The best things in Rome………..are free!

The title of this blog was supposed to be ‘ Top Three Spas in Rome‘ (watch this space for a later blog), but while doing research for that blog post I became outraged about the amount of ‘best things to do in Rome‘ articles requiring the spending of zillions of $$$. They included things like breakfasting on hotel rooftops and banqueting with 250 of your closest friends inside the Vatican palace ‘so you can experience the splendour that only Popes and royalty do/did’, while casually mentioning ‘you might like to also take in a few piazzas, the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon if you have time’. So I decided to change the topic of my blog.  I am passionate about my adopted city  because it is one of the most visually beautiful cities in the world, full of art and colour and life, it also is one of the most historically and culturally interesting.  And most of all I love the fact that nearly all of this can be experienced for free!  Yes folks it’s true, the best things in Rome are free!

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It is therefore a backpackers and budget travellers delight.  However probably because a lot of it is free, it seems that the Eternal city sometimes thinks its needs to embellish itself and add costly delights for travellers who don’t feel they are special if they don’t have to pay lots of money for something.  One of the things I love the most about Rome is that I can be minding my own business sitting around at the Trevi Fountain when right before my eyes Isabella Rossellini hops out of a taxi.  Or that I can be waiting for a table (not queuing, there is a big difference) at a well-known restaurant in Campo dei Fiori and ahead of me in the not-queue is Harvey Keitel.  Or that I can walk into Prada or Dolce & Gabbana or Versace on the Via dei Condotti and be treated like I, in my wildest dreams (and theirs), would be able to afford anything.  You could also find yourself out for drinks with any one of Italy’s international movie stars or politicians who frequent the vibrant aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks that often substitute dinner) scene in Rome’s tiny back streets.

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Rome is a great leveller.  Its streets and piazzas are open to everyone, always. It’s accessible a lot only by foot and so this makes it hard to create VIP experiences as opposed to public experiences. Rome is unequivocal, it can’t be cordoned off because Brangelina are visiting. Movie stars, models, zillionaires, dictators, mafia bosses, Prime Ministers mingle with the unknown, every-day tourist, back packer and refugee.

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Every year on my birthday (since I stopped being a backpacker and could afford to eat properly), I used to choose one of the fancy restaurants advertised in tourist magazines as being ‘the best restaurants’ to eat in.  The kind where you spend your weekly and sometimes monthly wage on dinner.  Year after year, hoping for an amazing experience, I was disappointed.  The food was always average, the service pompous (one year my husband and I had to sit near the toilets because he wasn’t wearing a tie – just a suit) and we mostly ended up stopping on the way home at one of our usuals to calm ourselves down with a real bowl of pasta and some local wine.  My point being that in Rome the best restaurants are always frequented by average Romans, even the very wealthy ones.

So when in Rome don’t spend your money on rooftop breakfasts in hotels or dinning in the Vatican museum with 250 0f your closest friends or in a fake Roman spa being pampered by Eastern Europeans or on ‘private’ tours (where in the end you will have to queue up and approach things on foot with everyone else anyway).  Here’s my tip for a fabulous Roman Day out and, apart from the inexpensive meals, it is all FREE!!!

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Begin at the nearest bar (cafe) to your hotel.  There should be one within 100 metres.  Order a cappuccino or a ‘cafe’ and a cornetto, possibly with an orange juice if you want to be healthy.  You will find the coffee is the best you have ever had, the cornetto (Italian croissant) will be light, and made that morning, the juice will be juiced in front of you and you will pay about the same amount altogether as the cost of one cup of coffee on a rooftop.

Then take your free map (get them at the airport, McDonalds or from your hotel).  Hopefully you have done some slight research (free on the internet) or have a cheap guide book.  Otherwise scroll through this blog to get to the ‘Top ten things to do in Rome‘, ‘Top ten places to eat in Rome’ etc. articles. If you are staying anywhere in the city of Rome (centro) everything will be in walking distance with plenty of opportunities to sit down, grab more coffee or juice, fill up your water bottle free at a fountain or just rest.  Start at one end of town and make your way down and then left and right as you please.  Take one to five days depending on your itinerary and energy levels and repeat in the evenings for a different view.  You can start anywhere but I have you starting at Piazza del Popolo.

