Malcolm Jolley answers the eternal question: where to eat in Rome.
Breakfast at the Hotel Locarno ends promptly at 10:30 in the morning, when the staff dismantle the the buffet set up on around the bar (replete with ice bucket and bottles of Prosecco). I consider this a service, not a limitation. It’s good for lazy, jet-lagged vacationers like me because it imposes a deadline, gets me out of bed at a half decent hour and ensures my feet on are on the cobblestones outside by 11. That’s early enough to get in a good walk, a visit to some place of aesthetic interest and work up an appetite for lunch at around half past one.
So, began most days of a recent trip I took to Rome this November with my wife, Apple. I could tell you that we chose November for high gastronomical reasons: the new olive oil was just in, so were the first of the season’s truffles, and the cooler weather, but the truth is it was really the only time we could get away and we lucked out on the seasonal benefits. We would happily go to Rome at any time of the year, it’s one of our very favourite places and no small part of that is it’s distinctive cooking and great restaurants. It also, famously, a beautiful city full of great art and architecture and wonderful place to wander around in between meals. I might say that the only trouble with Rome is that it’s not much of a secret. It must have been a tourist attraction of the better part of 2,500 years, and the trouble with tourists is that they encourage traps.
So, how do we avoid the tourist traps and try and find the best lunch near to whatever part of the city we are headed to, and the best dinner to be booked a few days in advance*? We use the list. The list is a list of restaurants in Rome, some that we’ve tried, others recommended to us.
The list began in the spring of 2015 when Apple and I went to Rome together on holiday for the first time in nearly 15 years determined to rediscover the city we’d enjoyed so much the first time we were there together. It started with the Roman restaurant guide published that year by the American expat Katie Parla. Parla’s books and her website are great guides in their own right, and I recommend that anyone headed to Rome check her out, as well as the British expat and food writer Rachel Roddy. The latter less for restaurant recommendations and more for a quick primer on Roman food, so you know what to order. (More on Rachel Roddy below.) Added to the list are recommendations from friends and neighbours, as well as restaurateurs and winemakers I meet at work, who have traveled to Rome in the last two years.
The list is organic and a bit of a free form. The shape it took in November was a print out of an email a friend sent us after she’d been in the summer with scribbled notes all around it, folded into many squares to fit in my jacket pocket. Here are five restaurants, in no particular order, that we added to the list on our most recent trip.
Roscioli | salumeriaroscioli.com
Roscioli is actually two food shops come restaurants around the corner of each other near the Campo di Fiori market. The bakery, Antico Forno Roscioli, is crowded with hungry people getting a pizza or pastry to go, or stay in at high table bars. The salumeria, which features a long refrigerated case full of cured meats and cheeses, offers a sit down service and an extensive wine list. It’s also very popular, but if you go a little later, from 1:30 or on, they ought to be able to squeeze you in. It’s a perfect break from a busy day of sight seeing: start with something cold like artichoke salad, and (of course) their housemade salumi, and finish with a simple Roman pasta, like cacio e pepe or gricia, washed down with one or two glasses of wine. Bonus: the bread basket with various breads still warm from the bakery, and likewise the treats that come with the coffee at the end of the meal.
Il Sorpasso | sorpasso.info
Il Sorpasso certainly surpasses. There’s great energy in this caffé, cocktail and wine bar with a short menu but serious kitchen. I can still taste the anchovy pasta I had with a crisp Umbrian white. It’s also very popular, and must be booked for dinner, and booked for lunch if you want a table in the dining room. Part of its charm is that it’s a little bit off the beaten track on a side street in between The Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo on the edges of Prati, but well worth the detour.
Metamorfosi | metamorfosiroma.it
Metamorforsi is also off the beaten track in the residential neighbourhood of Parioli. It’s a one star Michelin, headed by chef Roy Caceres, a youngish chef who was born in Columbia and moved to Italy as a teenager. Apple and I are often wary of starred restaurants that can be both fussy and boring. Metamorfosi is neither, it’s a Roman restaurant with some South American touches and the food is as clean and focused as the minimally decorated room – if they have the chicken liver ravioli in broth, order it. We had an excellent meal which was by international standards a bargain.
Trattoria Al Moro | ristorantealmororoma.com
If there is a Platonic ideal of a Roman restaurant Al Moro must be it. It is a series of wood paneled rooms in a laneway off of the Trevi Fountain that dates from the 1920’s. It has an enormous menu that is updated every day with all manner of Roman and other Italian classics served to you by silver haired, mustachioed waiters. Al Moro ought to be the tourist trap of all tourist traps, but it’s not: locals mingle with well-healed tourists confident they are getting il vero sapore di Roma.
La Tavernaccia Da Bruno | latavernacciaroma.com
The very best way to discover a great restaurant in Rome is, of course, to get a local to take you. That’s what Apple and I did when we met author and journalist Rachel Roddy at La Tavernaccia Da Bruno at the southern end of Trastevere, just over the bridge from where Rachel lives in Testaccio. I met Rachel, whose lived in Rome for nearly two decades, by Skype when I interviewed her on her first cookbook, My Kitchen In Rome, which is as authoritative and charming guide to the city’s foodways as can be. Her second book, Two Kitchens, was warmly received last year in her native UK, and I will be on her case for a second interview when it is published on this side of the Atlantic this year. This meeting was purely social and enlightening as it was informative. Anyway, Rachel’s local is lovely: homey and warm, but with precise cooking from Rome and around Italy, like the white osso bucca with vegetables we both couldn’t resist ordering.
*More on the importance of booking dinner in my ‘Five Rules For eating Out In Italy‘.