I still felt a bit hungry/greedy so the owner recommended I follow up with an excellent pasta dish of fresh handmade spaghetti with prawns and wild asparagus (A).

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The owner recommended a local Chardonnay called Sara by La Luna del Casale which had an unusual flavour not entirely to my liking (C+).

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I asked for a local digestif but was given an Amaro Montenegro from Bologna, an okay (B) but somewhat perfumey amaro to my taste.

The total came to €55 I think, which was fine given the quality of the seafood, however I would probably go to this next place instead if I were to return to Anzio.

Romolo al Porto (Advanced A+), 19/20 Via Porto Innocenziano, closed Wednesday.

This is a fantastic seafood restaurant frequented by celebrities but affordable for everyone. The people leaving as I arrived were chefs from a Michelin starred restaurant who had come for lunch and stayed for seven hours!

The multi-lingual service is exemplary and Walter Regolanti the very personable chef-proprietor is always front of house interacting with his customers. He’s quite a character as his replies to negative reviews on Tripadvisor show! Noticing I was taking so many photos, he was keen to show me his lobsters, recently caught by the restaurant’s own trawler.

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They have two antipasti menus (unwritten so ask for them); crudo (raw) and cotto (cooked). Walter told me that of course the best thing would to be to have both, and as this was my last night treat, I didn’t need convincing.

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I had no idea what I had let myself in for, and it was a good job I’d changed my table for a four person one because it was twice covered with plates, around twenty in all. These pictures don’t show all of it!

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Each dish held a couple of goblets of top quality seafood, generally dressed very simply with olive oil. I was told what they all were but there were too many to remember. These are just the more photogenic items. It all scored A/B with only one or two disappointments.

Things that stuck in the memory were the pepperoncino marmalade (B+) which came with some deep-fried squid tentacles (B).

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Also the raw Palamite tuna here was very nice (A) as was the ‘fish salad’ (A) served on the local flatbread, Pane Musica (B), so called because it makes a musical sound when it’s broken!

I love prawns and I don’t think I’ve had them in so many different ways.


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I had a Sauvignon Blanc from Lazio called Follia which was pretty good (B).

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After that lot I couldn’t manage a dessert but was given a few complimentary grappas; one called Giroi (A), poured from the biggest grappa bottle I’ve ever seen!

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The second was a dark barrique (barrel-aged ) from Trentino called Torba Nera (B).

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I was prepared for a hefty triple figure bill but I nearly fell off my seat when it came in at just €60. This is of course a fair chunk of money but still a bargain considering just how much top quality seafood I’d had.

A waiter told me that the restaurants either side also belong to Romolo, the one to the right serving sushi. Must try it next time.

Another highly recommended place is Al Turcotto (44 Riviera Vittorio Mallozzi, near Villa Nero, ristoranteturcotto.it) which has a good sea view. I’ve mapped this and a few other restaurants, gleaned from several Italian and English guides, onto this Google map.

I also wanted to go to Peppetto (turn right out of the hotel and after a hundred meters you’ll see it in a corner of a small square on the left) because in their Sala Romana in the basement you can see the wall of the old Roman Amphitheatre. No idea what the food is like though.

And you could, as a teacher suggested, walk over to neighbouring Nettuno for restaurants in a more picturesque setting.

Enoteca Del Gatto, 2 Via Giuseppe Mazzini, www.enotecadelgatto.it

This is an excellent deli that also has an adjoining wine bar, although perhaps the bar only opens in the summer. I mistimed my shopping trip and went on Thursday when it was closed. Doh!

Happily though I managed to get a few delicacies, such as some locally tinned sardines by Pollastrini, from the Buccolini Supermarket around the corner at 14 Via Adua.

Anzio has an outdoor market a bit out of the centre on Via Antium. It’s next to the school I was working at so at lunchtime I got a huge Porchetta Romana sandwich (roasted suckling pig with garlic, rosemary, sage and fennel stuffing) from a deli van for €2.50.

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It was some of the best Porchetta I’ve had (A). It’s easy to see why it was the epicurean Emperor Nero’s favourite food.

In short, expect to eat very well in Anzio!

Stuff to See in Anzio

Posted in Anzio, Italy, Lazio with tags , on November 25, 2015 by gannet39

I stayed in Anzio in early March 2015 for three nights. I was unlucky with the weather as it rained for most of the time and it got quite chilly in the evenings.

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I stayed at the shabby Hotel La Bussola www.labussolahotelanzio.com (€70 a night in 2015) which I hesitate to recommend due to its minimal breakfast (cardboard cornflakes, cappuccino and croissant), thin walls, very weak Wi-Fi signal (except on the ground floor) and a cramped bathroom which floods when you have a shower.

However, I put up with all this because, according to a teacher, there are no better hotels in the centre of town and I like to be relatively near all the places I want to check out. It’s also about ten minutes’ walk from the station, if you know where you’re going. Google map here.

Most people know the town for the Battle of Anzio; the bungled Allied landings towards the end of WW2 when the attackers failed to capitalise on their advantage of surprise.

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Over several weeks of fighting, the old town was completely destroyed and over eighty thousand people were either killed or wounded between the two sides. Large British and American military cemeteries stand testimony nearby.

