When in Rome...11 Great Things To Do
Between work trips to Bologna and Basel, W had just shy of a week to spare. And so it was decided; I would meet him in Rome. The five days we just spent there were fabulous in every regard; in others words, eating, drinking and shopping till we dropped. I visited favourite addresses in my little black book, added a few new gems, and suffice to say, the credit card took a rather brutal beating. The list below includes highlights of my brief stay but is hardly comprehensive. It is in fact downright esoteric. Rome wasn't built in a day. Even a list of 1001 things to do would barely begin to scratch the surface, much less a random list of 11 having no theme in particular other than all subscribing to a set of personal preferences. Quite aside from leaving out the sights to see, I've also virtually weeded out all of the clotheshorse-centric details (this ostensibly being a food blog and all; although if you're into "pre-loved", vintage or re-worked vintage, Via del Governo Vecchio near Piazza Navona and Via del Boschetto in Monti district are heavenly). Also, while we inevitably didn't manage to eat at every single restaurant on our hit list, of the ones we did dine at, I've omitted mention of the meals that didn't live up to the hype or were anything short of spectacular.
Stock up on Cucina Italiana essentials and then some Whether it's a handsome four-earred Carrara marble mortaio or wood-handled ravioli stamps you're after, you'll find it in C.U.C.I.N.A. (for come una cucina ispira nuovi appetiti, or "a well-equipped kitchen inspires new appetites"). For that matter, practically any gadget or utensil the passionate hobby cook or professional chef could possibly desire, and not just for Italian cookery. Likewise, the cookware emporio occupying a cosy corner of the perennially hip 'Gusto complex of restaurants is stocked to the rafters with every unusual tool you might need, alongside a small but choice selection of teas, honeys, oils and vinegars. What will blow your mind, however, is the terrific selection of cookbooks, many in English, and many that are hard-to-find. Amongst others, I spotted Le Grand Livre de cuisine d'Alain Ducasse: Desserts et Pâtisserie, Ferran Adria's El Bulli boxed editions - they had not one, not two, but all four of the coveted series in stock - and Jean-Pierre Wybauw's Fine Chocolates Great Experience just lying, nonchalantly and tauntingly, around.
C.U.C.I.N.A., Via Mario de Fiori 65, T: 06 679 1275; 'Gusto, Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9, T: 06 323 6363
Be house-proud Homeware boutiques catering to every taste from Casbah exotics to starkly Scandinavian abound. Spazio Sette is ground zero for modern design fiends. The splendid frescoed 17th century palazzo shell belies the cool contemporary wares to be had - Philippe Starck, Marimekko, and a pantheon of the best names in Italian and European design besides, it's all here. The cutting edge concept store TAD (aside from being the place to locate, say, this season's Chloé It arm candy) carries a modest but très chic selection for posh pads. If achingly hip gives you nothing so much as a headache, then head instead for Leone Limentari, a veritable institution that has been around since 1820 - from Baccarat to Bernardaud, the dizzying depth of their selection (which also includes many discontinued designs), displayed in room upon room of silver, flatware, porcelain, crystal and glassware, has to be seen to be believed. Me? I've lately been in a mood for Provence shabby chic style - or as they say here, stile Provenzale - so I chose to exceed my luggage allowance at Flamant and Shabby House; both boutiques stock an irresistible array of goods right off the pages of Maison Côté Sud.
