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.
The 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.
The 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.
After 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.
Passed 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).
I 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.
Although 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.