As a result there are no old buildings still standing but the town still retains some charm due to its seaside location and in the summer a few tourists come to enjoy the small beaches.

I did spot this nice Moorish influenced residence on the seafront at 12 Rivera Mallozzi.

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And I quite liked the dolphins on the window lintels of this house, but that was about it in terms of architecture.

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West of the harbour you’ll find Ponente Beach

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Here you can see the ruins of Emperor Nero’s summer villa which was built into the cliffs, incorporating some of the natural sea caves into its structure.

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Legend has it that one of these caves was extended to form a tunnel all the way to Rome, to be used as an escape route should the Emperor need to leave the capital quickly. This is unlikely though as Rome is almost fifty kilometers away and no archaeologist has ever been able to prove that it existed.

Looking out to over the waves you can see the island of Palmarola (I think) in the distance, part of the Pontine Archipelago. You can just see it on the horizon in this picture.

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I wanted to take a trip to Ponza, the main island, but sadly the ferries don’t run from Anzio in the winter so I left it for another day.

Anzio is famous for its fishing industry and a fleet of trawlers operates out of the harbour. It’s a principal source of seafood for Rome and it’s rapacious restaurants.

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In the afternoon when the catch has been landed, fresh fish, shrimp and crustaceans can be bought on the quayside directly from the fishermen.

There was lots of interesting sea life on display when I went, including these pink sea eels which I’d never seen before.

So Anzio is definitely a good spot to eat seafood, more of which in my next post on Eating and Drinking. If I’d had longer I’d have walked east along the shore line to Nettuno which I’m told also has some nice fish restaurants.

In conclusion then, Anzio is a nice enough place for a short stay and I’d happily come back. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to return one day as there’s still a bit of work for us English teachers to do.

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Fun guy in Frosinone

Posted in Frosinone, Italy, Lazio with tags , on January 24, 2015 by gannet39

There’s very little I can tell you about Frosinone because I was only there a very short time and worked pretty much constantly.

Most of my colleagues seem to think there isn’t that much to see or do except one who says there are a couple of restaurants up the hill in the old town that are worth visiting. The problem is you have to be prepared to hoof it back because taxi drivers generally don’t work in the evenings.

Other colleagues who have had a day off here have recommended a visit to the nearby fortified town of Ferentino.

039On the plus side, the restaurant of the comfortable Hotel Astor www.astorhotel.fr.it  where I stayed is excellent and very popular. I ate here twice and everything was great. I particularly remember the mixed seafood plate on the first night (A).

047And the next night, after some prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella (B+), the Risotto con Funghi Porcini e Tartufo was also memorable (A).

057Especially with the bottle of ‘Le Note de Figaro’2012 by Cantina Paniccia, made of 100% Cesanese del Piglio grapes from the local Lazio IGP,  a new but enjoyable experience (B+).

058And finally a strong finish with a shot of oak barrel-aged grappa ‘Candolini’ Riserva (B+).

I love Antonino the old white-haired waiter here. He’s absolutely hilarious and puts on a clown routine for his customers by intentionally forgetting things, pretending to get in a tizzy and generally being very daft! But he’s really not, he’s just a very nice, funny guy who likes his customers to enjoy themselves.

062Although he didn’t serve me I also remember the other waiter Angelo (another character) because when introducing him Tonino said ‘non un Angelo, è il diavolo!’

If you’re female, watch out for the hotel owner who’s a bit of a Lothario. He’ll join you for dinner and be stroking your hair in no time given half a chance! I think the leopard skin print on the dining room chairs is an indication of where he’s coming from. It’s all very Quagmiresque.

There’s an Ethiopian restaurant called Divino Amore near the station (3  Via Sacra Famiglia, on the corner with Via Minzoni) should you fancy a change. I’m not a big fan of this particular cuisine but it could be an option if you’re arriving late as the hotel is a taxi ride away. I had a bottle of wine, a flatbread with a meat sauce and a dessert for €29.

Please let me know in the comments section below if you have anything to recommend for my next visit 🙂

Edgy Ostia

Posted in Italy, Lazio, Ostia with tags , , , on January 21, 2015 by gannet39

Ostia was the harbour for Rome in ancient times. At Ostia Antica there is a large area of well preserved archaeological ruins that can be visited. I didn’t have time but I got a good idea from these videos. The mosaics and frescoes are particularly famous.

Ostia eventually failed as a harbour due to silting at the mouth of the River Tiber just to the north of the town. Due to the silting the Roman area is now 3km inland. The new town is called Ostia Lido and is the nearest beach resort for modern Romans taking their summer holidays.

Nowadays it has a faded seedy charm as many resorts do however it does feel quite edgy in the darker streets away from the central area and a teacher told me not to leave anything of value in a car. Just a few months before I arrived there had been fifty one arrests in the town for Mafia activity so it does seem crime is a bit of a problem here.
The town was greatly expanded in the Fascist period (1922-1943) with buildings constructed in the official Stile Littorio architectural mode, which took in rationalist, constructivist and futurist styles.
Whilst not a fan of the politics I do quite like some of the buildings, like the Palazzo de Poste on the corner of Corso Duca di Genova and Viale Capitan Consalvo.