Spazio Sette, Via dei Barbieri 7, T: 06 686 9747; TAD, Via del Babuino 155, T: 06 326 95129; Leone Limentani, Via del Portico d'Ottavia 47/48, T: 06 688 06686; Flamant, Via del Corso 435, T: 06 687 8530; Shabby House, Via dell'Oca 36/37, T: 06 360 02018
Eat local There are scores of excellent restaurants specialising in every regional cucina, be it Tuscan, Bolognese, Marchean or Sardinian. But as they say, when in Rome...In which case, the choice becomes downright boggling. Whether you're hungry for signature Roman ricettes elevated to the realm of haute cuisine (like at the Michelin-starred likes of Agata e Romeo, Via Carlo Alberto 45, T: 06 446 6115) or traditional quinto quarto "fifth quarter" specialties (like at Checchino dal 1887, Via Monte Testaccio 30, T: 06 574 6318) or the freshest fish and seafood impeccably cooked in modern Roman style (like at La Rosetta, Via della Rosetta 8/9, T: 06 686 1002), the available options will have you contemplating eating two lunches and two dinners everyday just to sample the delights on offer. In the end, we decided to sidestep the obvious choices in favour of the new, and were rewarded by an excellent meal at Palatium. This enoteca regionale del Lazio, done up in sombre minimalist style, was set up to promote local cuisine. To this end, chef Antonello Colonna has orchestrated a remarkable oeuvre featuring top drawer local ingredients such as sausages from Monte San Biagio, cannellini beans from Atina, and Caciottina from SanVittore, all of which are lovingly detailed in the menu. Standouts in the embarassingly long and large lunch we treated ourselves to include the pappardelle con ragout di agnello e patate di Leonessa, sturdy ribbons of handmade egg noodles swathed in a richly flavoured sauce, the yielding succulence of the morsels of lamb and Leonessa potatoes enhancing the joy of eating pasta, pasta itself.
Palatium, Via Frattina 94, T: 06 692 02132
Eat regional In an about-turn, here we decided to stick with old school. This trip to Rome was rather spur of the moment, meaning I hardly had time to plan, let alone make reservations. Fortunately for us, this not being peak season, walking into restaurants without reservations worked out rather okay with the sole exception of Dal Bolognese. Two nights in a row we went, two nights in a row we were politely informed that sure, we could have a table in the third sitting at the unholy hour of 10.30pm. Two nights in a row, we politely declined. The third night, intrigued by the seemingly endless waitlist, we succumbed and ate dinner at close to midnight. We now understood. The clientele, an older genteel set, are of the generation who know their food. And the food, simply put, is extraordinary; extraordinary not in the sense of novel or innovative, but extraordinary in the sense of unlocking the beauty in the seemingly ordinary. The dishes of the classic Emilia Romagna repertoire - all too often taken for granted or bastardised beyond recognition outside of Italy - are cooked as they were meant to be cooked, perfectly, with utmost care and first class ingredients. Much like the buon salotto decor right out of a Gertrude Stein scene, one that's been unchanged for decades, nothing written in the menu will surprise you. Yet everything you taste will - I honestly can't recall the last time I swooned over pleasures as earthy as lasagne alla Bolognese or costolette di vitello. Molto bene!
Dal Bolognese, Piazza del Popolo 1/2, Tel: 06 361 1426
Load up on salumi and formaggi We went a bit mad in Volpetti, the foodie mecca and lavishly stocked shrine to the gustatory pleasures of artisanal cheeses and cured meat delicacies from small producers all over Italy - I'll hopefully get round to posting separately about the vacuum-packed loot currently occupying a third of my tiny fridge. The sheer quality of the carefully edited selection is unparalleled. If you only have time to visit their more centrally located (and much smaller but nonetheless well-stocked) branch in Via della Scrofa rather than their flagship delicatessen in the Testaccio district, then also nip into Obikà round the corner on Via dei Prefetti - touted as the first mozzarella bar in Rome (while the cheese is the prima donna, the bar also serves a supporting cast of salumi, salads and cooked dishes). The quality of the fresh, handmade DOP mozzarella di bufala campana, direct from the finest producers in the land, will make you weep. And to further drive home the point that Italians slyly keep their best formaggi and salumi all to themselves, eat at Osteria della Frezza. Apart from the urbane decor, this latest addition to the burgeoning 'Gusto mini empire, located under the arcades surrounding Mussolini's severe Piazza Augusto Imperatore, has little in common with the other 'Gusto eateries. For starters, the menu of Roman and other regional cuisine means tourists - who adore the Mod Euro menu (with a pinch of Asian and a dash of Middle Eastern) at the sister ristorante-cum-pizzeria-cum-winebar for its reassuring familiarity and consequently descend in droves - steer pretty much clear. As terrific as the gutsy cooking (as embodied by chef Marco Gallotta's flawless cacio e pepe, the simple Roman dish of pasta tossed with pecorino romano and freshly cracked black pepper) and cicchetti (grazing format small plates of whatever is on the menu) are, the main event for us was the glass formaggeria, the see-through climate-controlled cheese room stocked with over a hundred gorgeous Italian cheeses (alongside a very decent selection of French ones) - many of which have been hand-picked by Slow Food's Carlo Fiori della Ditta Guffanti - all tended to by a specialist whose duty is to ensure that the cheeses are only served at their absolute prime. The selection of different prosciutti, lardi, guanciale, salami, bresaola and other specialità di maiale is equally discriminating.