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Marvel at the huge space in such a crowded city, cast your eyes up to the lush green gardens of the Villa Borghese on one side, and put it aside for another day.  Feast your eyes on the fountain in the centre of the Piazza, the churches all around it (one of which contains a Caravaggio) and the Egyptian obelisk (stolen by the Romans from Egypt).  Walk out of the Piazza and down the Via del Babuino and admire the antique shops (stop at Hotel de Russie if you want a spa – next blog).  Be entranced by your next view at the end of Via del Babuino which will be Piazza di Spagna.  Sit awhile on the staircase and admire the beautiful people and the view of Via dei Condotti, Rome‘s premium shopping strip.  Don’t forget to look in the window at Dolce & Gabbana half way down the Via Condotti, one of the best visual feasts outside a museum that you will see.

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At the end of Via Condotti you will arrive at the Via del Corso. Turn left and head towards the ‘wedding cake’ Victor Emmanuel Monument at the end of the street.  Admire the palaces and beautiful baroque buildings that line either side of this main street of Rome.  Shortly after you pass the houses of Parliament on your right, turn down a pedestrian side street on your left full of market stalls.  Follow it on to the end.  Gasp.  Get pushed in the back by other tourists behind you who don’t know why you have stopped.  Yes folks this is the Trevi Fountain, at the cross roads of three streets or ‘tre vie’.  All the more beautiful because it is contained in such a small space, wangle your way to the front and admire it sitting down for as long as you can.

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Walk back the way you came and cross back over Via del Corso to another pedestrian street full of restaurants.  Meander along the path following everyone else until you get to the Pantheon, another breathtaking moment but within a larger piazza.  Sit on the steps of the fountain in the piazza and take it all in before you head inside (for free) and view the perfectly round, 2000 year old temple, with a hole cut out in the middle of the roof that lets the sun in to highlight different sculptures around the room as the sun moves overhead.  How’s that for antique engineering??  Using your map move your way left (with the Pantheon to your back) towards Piazza Navona.

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Now at this stage if you really have had enough of Roman culture and need to recover, you could eat at the McDonalds which faces the Pantheon (and serves beer), therefore having a drink/burger with one of the world’s best views at about 100th of the cost of sitting at any of the other cafes that also surround the Pantheon.  I am only recommending this on the grounds of it being cheap and acknowledging that sometimes people need a break from antiquity (based on the experience of some of guests over the years).  Otherwise I would suggest pushing on and eating a slice of pizza, also for the same price as a burger, at one of the places around Campo dei Fiori, a bit further along in our walk.

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As you spill out into Piazza Navona and take a stroll around its race track type shape (yes it was originally a chariot racing track), admire the artists who display their wares and the magnificent fountain of four rivers in the middle.  At one end (on the other side of the toy shop) you can see the original entrance to the race track in Roman times, below street level.  Exit the piazza at the other end and cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele into cobblestoned streets that sell great pizza by the slice, and where you can sit down and eat for around the same price as McDonalds.  Take the opportunity here to have an ice-cream in the same area.  Campo dei Fiori will open up in front of you.  Stroll around the square, take in the history of this being the last place that the Vatican burnt someone at the stake for daring to state that possibly the earth rotated around the sun rather than the other way around……

If you follow most of the traffic going out of the piazza in the opposite direction from where you came in, you will eventually hit a street going off to your right which becomes a foot bridge over the river.  If you follow it you will find yourself in Trastevere, the oldest neighbourhood of post medieval Rome and home to its vibrant restaurant and nightlife.  Have an aperitivo, at any of the little bars (cafes) that line its tiny cobbled streets, standing up of course which will cost you a fraction of what it costs to sit down, enjoy the free bar snacks and choose your inexpensive restaurant to eat at for dinner!