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026Built in 1934 it was designed by the futurist Angiolo Mazzoni who also did the original design for Rome Termini Station.

Along the waterfront there are some more famous examples of futurism, such as Villini A e B  by Adalberto Libera. Please click on the pics to enlarge them.

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Not sure which architect designed these apartment blocks further along the waterfront but I love the balconies and the porthole windows on the side walls.

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And around the pedestrianised Via Ciolio and Piazza Anco Marzio there’s a couple of nice bits of Art Nouveau.

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I was put up at Hotel Sirenetta at 46 Lungomare Paolo Toscanelli It was fine in a faded, cheap Italian resort hotel kind of way. The staff were nice and the breakfast room has views of the sea and the waterfront.

I wish I had stayed at Hotel Ping Pong further down the lungomare because of its name!

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Via Ciolio and its continuation Via dei Miseanti seems to be where most of the action is in the evenings in terms of nice bars and restaurants. I was only here for one night so can only really comment on this place recommended by the receptionist:

Alla Corte dei Borboni (Intermediate B+), 27 Piazza Anco
Marzio, www.allacortedeiborboni.it

Located in a beautiful last-centure space this is, as the name suggests, a Neapolitan restaurant, complete with waitresses in Bourbon period costume. It was empty when I arrived but was soon packed out with locals so a reservation or early arrival might be a good idea. I only had some Suppli (deep fried rice ball with ragu and mozzarella), their ‘A Caprese’ pizza margherita with mozzarella di bufala and Pachino cherry tomatoes, and a Gelato al Torroncino, all of which was fine (B+). Total cost €23.50 with a limoncello. Given its popularity I’m sure everything else is good too.

A good cocktail bar, very near Alla Corte dei Borboni, is Insolito at 21 Via della Stazione Vecchia. The make a good Negroni here with quality vermouths such as Carpano Antica Formula and Martini Gold.

There are a few more restaurants on my Google map which were recommendations from various Italian guides but I wasn’t there long enough to try them.

Two tips from my friend Stuart: “Ostia Park Hotel in Ostia Antica has a lovely clean pool, free except for hire of a towel at €6. No other towels allowed! You can get to Ostia Antica from  Ostia Lido in about 10 minutes on the No.4 bus, about every 20 minutes”.

In conclusion a brief but interesting stay in an off-season seaside resort. I’m sure it’s all very different in the summer.

Rome – Sunday in Trastevere

Posted in Italy, Lazio, Rome, Trastevere on May 18, 2011 by gannet39

Trastevere meaning “across the Tiber”, the river flowing through Rome, is a beautiful area of cobbled, winding Medieval streets located on the west bank, south from the Vatican City.

Google map here.

Trastevere arch

It’s been a multi-cultural area since ancient times and its inhabitants, the Trasteverini, have developed their own distinct local culture and are proudly different from the rest of the city.

Trastevere alley
In the medieval period it was the centre for the important Jewish community while in the 60s and 70s its unique character attracted artists and musicians. Famous locals include film director Sergio Leone who grew up here and was in the same class at school as Ennio Morricone.

Arch near the Botanical gardens
On Sundays in Rome the only show in town seems to be the flea market in Trastevere which starts at 7 in the morning and goes on till 12.30. Start at Porta Portese and continue south. Personally I can happily give it a miss as the stalls are full of tat and the occasional interesting piece of bricabrac you might come across will be ridiculously overpriced.

The only food I saw was a peanut seller and a solitary cheese stall with the wares sweltering in plastic under the sun.

Peanut vendor

On the other hand there are some really good restaurants over here which seem to be much more reasonably priced than those in the Centro Storico just over the river. Most importantly they are all open for Sunday lunch which makes Trastevere the place to be when the rest of town is relatively quiet.

Trattoria with principles

The focal point of the old Medieval area is Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere and its beautiful church of the same name, one of the oldest in the city and home to a collection of beaufiful mosaics.

Piazza Santa Maria

Santa Maria

Mosaics

The cafes in the square are good places for a pricey aperitivo. I’m sure most of the restaurants surrounding it are very good too but I have my favourite that I always go to. It’s so good that I won a Guardian readers tips competition with it in 2014!

Da Lucia (Intermedaiate A),  2/b Vicolo del Mattonato, Tel. 06 580 3601, GEM ALERT!

Hidden away up a backstreet, not so far from the madding crowd, this is a favourite which I come back to every time I’m here. If you haven’t reserved you need to get here pretty soon after 12.30 when they open or you won’t get one of the coveted outdoor tables.
To start I had the Antipasta della Casa, a dish of grilled peppers, aubergine, courgettes and olives(A).

Antipasto della Casa
To follow, the Spaghetti alla Gricia, with pancetta and grated pecorino (A+) is truly excellent.

Spaghetti alla Gricia
I like to challenge myself from time to time and thought this would be a good place to try Trippa alla Romana, which was tasty, but I couldn’t eat more than half of it (B), unlike the local chap next to me who polished his off in about five minutes.