Volpetti, Via Marmorata 47, T: 06 574 2352, Via della Scrofa 31/32, T: 06 6830 0334; Obikà, Via dei Prefetti 26, T: 06 683 2630; Osteria della Frezza, Via della Frezza 16, T: 06 322 6273
Do the paper chase Rome is replete with ateliers specialising in handmade paper delicacies, the sort you only ever find in Italy. Even if you aren't a stationery aficionado or don't believe in corresponding the old-fashioned way, there's still plenty to tempt. Officina della Carta offers a good dose of Old World charm with their note cards, diaries, picture albums and the ilk, which you can also have made to order from a dandy selection of fine hand-printed papers. As for storage boxes intended for every conceivable need from hats to shoes to recipe cards, the Daniela Rosati numbers, beautifully papered in sublime prints and ribbon-tied, are hard to beat. I must be the last person I know who's stubbornly resisted acquiring a PDA. For me, there's nothing like the satisfaction of putting pen to paper when making or ticking off lists. And seeing as list-making, be it for books, groceries, errands (and the list goes on), consumes many of my waking hours, wherein lies my excuse to go potty over rather dear journals, sketchbooks and notebooks. Campo Marzio Design (which also carries calligraphy tools and pens) has a great line in colourful Florentine leathers. As for the hand-blocked paper goods from Fabriano - which has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating papermill in Italy dating back to 1264 - it's difficult to resist the combination of traditional craftsmanship and modern design. Their highly prized Medioevalis natural paper, available as endlessly versatile blank cards in varying sizes with four deckled edges, may well prove to be an expensive habit.
Officina della Carta, Via Benedetta 26, T: 06 589 5557; Daniela Rosati, Via della Stelletta 27, T: 06 688 02053; Campo Marzio Design Via di Campo Marzio 41, T: 06 688 07877; Fabriano, Via del Babuino 173, T: 06 326 00361
Splurge on luxury linens I have a bit of a linen fetish and really should not be let anywhere near dish towels and table napkins. It's not as if I ever call into service most of the tall pile (with quite a few lovelies tucked away in the midst if I may say so myself) beyond taking them out to feel and admire. With table napkins, I typically purchase in sets of 6 - so theoretically, I entertain the prospect of busting them out some distant day at dinner. In reality, the very idea of sullying their pristine perfection with food stains, removable as these may be, makes me shudder. And still, the pile continues to grow. The abundance of charming old-fashioned linen stores such as Sermoneta in Rome, which purveys some very special hand-stitched pieces, greviously aggravates my medical condition. That Frette here has ready supplies of their peerless beauties featuring immaculate drawnwork and Jacquard, is even more treacherous for my mental and emotional health. The Piazza di Spagna branch, which carries the top-of-the-line range, is particularly lethal. W stages an intervention by practically dragging me out of the boutique.