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After dinner take a stroll along the river, meander throughout the Trastevere neighbourhood or go back the way you came for a completely different view of Rome.  We haven’t even touched the free St. Peters or Roman Forum or the many parks and gardens that are just waiting to be explored!  During your walk, or the next day, lose yourself in any one of the streets off this main beat. Sit and watch the local Roman traffic go by from a street cafe. Admire the marble columns, statues and painted plaques that adorn most buildings. Freely feast on the art inside most churches, and regularly look up to enjoy the free natural beauty of the skyline with its domes, starlings and magnificent sun sets. Now that’s something for free that’s worth paying for!

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Top 10 things to eat in Rome!

I thought i would make this post a little lighter than the last one and focus on the one thing that brings joy to every heart, and travellor, in Italy – the food!!!

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Residents of Italy, as opposed to travellors, will understand the importance of the title not being “Top 10 things to eat in Italy”.  This is because, as I have mentioned before, Italy is a country of REGIONS, and towns, and none more so obviously than when it comes to food.

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When I first arrived in Rome, after several months of eating what I called Italian food, I was longing for a change and enquired of my Italian friends if we could go to a different type of restaurant and eat another type of food. “Oh sure”, they answered, “we will arrange it.  Plenty of variety here in Rome.  We could go to a great Abruzzi restaurant we know, or the Sardinian restaurant on the corner is good, and there is an amazing Tuscan place in town and a new Sicilian place opening up.”  Not quite what i had in mind but a good demonstration of how different the food is between regions.  And  not just regions.  If you are wanting variety it is often enough just to drive an hour up the freeway to the next little town, and the food will be different with unique dishes and ways of preparing salads, pastas, desserts etc.

Often dishes that you can get in one part of Italy are unavailable in others.  So it would be a shame to focus on general “Italian” dishes at the expense of the local cuisine and that way you can taste your way around Italy knowing that the variety will be significant.

For example it took me about seven years to work out why I couldn’t find Spaghetti Bolognaise on the menu in Rome.  I attributed this fact to it possibly being an Anglo-Saxon made-up Italian dish, like garlic bread that is not available ANYWHWERE in Italy.  Until I took a holiday to Bologna.  Then I found it on every menu.  Rome of course has its own version, but it is made with pork meat not beef and is called Spaghetti con Ragu.  If you want Spaghetti  Bolognaise when you are in Italy you need to go to Bologna.

Therefore this post will focus on the top 10 dishes to eat in Rome primarily because they are mostly only available in Rome and represent some of its best cuisine.  They are not the type of dishes that the average Italian home cook would make as they are quite tricky or have special ingredients.  They are the type of dishes that Italians go out to eat.  All the restaurants featured in my post ‘Top 10 Restaurants’ will have these dishes available.  I have written the dishes in the order of how they will appear in the menu and in the order you are supposed to eat them.

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There were so many yummy savoury dishes that I ran out of numbers before I got to dessert so I have cheated and included a number 11.  Also you may have heard me comment previously that Roman desserts are not prolific or spectacular.  Especially when you compare them to the ice-cream desserts of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia or the creamy custards of Tuscany and Umbria.  Also Romans have available at all times spectacular ice-cream which is not only a dessert but a daily medicinal requirement, and recommended to all travellors at all times, and they have adopted the Tiramisu (probably the most like a ‘national’ dessert that Italy has) with avengence, so no need to suffer a dessert desert when you are in Rome, but not alot of desserts that you can only have in Rome.  The one I have included is the only one unique to Rome unless you count Chestnut honey which the Ancient Romans used prolifically as a dessert and which I also recommend you try.

Just one other thing then.  Roman cooking is characterised by two things – its simplicity and its focus on offal (which i have reccomended only in one dish but should be tried in its various forms if you have the stomach for stomach…..).  This is because of its history of being a Papal city, one of the most signficant.  Traditionally most of the best cuts of meat and produce went to the Vatican, and the local food producers of Rome had a prolific amount of Priests and nobles connected with the Vatican who they could provide food for.  It meant that the local citizens were left with the lesser cuts of meat.  The general poverty of the food producers and other city dwellers meant that simple, local, ingredients, along with offal was what made up their cuisine.  Like many culinary traditions, the food of the poor became adopted by the rich and now its quality and custom is entrenched in the average modern Roman diet.