Trippa alla Romana
The Panna Cotta with stewed forest berries was sublime (A+).

Panna Cotta

All this went down with a great bottle of fruity Frascati from Casalle Marchese (A) which totally won me over to this lovely Lazio wine.

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Frascati

A great meal all round, and very reasonable at €40. If you’re in Trastevere, you must come here.

At 37a Via dei Moro you will find Valzani, an amazing old pasticceria selling giant Easter eggs, chocolate cars and all forms of Torrone and other confectionery, beautifully presented in glass cases and attractive wrappings.  I purchased a slab of their darkest most delicious chocolate that survived the journey home, but not much longer.

Valzani signValzaniValzani windowInside ValzaniCream puffsChocolate CarEaster eggsTorrone RomanoScales

Rome – Eating in the Medieval Centro Storico

Posted in Centro Storico, Italy, Rome with tags , on May 18, 2011 by gannet39

The central medieval area of Rome includes the districts of Navona, Pantheon and Trevi, which are always filled with throngs of tourists photographing the sights and filling the eateries.

Trevi FountainMy column's bigger than yoursPantheonAlthough it’s a bit of a jam at times, especially around Trevi, for me there are few things better than wandering the romantic streets around Campo Fiori and Piazza Navona on a warm summer evening soaking up the incredible atmosphere.

Pantheon fountainThere must be hundreds of restaurants in this part of town but many of them are tourist traps that will happily fleece you of upwards of €100 without blinking an eye, so at least make sure you ask how much something is before ordering it. There are some good little places to be found though…

Google map here.

Fiaschetteria Beltramme (Intermediate A), 39 Via della Croce

A classic trattoria near the Spanish steps selling trad Roman dishes since 1889. It’s best to get here early at about 7.30 to beat the crowds because they don’t take reservations (hence the lack of a phone number).

Fiaschitteria Beltramme

There are several tables set for four but as a lone diner I was seated at a large table laid for eight which I shared with a Japanese and American couple, two Finns and a German, all of whom turned out to be foodies who had hunted the place down.

Fiaschitteria Beltramme interior

Conversation ranged from secret Roman restaurants and Yorkshire beer to Singaporean cuisine and cured reindeer meat. It’s amazing what you can learn through a shared love of food.

Fiasch interior

To start I had the soup of the day; a stew of chickpeas and pasta hoops in a hearty broth (A).

Pasta bean soup

To follow, Pollo alla Romana, three chicken legs stewed with tomatoes , onions and peppers until the meat was falling off the bones, wonderful (A).

Pollo alla Romana

On the side Carciofo alla Romana (artichoke heart braised with mint, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil), another tasty local classic (B).

Carciofo alla Romana

I had a quartino each of the house white and red with each course and both were very good for table wines. To finish Zabaione (aka Zabaglione)with two chunks of amaretto biscuit, also excellent (A). Total cost €48, very good value considering the location.

Zabaione

Il Desiderio (Intermediate B+), 23 Vicolo della Palomba, Tel; 0668307522

A Gambero Rosso recommend down a side alley in the old town. I had 3 courses and 3 wines here for €42, which is very good value given the location. The cuisine is modern Italian although the ambience is quite retro with distressed wooden tables and second hand fittings. They also found favour with me by having old cutlery from Sheffield (my home town).

To start I had Alici in Prato (anchovies marinated in cider vinegar in a green sauce of parsley and green pepper) (€8) which were nice enough (B) but didn’t blow me away. I had a half litre of rather poor but still drinkable house (C) white ‘Calice’ (€7).

Alici in Prato
Things picked up though on the second course with the (A) Ravioloni di Orata al Pesto di Balsilico (pasta pockets of Bream smothered in a delicious basil pesto) (€9) which I demolished all too quickly.

Ravioloni di Orata al Pesto di Balsilico
Portions are quite small (for me) so I felt the need for a secondo of “Apuna” Arrosto di Vitella con Speck e Zenze (roasted veal with Chianti, brandy, speck and ginger) (C) (€10), which sounded great on the menu but looked rather unappealing on the plate. None of the constituent ingredients were particularly discernible and it failed to impress, however the potato puree that it came with was some of the nicest mash I have ever eaten (A+).

Apuna

I had this with a glass of excellent Morellino de Scansano red, a variety of Sangiovese from Tuscany (Aia Vecchia 2009) (B+) (€5).

Morellino de Scansino

I also had a Grappa Riserva Marcati (B) (€3) which was disappointing in comparison to the Amarone riserva I’d had a few days earlier.

Grappa Riserva Marcati

The food can be really good here but not every selection is a winner. What I appreciate the most though is the policy of trying to provide good innovative food at a reasonable price. All power to them.

Obica Mozzarella Bar (Intermediate B), 38 Piazza di Firenze and many other locations, obica.com

One of the best things I have ever eaten was a still warm ball of super-fresh mozzarella, bought directly from the producer’s shop (in Aversa, Campania).  No other mozzarella has compared to it since but I still can’t resist trying to relive the experience whenever I see it on a menu. We’re talking the real stuff here of course, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, not the cow’s milk version. This bright modern place is part of a chain currently taking over the globe. Adapting the sushi bar concept to mozzarella and other Italian antipasti, they are now in several world capitals, including London and Tokyo, with swish bars that profess to specialise in this wonderful cheese.