Sermoneta, Via del Tritone 168, T: 06 679 5488; Frette, Via del Corso 381, T: 06 678 6862, Piazza di Spagna 11, T: 06 679 0673
Splurge on a big ticket meal Our game plan where sustenance was concerned was to eat well but within reason each meal, and throw all caution financial, dietary and otherwise to the wind with one big blowout meal on our last night, saving what would hopefully be the best for last. The 20th century Milanese culinary maestro Gualtiero Marchesi 's much lauded Hostaria dell'Orso exceeded our expectations on every count. To say the setting is atmospheric is an understatement. The picturesque warren of rooms spread over three floors (the fabled site was a Medieval inn through which doors everyone from Goethe to Montaigne has passed) overlooks the river Tiber. Luxe Poltrona Frau chairs in bright orange and modern art in the dining area (there's also a piano bar and club) playfully contrast the meticulously restored building. The service, as one would hope, is discreetly attentive. And most important of all, the food, which many contend to be the most exciting rethink of classic Roman cooking in recent years, is brilliant. Despite having eaten a late lunch and several snacks prior to dinner, we simply couldn't get enough of the straccetti di pasta fresca al ragù fine di vitello, diaphanous kerchiefs (straccetti means "rags") of home-made pasta verdi in a creamy yet light veal sauce, the filetto di vitello alla Rossini secondo Gualtiero Marchesi, spinaci, pinoli ed uvetta, Marchesi's signature spin on veal tournedo “Rossini ” with spinach, pine nuts and raisins, and the tegame di agnello e carciofi romaneschi alla mentuccia, a refined take on the iconic Roman lamb, artichoke and mint casserole (the divine milk-fed lamb used here is, incidentally, easily the most flavourful yet tender lamb I've ever tasted).
Hostaria dell'Orso, Via dei Soldati 25C, T:06 683 01192
Hunt down the definitive Roman pizza I appreciate the artisty involved in an ultra thin-crust Roman pizza (further split into crunchy and chewy camps), as well as the flatbread-like Roman street snack that comes either as bianca (just olive oil and sea salt) or rosso (a very thin layer of tomato sauce). I've even been lucky enough to enjoy the pizzas at legendary addresses such as Pizzeria Da Baffetto (which makes the thinnest of the thin crusts) and the Jewish Ghetto's Antico Forno (their pizza bianca and rosso have been recommended by sources as authoritative and diverse as Jeffrey Steingarten in It must've been something I ate, Peter Reinhart in American Pie, and Sara Manuelli in Cucina Romana). But I must confess that personally, I'm more partial to Neopolitan style. My hunt, to date, has thus been a rather half-hearted one (however, if like W, you are a resolute New York-style pizza snob, then the hunt is pretty much over even before it has begun, given that "no other pizza tastes like New York pizza"). Explorations, obviously, are in order if/when we next visit.
Pizzeria Da Baffetto, Via del Governo Vecchio 11, T: 06 686 1617; Antico Forno del Ghetto, Piazza Costaguti 30/31, T: 06 688 03012
Get the scoop Every now and then, along comes a hot new gelato parlour that becomes the flavour of the month. None, however, have so much as threatened to nudge Giolitti's pole position as Rome's premier antica gelateria, in existence since the 1900s. The crowds continue to flock here for good reason - certainly not the notoriously surly service, but the undeniable greatness of their gelato. The fruit flavours are outstanding (I particularly adore the pera, pear and visciole, cherry flavours). Il Gelato di San Crispino also has its fair share of devotees, many of whom consider their gelato the best scoops to be had in town; the signature wild Sardinian honey flavour is indeed to-die-for.
Giolitti, Via Uffici del Vicario 40, T: 06 699 1243; Il Gelato di San Crispino, Via della Panetteria 42, T: 06 679 3924Smell the roses If you do indeed go acquire some proper linens, then it would be criminal to use anything less than proper linen waters. For such goods and the other little scented luxuries of life, I love no place better than L'Officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Actually, you don't even have to buy anything to derive satisfaction from stepping into the wood-panelled Roman outpost of this Florentine antica farmacia, founded way back in 1612 and enjoying a cult following today amongst beauty cognoscenti. Chances are, however, having inhaled the air pregnant with recherche scents, you'll want to leave with an article or two. The tantalising selection of precious floral waters, plush balms, luxurious creams, and other seemingly magical elixirs - many still made according to original 17th century recipes handed down by the Dominican friars of the monastery in Florence - never fails to captivate. My perfume wardrobe is all about rose scents; while Annick Goutal's Turkish rose inflected Ce Soir ou Jamais is what I usually use as it's available in Singapore, Santa Maria Novella's Tuberosa fragrance, based on the essence of white tuberose, is exactly the kind of thing I stock up on for fear of running low.
L'Officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Corso del Rinascimento 47, T: 06 687 9608