Rome. In my head that means food, wine and sunshine. Sure, there are other things, you know, bits of history and such, but let’s face it – food.
Since the time of my arrival in Rome made it inconvenient to have lunch, I was really looking forward to the pizza that night. I should warn you, this is mainly a post about pizza and how I eat it at least once a day when I’m in mainland Italy (the islands are a different matter).
The first night we had our first taste of Roman pizza, which is characterised by a thin, flatter base with no real rise to the outer crust. It was a good effort, though the oddly shaped bowl-plates they served them on were a strange choice. I’m going to chalk that up to us being in touristville near Campo de Fiori. But that average meal was more than made up for by the fact that we then went to a pub in the bottom of a bookshop nearby. Books + beer = obvious win.
The second night, we went to a fabulous restaurant with Blythe’s friends Agnes and Massimo; one of whom is a successful physicist and one is a private tour guide who also runs UnderstandingRome.com. I’ll leave it up to you to guess which is which.
That evening I had the revolutionary moment of getting to try and enjoy tripe for the first time; enjoy being the key word there. Several pasta dishes were accompanied by lots of good wine, some rabbit, grappa, limoncello, and biscuits.
The next night we wandered to Trastevere, where I had a truffled pizza that was more of a Neopolitan style, and was well-fired and delicious. On the final day, we walked out to the Testaccio food market down past Trastavere. We tried many odd items, with Blythe winning with the tasty sandwiches from the market. We tried a pizzette from a local bakery and yet another coffee. The highlight for me was getting to buy a bag of horse-meat jerky – the first time I’ve ever had horse meat.
On the way to the Vatican, we stopped at the Mouth of Truth before dining at a non-descript osteria in Trastavere, where the pasta was so salty I couldn’t eat it and traded dishes with my friend Lauren. But at least we had the amusement of sitting nearby Jude Law. That made the osteria entirely more memorable than it would have been otherwise.
For the last meal in Rome we headed back out to Agnes and Massimo’s area just outside the walls where we went to a local pizza place. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. Ever. The only one that that is ranked up there is from a small pizzeria based right outside the centre of Palermo.
The pizza the last night was a great example of a more Neapolitan style base, which was well cooked and covered with exceptional sauce and toppings. For starters we all (5 of us) shared a specialty calzone, some arancini, courgette flowers, and salted cod cakes. THEN we each ordered a pizza (except for Agnes, who went for the lamb, one of the day’s specials). My capricciosa pizza was by far the best rendition of that sort of pizza I’d ever had, plus I was so stuffed that I had no need to eat until I got back to Oxford the next day. A perfect pizza if you ask me.
Now, Edinburgh, get on that perfect pizza making, pronto!
After a long period of no trips away, I’ve fairly been racking them up of late, with stops in Leeds and London in recent weeks, then a complete break from the usual routine with a visit to Rome. What’s more I had the pleasure of MJ’s company along with our good friend Lauren for an Italian adventure.
Rather shamefully, this represented my first trip to Italy. I’m a very sporadic traveller and while I invariably enjoy places when I get there, I tend to need just the right amount of prodding to get myself together.I was very clear that I didn’t want to view this trip in the same way as I did my visit to Leeds where I ended up generating 16 pages of content from a two day visit. I was keen to sample some good food, good espresso, and good wine and beer, but more than anything I wanted to relax, enjoy Lauren and MJ’s company, and catch up with friends from Rome, Agnes and Massimo, who quested at Cafe Fish way back when and had been in Edinburgh for a visit, earlier this year.
The undoubted highlight of the trip was our dinner with Agnes and Massimo at Pigneto Quarantuno. Pigneto, which is just outside the old city walls, is a vibrant neighbourhood with a great selection of eating and drinking places. After aperitivo in a place just over the street, we popped over to this wonderful spot, sitting outside in the warm summer evening.
I was more than happy to turn over menu choices to our hosts and they rewarded us with an excellent selection. We started with a Roman favourite of tripe salad, then had some delicious chicken liver pate on toast. We had a selection of pastas to follow with maccheroncini with tongue, spaghetti amatriciana and carbonara. The latter was replete with guanciale that was spectacularly crisp and flavourful. It was quite wonderful. The fun continued with a knockout two-ways rabbit dish and an outstanding selection of offal. Dessert was delicious strawberries and mulberries in chantilly cream. And then there was the grappa…
Back in the reality of the more touristy central parts of the city, we had as many successes as failures. MJ’s a great pizza fan, despite her “senza fermaggio” preferences, so we sampled plenty of them. We had a couple of fairly clunky dishes along the way, with fairly ordinary carpaccio, moderate melanzane parmigiana, and some very over-seasoned pasta.
Our best pizza experience was once more in Pigneto at a family-oriented place called Rosti which combined an excellent pizza selection with some smart dishes from their grill. Their special calzone featuring excellent pork sausage was the standout item, for me, and their regular pizzas were excellent, too.
Building on my brief exposure to Italian craft beers in Leeds, I spent a great evening in Open Baladin, which was a mind-blowingly good bar, very near to where I was staying on Piazza Farnese. With something like 38 lines (of which around 28 were in operation on my visit), I was spoilt for choice. I started the evening with the beer I’d tried in bottle form in Leeds, Isaac. This was a really tasty wheat beer that I could easily have supped all night. But with such choice, a little mosey around the taps seemed appropriate. I tried an Enkir by Borgo, which was another light, fruity, drinkable drop. Another Borgo followed in the shape of Cortigiana, a hoppy golden ale. I rounded things out with another Baladin original called Open. It packed some grunt at 7.5% but aside from an amaro noted finish was in the dangerously drinkable category, once again.
In the realms of an interestingly transferable oddity, I enjoyed a “konopizza” which was the ice-cream cone of pizzas. With the cone pre-prepared, the filling was added to order, then cooked in a custom-made oven that circulates the cones slowly through some intense heat to bake things to the required point. It was rough around the edges and far from the height of Roman excellence, but it’s the kind of silly idea that would work well at, for example, the Edinburgh Festival.
MJ played a blinder by suggesting we headed to a market at Testaccio, the following morning. Here we came across local legend Sergio Esposito at Mordi e Vai, purveyor of fine hot sandwiches with remarkable fillings. Refraining myself from a further brush with tripe, I opted for beef in the picchiapo style. This was marvellously slowed-cooked goodness packed with flavour and charm. We also tried some horse jerky, which was interesting if not overwhelmingly successful.
After the obligatory visit to the Vatican, we swung by a smart place called Il Sorpasso. Here we had excellent white wine and some lovely, nibbles including a great dish of greens and polenta, as well as some more tasty tongue.
So overall, I had a fantastic couple of days in Roma. We had a couple of fantastic evenings in Pigneto, but the city centre was slightly more hit and miss. Still, I’ll no doubt be back to sample further from the delights the city has to offer.
I had a quick stop in Brussels on my journey back and had enough time between flights for a trip into the city. I’d never previously visited, so was pleased to take advantage of the opportunity. I ate at one of the places in a murderous row of moules frites shops with an array of chappies trying to get you to choose their restaurant and being generally rude about everyone else’s. I sampled some good local oysters and traditional Belgian moules frites.
The service in the place was truly terrible as the game was all about getting you through the door then keeping you there for as long as possible. The waiter spent most of his time out on the street making more inane chat with passersby. The oysters were better than the mussels, but it was pretty decent fare, overall.
The upside of Brussels was that I found very good espresso, after days of Roman suffering, in a good spot called OR, which was roasting its own beans. It was a very smart little place and brought the curtain down on a very enjoyable continental holiday.