You can find Mozarella here in several forms;  blobs, sheets and braids.  I went for the traditional balls with a tasting tray of three types, two named after the regions they are from; the Paestum (in Campania), the Pontina (in Lazio) and a smoked version (also from Paestum).

Three mozzarellas

The Paestum won it for me, having slightly more milky creaminess than its rival. However since coming here, I’ve decided smoking is a waste of good mozzarella. Its simplicity of flavour is its essence I’d say and the smoking dominates too much. The olives and cherry tomatoes were very tasty though.

However at €19.50 (€22 at Fiumicino airport) this is a bit of a rip-off really when you think that I paid €3 for a larger, fresher and therefore better tasting ball of cheese just a few kilometers down the coast at Sperlonga, in the Pontina region. Also a warm glass of Sauvignon cost me €4, not good. The service was so nice though that I forgave them just about everything.

This map shows the main areas of mozzarella production in Italy.

Mozzarella regions

On closer study of the menu, they did seem to have good value lunch trays for €12.50, using speciality cheeses and hams available from regions all over Italy. The cheese option has three other types of cheese and two marmalades (Mandarin and red onion) with oven baked crostini. The meat option has three cured meats, including a favourite of mine, Prosciutto di San Daniele with crostini and tomato pesto. There are lots of salads available so it’s probably a good place for veggies.  And in this square, a good spot for people-watching too with a large outside terrace and chairs of different heights, although the tables are a little cramped. There will probably be one opening near you soon.

 

Il Gelato di San Crispino (Intermediate A), 3 Pizza della Madallena

The best ice cream in Rome according to some. I had a tub (they don’t sell cones) of their signature version which was great.

Il Gelato di San Crispino

Lots of other unusual flavours like whisky or fig. There are several more places to try out before I decide which is best…

San Crispino Gelato

Caffe Sant ‘Eustachio (Intermediate A), Piazza Sant ‘Eustachio

Large famous coffee bar near the Pantheon that’s home to one of Rome’s most famous blends. Water is supplied to the cafe from a Roman aqueduct built in 19 B.C. and local espresso experts say this adds to the flavour. Who am I to judge, but it’s a better bitter cuppa anyway.  It’s probably cheaper to drink it standing at the bar than sitting down outside.

Caffe Amilloni

So this is just a little taste of a million things to do in the old town. There are so many I’ve yet to experience and I still  find something new every time I’m here.

Cinque Cento

One of the things I like most  is just walking around and stumbling upon little surprises you weren’t expecting…

Fountain somewhere

 

Fountain detail
If you’ve got a soft spot for cats, as I have, then a visit to the Sacred Area on Torre Argentina is always part of the round. A huge colony of feral cats lives amongst the ruins, and there are literally cats everywhere you look.

Flopped cats

Rome – Eating well on the Esquilino

Posted in Esquilino, Italy, Lazio, Rome with tags , on May 17, 2011 by gannet39

Remus and RomulusGo

Rome is expensive and I find it difficult to stay inside my budget when I’m here. By way of example, the Hotel Columbia, 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.

Google map here.

Hotel ColombiaFor that money you get quite a small cramped suite with fairly basic bathroom facilities, although the rooms on the front are larger and have baths.

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).

Colombia terraceOn 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 Columbia 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 Columbia) GEM ALERT!

Er Buchetto

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.

Porchetta

Opened in 1890, it’s like stepping back in time with old black and white photos on the walls and a warm homey feel.

Carving

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.

al'etto

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 originally but now a C), 9 Via Antonio Rosmini

This is a pleasant everyday pizzeria and grill house fairly near the Hotel Columbia that’s popular with the locals.

La Gallina Bianca

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.

2018 update from my friend Ethel: The food was ok (had better elsewhere) but now they put on a 20% service charge!!! It’s not even optional and even in the USA you can choose to leave 15 or 20%. A total disgrace – it’s in small print on English and Italian menus and our Italian wasn’t sufficient to get out of it plus there was an Italian guy arguing with the cashier about something and she didn’t budge with him either.

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.

Maharajah 001

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 Columbia 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 Columbia).

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.

Mercato EsquilinoZucchini flowersFish marketThis 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 Columbia 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 Columbia, 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.

Lingering in Sperlonga

Posted in Italy, Lazio, Sperlonga with tags , on May 17, 2011 by gannet39


Sperlonga
shares a train station with Fondi, its inland neighbour. At first sight it appears to be just a small town located on a high promontory…

Sperlonga from the beach

 

…but the beaches that stretch off for several kilometres in both directions make it the premier beach resort in Lazio.

Sperlonga North Beach

 

Small flats here sell for a million Euros and in peak season hotel prices soar. I was here for two nights in May when it was pretty quiet, having unexpectedly been given a day off, allowing me to escape Fondi for a short break at the sea side before heading home.

The old centre is stunning; a warren of small alleyways and staircases, impassable for cars or scooters, so there’s nothing to disturb the peace.