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Here are the first five, next five, next week.

1.  Fiori di ZuccaStuffed zucchini flowers.  These are spectacular and not to be missed and to be eaten at every opportunity possible.  Many of my ‘regret’ moments are about the fact that I did not eat enough Fiori di Zucca when I had the chance.  They are also not to attempted at home.  I tried it once and have had much empathy with my gynachologist ever since.  It is almost impossible to open up the delicate petals enough without splitting them to get in the ingredients you need to get in there to qualify them as stuffed, and it takes ages.  These beauties usually come two or three to a dish and are small and light.  They consist of the end of the zucchini, the flower, stuffed with golden, melting mozarella and a sharp tasting anchovy (just enough to flavour it), dipped in a light batter and quickly deep fried.  Have I mentioned they are divine?

2.  Olive ascolane.  Stuffed olives.  Much more robust than the Fiori di Zucca they are green olives stuffed with pork mince, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.  They are like little mouthfuls of intensely flavoursome and chewy peices of heaven if you like olives and pork.  They usually come 8 -10 to a plate.

3. Spaghetti Carbonara.  No translation available.  This dish is not to be missed and comes after the antipasti dishes mentioned above.  It is usally served as a spaghetti but can also be served using penne or rigatoni as the pasta.  If you have ever eaten what you think is a Spaghetti Carbonara outside of Italy, you will be quite surprised, and then very angry with the previous person who cooked you Spaghetti Carbonara.  This is a thick, rich and highly filling dish.  It is the Italian version of bacon and eggs and therefore can be eaten as early in the day as you want and is recommended as a great hangover cure.  It is simply eggs cooked together with so much parmesan cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) it is scary, until a cream develops.  It is then thrown together with some small pieces of  pigs cheek or pigs stomach (guanciale or pancetta) lightly fried in their own fat and then mixed with the pasta.  More parmesan and a splash of pepper usally accompany it.  Under no circumstances is cream used.   Talking and fast movement may need to cease for some time after this dish has been eaten.

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4. Amatriciana.  Same.  This is a pasta dish which can be served using Spaghetti, Penne, Rigatoni or Bucatini.  The pasta sauces is made from tomatoes, pigs cheek (guanciale), a pinch of chilli and Pecorino (sheep’s) cheese.  It is salty, flavoursome, and makes you feel like you could run a marathon afterwards.  It is my hands down favourite food in all of Rome.

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5. Spaghetti Caccio Peppe.  Spaghetti with Sheep’s cheese and Pepper.  And lastly for today we come to another Roman favourite.  It is so simple and sounds so foreign that many people shy away from it but it is also not to be missed and one day long into the future you will remember how good this dish tasted.  It is served only with Spaghetti and it comes with a mountain of fresh sheep’s cheese (Pecorino) finely grated on top of it and dusted with a thick layer of black, cracked pepper.  Your job is to mix it all in until the cheese melts and then just eat it.  Talking will not be possible during the eating of this dish and it is fun to watch the face of the person eating this dish as the unlikely yumminess hits them again and again.

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If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about Roman and Italian food and food stories, my book ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons‘, will have you longing for pasta and searching for an Italian/Roman food fix!  Available at your local bookstore (in Australia) or from

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

Stay tuned for the final top 5 things to eat in Rome!

 

 

 

Top 10 restaurants in Rome (6 -10)

Hello all,

The rest of the list is a bit later than expected.  We have been through some trying times recently which I will blog about next.  In the meantime here is the rest of the list!   Although I did say they would be in order, upon reflection I can’t order them as they are all so different and depend on what kind of dinning experience you are seeking.  The caveats from the last blog still apply though.

