A writer I do not know personally, but whose writing I very much like for its directness, recently wrote of a Roman trattoria; why can’t we have more of this unpretentious shit in Sydney? She hit the nail on the proverbial head because Roman food is, on the whole, very simple, and the environment in which it is served very basic, and I love it that way.
This is an updated version of my original Rome picks, written for friends, and friends of friends, who are visiting the city. Rome has perhaps more gastronomic tourism and food writing than any other city on earth, so the traveller to Rome has a more than ample array of places to go for advice, but this is my list, with places chosen according to my view that a restaurant is always the sum of its parts. Part of the equation is the food, which is all important, but the other part of the equation is the ambience, which can not be overlooked, especially when you are traveling. I like the paper table cloth kind of places, because they kind of fit the ignoranza* of Roman food.
That said, it is a time of change here in the eternal city and the younger generation of Romans, the ones who nod and say they feel inspired by the food coming out of cities in other parts of the world, are taking over in the kitchens and cellars of old establishments and there is creativity and new passion to be found around the cobbled streets of this ancient place as well, so I’ve included a few of these places as well.
These are the ingredients to look out for: Carciofi (artichokes – winter, spring), Fave (broad beans – spring), Puntarelle (so Roman there is no translation – winter) and anything made with zucchini romaneschi (especially in spring summer).
let’s start with….lunch in trastevere
Da Enzo Via dei Vascellari, 29, tel +39 06 5812 260 email@example.com On the quiet side of Trastevere near the Tiber Island, this little osteria serves simple seasonal Roman fare with great attention paid to the raw materials. Last time I ate there I started with La Gricia – spaghetti with panfried pork cheek (a sort of an Amatriciana without the tomatoes) which as fave were in season, had a handful of Rome’s favourite beans tossed through it. This is on a few other lists so it is best to book (which you can do only for the 7.30 slot for dinner, after then it is a free for all. Go early or late for lunch). Try the Carpaccio di Verdure if it is on the blackboard. Great house made dolci.
Da Augusto Piazza de’ Renzi, 15, closed for dinner Sat and all Sunday. Come early or late for lunch in this cramped little spot with tables spilling out on to the piazza – there is often a queue. This is real home cooked Roman food, served by cheerfully grumpy Roman girls. Best are the stews: Abacchio alla Romana (lamb), Coniglio alla Cacciatora (rabbit), and in winter-spring try the Puntarelle, a side dish of crisp curly greens dressed with anchovies and garlic. This was where Rachel and I had lunch when we had more time on our hands.
dinner at…..a classic trattoria
In Testaccio – Augustarello
One of the most Roman of al Roman places to eat. This is where to go for the slap up lunch or dinner. Via G. Branca, 98 ph. 06 574 6585
Outdoor patio in summer, good wine list, never disappoints
In the centre – Armando al Pantheon
This small restaurant has been in the same place since the fifties and while it still turns out the uncomplicated Roman dishes it always has, relying on the best local produce and traditional products (it is in the Slow Food Guide). It had a makeover in 2012 making that kept the original warmth and added some contemporary cool. Salita dei Crescenzi 31,
The Ghetto – Nonna Betta
Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 16, 06 6880 6263
Roman Jewish food deserves a post all to itself, but here I will limit myself to saying – watch out for the tourist traps of the Ghetto serving middle eastern Jewish food – and stick to those serving real Roman Jewish fare like Carciofi alla Giudia and Aliciotti con Indivia
and for pizza
Ai Marmi AKA Orbitorio (trans. Morgue) for the marble tables. This place is classic. The ageing waiters rushing between the cramped marble tables that make you feel like you could be in a roman film from the 60’s make the experience. There are tables out the front too, but there’s often a queue for these and the space inside is where the real atmosphere is. A textbook Roman pizza dinner is: Birra (not wine), fritti (Bacalà, fried zucchini flowers, supplì) followed by pizza. Viale Trastevere, 53, across the road from Piazza Sonnino
Pizzarium – Bonci Gabrielle Bonci is Rome’s baker pizza boy of the moment. He looks like Roma star Danielle De Rossi who has eaten too much, well, pizza, and has a warm and effusive personality. He loves his bread, uses only stone ground organic flour and has an array of pizza by the slice at the Pizzarium shop – which makes it a great lunch on the move / snack option. via delle Meloria 43 (pizza) via trionfale 36 (bakery)
a couple of new entrants……
Natural and organic wines, artisan cheese and salumi platters, outdoor patio amongst the old villas of Monteverde Vecchio. Via Fratelli Bonnet, 5
There is nothing particularly Roman about this place, with its hip fit-out nestled into a small street in the area up north of the Pantheon. But their food is exciting and the sourcing of local and artisan ingredients makes it worth a pit stop for lunch. Via della Stelletta, 4
a coffee, un aperitivo, maybe a beer
Piazza del Fico www.bardelfico.com Coffee under a fig tree, salads, simple primi and a bit of vibe.
Vicolo della Scala, 1. In the heart of Trastevere this converted milk bar has pavement tables in a completely characteristic side street, great artisan beer and local wines and quality things to wash your drink down with.
Bar Checco Er Carrettiere
via Benedetta, 7, near piazza trillussa (the bar not the restaurant) An old favourite of mine, good stop for a coffee and a mignon (tiny pastry)
Bar San Calisto
on Piazza San Calisto right by Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Real old Trastevere, perfect for an afternoon aperitivo, coffee, coffee granita with cream or a house made gelato. By old Trastevere I don’t mean belle epoche, turn of the century grandeur but more 70’s grunge all a bit down at heel but affascianante.
I met Leo here 11 years ago so it deserves a mention. Outside tables, fine real ales, real music. Good for that after dinner digestivo out on the pavement. Via Goffredo Mamelli 25
* Ignorante is an adjective that gets used to describe Roman cooking in the style that your grandmother cooked. Very rustic, very home style, lacking in any kind of finesse or elaboration.