Sea view

 

Every time you turn a corner there’s a new set of stairs or an archway to entice you further in.

Upstairs Downstairs

 

Even though it’s tiny, you could spend a long time wandering around.

Sperlonga arch

 

A place in the sunParallel stairsThe watchtower at the point, sadly doused with concrete to make it look neat, was a look out for Saracen raiders who destroyed the town a few times in its history.

Watchtower

Nowadays the only invaders are tourists from Rome and around the world. The beach was virtually deserted when I was there in mid-May and an army of empty lettini (sun loungers) and ombrelloni (beach umbrellas) stood awaiting the official start of summer in June.

North beach

Sperlonga comes from ‘spelunca’, meaning cave, and there are a fair few along the coast around here. A fair way down the south beach is the legendary cave of Tiberius, the Roman emperor who used Sperlonga as his second holiday home when he got tired of Capri.

Apparently his parties would put Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga affairs in the shade.  Although at one dinner party in the cave, described in an ancient text, a diner was killed by a falling boulder! The museum containing the bizarre statutory he had commissioned for his now partly submerged villa is worth a visit apparently, although I just looked at the pictures from the comfort of my sun lounger.

Lazy cat

I wasn’t completely lazy though. After appreciating the peace of an early morning walk around the old town, I went for a run along the country roads leading up to the hills behind the town and was rewarded with a great view of the small wild mountains behind. It made me realise how narrow the strip of flat land is here between the mountains and the sea .

Hotel Mayor, 4 Via I° Romita, Tel. 0771 54 92 45

I stayed at this mid-range albergo which has rooms for €60 a night (€100 in peak season in July/August). The rooms are basic but comfortable and the staff are friendly and they have free Wi-Fi in reception which worked in my room on the third floor. They also have a ‘private beach’ by which they mean they have sun-loungers in a less crowded area of the beach which you can use for free. It’s an ok place to stay although the breakfast is a little bland.

Just up the road from the hotel at 19 Via Romita Primero is Da Fausto, recommended by a teacher as the ‘best’ (i.e. most expensive) restaurant in town, but it was beyond my budget. I managed to eat pretty well at these places though:

La Siesta (Intermediate B+), 15 Via Orticello, Tel. 0771 54617 (Closed Tuesday)

This is a lovely spot in a small square, up in the old town.

La Siesta this way

La Siesta squareI came here for lunch though I can imagine it’s even more picturesque at night time.

To start I had the special of Tagliolini de Telline…

Taglioline di Telline

 

…square chunky spaghetti with wedge clams, a particularly favourite bivalve of mine.

Telline

Collecting them on your fork requires a fair bit of effort but the results are very satisfying  (A).

To follow, Soute di Cozze, mussels  mariniere style with a parsley and wine sauce, and two pieces of ‘bruschetta’, in this case fried bread doused in olive oil, also delicious (A).

Soute di Cozze

Finally a second secondo (sheer greed!) of grilled Pesce Spada (swordfish) with fried courgettes and even more bruschetta on the side.

Pesce Spada

This was a bit bland and needed salting but was still pretty good (B).

To drink my final bottle of Satrico from Casale del Giglio (B+), now an old friend.

Satrico


From here the force of gravity helped me down the hill to the gelataria in the square for dessert. Italian chocolates are great and one of my favourites is Bacio (meaning kiss), a hazelnut covered in dark chocolate. So how could I resist the ice cream version?

Bacio icecream

 

The gelataria is also a pasticceira and and it was a constant struggle to resist the delicious looking sfogliatelle pastries on display.

Sfogliatelle

They also have arragostini, which are shaped like small  lobster tails.

Arragostini

It’s located near the Mayor’s private beach, in a small square at the end of Viale Cristiforo Colombo, the main street that runs along the North beach.

There are two stalls selling fresh fruit and veg in the square  before 12 each day. I couldn’t resist getting half a kilo of datterini tomatoes, tiny bombs of flavour that fitted perfectly in your mouth.

Datterini (Little Dates)

To go with them the nice lady gave me a huge stalk of basil, plucked  from the biggest basil plant I have ever seen. It’s this kind of thing that makes me want to move here forever! There must have been six other varieties of tomato on the stalls.

More tomatoes

I also saw some ‘nespole’, a yellow fruit I’ve never seen before called medlar in English, which should apparently be eaten when it’s nearly rotten. Or used to make jelly like quince.

Nespole aka Medlar

There’s a great fishmonger near the square as well, and some deli grocery stores further down Viale Cristiforo Colombo. Everything you need really.

Moscardini

Tropical (Elementary B), 17-19 Via Cristoforo Colombo

Recommended by the hotel and a teacher I was working with, this is a seemingly cheap rudimentary place in an expensive town. It’s basically a long room with a low roof, open detachable windows (slightly chilly in May), a large telly at one end and paper tablecloths with anchors on. The macho waiters have a lot of ground to cover but you get served eventually. They do pizzas here too, including a long oval version for two people, and more worryingly, Tennant’s Super on the drinks list.

