Archive for the Rome Category

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.

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.

Da Lucia 010

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…

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.

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

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. 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 RomulusRome 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.

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 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!

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), 9
Via Antonio Rosmini

This is a pleasant everyday pizzeria and grill house fairly near the hotel 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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