I was here mainly for the seafood and had a huge plate of Risotto Frutti di Mare for €14.50 which was piled high with mussels, clams, calamari, squid, octopus, a solitary prawn and a couple of chunks of chicken (which worked very well), basic but tasty and filling (B).

Risotto ai Frutti di Mare

The house white, ‘Iuppiter’ a dry white from Terracina, is drinkable but nothing special (C+) (€10).

IuppiterHaving developed a major appetite in recent days, I followed this up with Salsiccia Paesana con Patatine, i.e. Sausage & Chips, which here was a smaller version of the local spicy sausage than at d’Mblo (see Fondi post), served with oven chips, which did what it said on the tin (C+).

To finish, Fragole con Limone e Zucchero, strawberries with lemon and sugar and a not-cold-enough limoncello, or two. Total cost €49.50, slightly more than at the incredible Vicolo d’Mblo in Fondi but much lower in quality. Better value to be had elsewhere I’d say.

Ristorante Pizzeria L’Angolo (Intermediate A), 15 Via Tiberio, Tel. 0771 548808

In a corner (angolo) of the south beach, this is a big place with which must be heaving in peak season though it was relatively quiet when I went.

Night tome on the beach

That is if you could screen out the disco pop, an American lady with a disobedient barking dog and the loud German couple on the next table. You can sit outside on plastic or inside on wood, and I did both, eventually choosing to retreat to the warmth and dog free quiet of the interior.

This was my last night on this tour so I went for things that I wouldn’t get to eat for a while. The Mozzarella Campana was fresh and delicious (A) and only €3, half the price and twice as good as anything I got in Rome.
Last Mozzarella
The rustic Linguine All’ Astice (pasta with lobster) in a powerful tomato sauce was also excellent (A) although things got a bit messy due to my poor skills with a nutcracker.

Lobster Linguine
To go with this an ok (B-) bottle of ‘People’ Frascati from Poggio le Volpi (2010).

Frascati

Finally a slice of Torta di Fragole (strawberry cake) and a Grappa Moscato. Total cost €43. I think better food and value than Tropical. A good send off before heading home.
Sperlonga is magical, as the Italians would say, ‘E stupendo!’ Go in the off season if you can, before the hordes arrive and the prices shoot up.

Sperlonga Sunset

Fondi Memories

Posted in Fondi, Italy, Lazio with tags on May 13, 2011 by gannet39

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.

Street in Fondi

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.

La Giudea

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.

The castle

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.

Vicolo di Mblo
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.

Vicolo di Mblo interior
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 was 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).

Zarvadella
This was followed by a salad of wonderfully fresh and tasty local Mozzarella (a speciality of the region) (A) with lettuce, small tomatoes and Tropea onions (from Puglia, see my Vibo Valentia post).

Mozzarella salad
Skipping the primo, I went on to the secondo of Salsiccia Fondana, a large spicy sausage halved and fried, another speciality of the town and the hottest thing I think I have ever eaten in Italy (A).

Salsiccia Fondana

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+).

Shiraz
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.

Ice cream with fig sauce
Amarone Grapppa RiservaOf 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.

Tortino de Patate e Alici
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.

Zuppa Gamberoni alla Acgua Pazza
Next a pasta dish of Pacchieri con Pulpo e Olive, large tubes of pasta with a sauce of thinly sliced octopus with olives and tomato, delicious (A).

Pacchieri con Pulpo e Olive
With this I had ‘Satrico’, yet another good wine from Casale del Giglio (2009) in Aprilia which was subtle but still very good (B+).

Satrico
To finish the homemade ice cream again with a warm amaretto biscuit on the side but this time with a Strawberry sauce which blew me away (A+). All in all, favolosa!

Ice cream with strawberry sauce

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.

The hot versionThere’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 (see separate post) .

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.

Latina in Lazio

Posted in Italy, Latina, Lazio on May 4, 2011 by gannet39

Latina, about 40 km to the south of Rome, is a city of about 120,000 and the capital of its own province. It was built by Mussolini as a showpiece for the achievements of his fascist government. Originally called Littoria it was constructed on reclaimed marshland and on the City Hall clock tower you can see the latin motto “LATINA OLIM PALUS” meaning “Latina, once a swamp”. It’s quite different from most Italian towns, constructed on an oval grid (easy to navigate in theory but also easy to get lost, everywhere looks the same) with white stone buildings in the rationalist style and nothing really old in sight. Latina Scalo (the original old town) is nearby but not worth visiting according to the locals I spoke to.

Ristorante Enoteca dell’ Orologio (Advanced B-), Piazza del Popolo, Tel. 0773 473684

This is the only restaurant mentioned by Gambero Rosso that’s walkable from the hotel. It’s the kind of posh place that you have to ring on a doorbell to get in, although the waitress didn’t want to let me in at first. The decor is reminiscent of a sanatorium with white walls, oil paintings of peaceful sleeping faces, strange statuettes on sticks on each table and a generally acceptable soundtrack of disco light, jazz guitar solos and breathless vocals. Music tends to get played when there is no atmosphere in my experience.

Ricciola all Acgua PazzaThe food is probably very good but it’s pricey; €14-22 for antipasti, upwards of €15 for pasta dishes (can never get my head round this) and €22-25 for mains (mainly fish and other seafood). I was on a budget so I skipped the antipasti and pasta and went straight to the secondo of Ricciola all Acgua Pazza su Crostino di Pane, Ortaggi e Pomodoro Chiarificato which is a kind of Mediterranean fish in ‘crazy water’ (usually water with oil and small tomatoes) with croutons and veg, which looked good on the menu but was slightly disappointing in reality (B-). Rather than a whole fish I got about ten goblets of ricciola with tiny buttons of carrot, tomato and courgette. The tastiest ingredients were the croutons which saved the dish from being totally bland.

Aprilia SauvignonThe best part of this scant meal was the very pleasant house Sauvignon Blanc (B+) from Casale del Giglio (2009) in Aprilia, a nearby town that I will be going to soon. Seeing nothing of interest, I passed on dessert too. Don’t think I would come here by myself again because the atmosphere doesn’t really justify the cost, unless you’re trying to impress someone.

Bar Poeta at 12 Piazza del Popolo is a bright modern bar on the sanatorium theme again. It seems to be favoured by all the generations but you must wear Adidas LA to be part of the in-crowd.   A Grappa Moscato costs €3 here.

Quadrato, 8 Via Partrengo (Intermediate A), Tel, 0773 666 668

This is the best spot in town I reckon.  Run by two friendly English-speaking guys with a passion for food, it has a nice atmosphere and lots of customers who are also their friends. Although the inside looks a little poky, there’s a very pleasant outside terrace which if you’re here in the summer, has to be the place to be. They even have free wi-fi but unfortunately my net book couldn’t connect for some reason. I think the bar next door is part of the same outfit.

Degustazione di Antipasti Di PesceAfter a complimentary amuse bouche Fiori di Zucca Ripieni di Mozarella di Buffala e Tartufo (pumpkin flowers stuffed with best quality mozzarella and truffle) (A)  I went for the Degustazione di Antipasti Di Pesce (€18) which (starting from 11 o’clock on the picture) had five elements; 1) Passata di Zucchine Romanesche con Calamaro Verace Saltato al Limone (courgette puree  with squid and lemon) 2) Cous-cous con Tonno e Caponata di Verdure al Forno (the North African grain with grilled tuna and baked veg),  3) Sfogliatine Croccanti con Gamberi Rosa e Guanciale di Cinta Senese su Crema di Brocoletti (red prawns and an ancient variety of Tuscan pork in puff pastry on a bed of broccoli puree), 4) Fritelli di Mazzancolle su Passata di Zucca con Aceto Balsamico (a fritter of a prawn particular to this coast on a puree of pumpkin with balsamic vinegar) and 5) deep fried Ricciola fish in the middle of the dish. Really this would be enough for a small appetite, especially with the cous cous, but it was so good I had to keep going.

Filetto di Tonno Panato nei Pistacchi di BrontePassed on the pasta (€14-20), and went straight to the second courses (€16-25) which in my case was the Filetto di Tonno Panato nei Pistacchi di Bronte con Inasalatina e Datteri Dolci, which arrived as lightly grilled tuna rolled in crushed pistachios (for which the village of Bronte in Sicily is famous), delivered on a bed of rocket, rather than a small salad of sweet dates as per menu (actually ‘datteri’ are a kind of small and very delicious plum tomato that are the shape and size of a date).

CervinaraI asked for a local white to go with my seafood selections and was given a very enjoyable bottle (B) of Bianco Cervinara, (Vendemmia 2010) made from an ancient white grape variety from Cori, a small village nearby.

Grappa AmaroneAlthough I turned down dessert, I was still given a delightful pineapple sorbet, ‘to clean your mouth’, which admittedly can be quite filthy at times. When I asked for a grappa, two bottles were left on the table, the Moscato I had requested and an Amarone which converted me to pastures new. Although I tested both, I was only charged for one, total cost for the meal €50. This is a great place with good food and top service; don’t think you will be disappointed when you part with your hard earned cash here.

The Hotel de la Ville Central where work put me up describes itself as a four star although the criteria seem to be rather lower in Italy than they do in the UK. The English-speaking front desk was friendly and helpful and the rooms are spacious and comfortable, although my bathroom had rose motif tiling covering both the floor and the walls, quite hideous when combined with a pink bathrom suite.

There are English language channels on TV, although my remote kept freezing for some reason and I couldn’t get them. I also had to get the night porter to take out the main light bulb which kept flashing even when it was switched off. My corridor (room 506) was very noisy in the morning, my only main real complaint. (Tip: if you want to change rooms in an Italian hotel, look at the fire diagrams on each floor to choose the biggest room).

Each room has Wi-Fi, although this comes at a cost of €1 an hour, which is pretty reasonable for an Italian hotel (it’s rarely free, unlike Spain), and they gave me an hour gratis when I said I wasn’t prepared to pay (although I had big problems connecting for any length of time).

There’s a very basic gym with cheap, undersized equipment (jogger, bike, weight station, ‘exercise cube’) which is just about usable, although rather pointless. Many Italian hotels only provide coffee and cakes (or biscuits in some places) but here you get cereal and fresh fruit too.

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