 

6.  Ai Spaghettari – P.za di San Cosimato, Trastevere 57-58-59-60

A beautiful, succulent and rich experience of a typical, contemporary restaurant, that has nevertheless been around for half a century or more.   It is based in the most traditional part of Rome, Trastevere, a mostly pedestrian only precinct, which is now packed with restaurants and is an enchanting neighborhood to eat in.  Ai Spaghettari is always noisy, has the television blaring, and is always full.  A pizza oven greets you at the door and you can watch while your pizza is made, being flung up in the air and all. There are vast amounts of seating outside and in, and service and menu are both good, featuring lots of traditional Roman specials.  If you don’t book you may be waiting a while but you will get a seat eventually.

 

7.  Pizzeria Popi Popi – Via delle Fratte di Trastevere 45, 06-589-5167

I avoided going to this restaurant for years as it looks like the typical tourist trap often found in Trastevere.  Red checkered table cloths, tables set outside in front of a beautiful, white marble church, and filled with tourists.  Then my Italian husband and his mates took me there.  Now we know the waiters by name.  Frequented by both Italians and tourists alike, its cheap and cheerful outdoor atmosphere make it a superb summer Roman dinning experience (and indoors for Winter).  They have a large and traditional menu (including pizza) and the food always tastes surprisingly good for its quick production, volumes turned-over, and large variety.  Their Tiramisu is one of the main  reasons we keep going back.  By the way, once I asked the waiter what the significance of the name was.  He told me its the sound that Italian men make when they squeeze the breast of a woman “popi, popi”.   Booking is optional, just turn up and the waiters will look after you.

8. Ciak – Vicolo de’ Cinque, 21 ,Trastevere 06 5894774

Carnivores unite! The window is packed with hanging dead animals of the kind not often seen – boar, pheasant, deer and hare.  If you need an iron or blood fix this is the place to come.  Deep rich, red salamis of wild boar, pastas with venison ragu, stews of hare, Fred Flintstone steaks of beef, pork and veal are all on the menu here and nothing much else.  If meat is what you are after you will get any kind your heart desires (including heart…..).  It feels like you are eating in a Tuscan agroturismo with bare brick walls, lively noise and Chianti bottles everywhere.  The huge open grill is at the front and you can go and choose your type and cut of meat before cooking.  Best to book as it tends to be a restaurant that people go to specifically for this kind of food.

9.  Spaghetteria L’ Achetto – Via dell’Archetto, 26, Trevi Fountain 06 678 9064

This is the Frat Boy version of these top ten restaurants in that it has foregone all the add-ons of Italian cuisine and just focuses on the pasta.  Exactly 100 different pasta dishes can be ordered here and not much else.  But why would you bother coming here for anything else, their pasta dishes are fantastic?  Originally another restaurant I stayed away from as it seemed too gimicky to be good food to me, but I was dragged again along by my husband and his mates who had all eaten here for years.  Once I tasted my Fiume di Londra (London Fog) pasta dish I understood that no short cuts had been taken in delivering high quality, mouth watering food by focussing on just one type of dish.  This is a great place to go when you are sick of the same menus in all the other more traditional restaurants of Rome, although here you can get the traditional plates as well of course.  Try also the Pasta al Limone and the Penne alla Vodka a traditional dish that many restaurants disdain to put on their menus but is delicious and won’t make you drunk (although perhaps best not served to children).  Their vegetable dishes and Tiramisu are pretty good too.  Seating is outside partly and right on the cobblestoned street so cars will pass at your elbow.  Inside there is plenty available although it is a bit warren like, underground and airless at times.  If you book try to sit outside or ask for a table close to the entrance.  This restaurant is literally around the corner from the Trevi fountain.

10.  Est, Est, Est – Via Genova, 32, Nationale  06 488 1107

This is a gorgeous, out of the way, nourishing and cosy restaurant.  It is situated off the main shopping strip of Via Nazionale, close to Termini and right at the end of a dead end street.  It serves most things but I come here for the pizza which is slightly different from the pizza you will get in most of Rome.  Instead of the delicious light, thin-crust pizza that is typically Roman, these guys follow the Neapolitan tradition of thick crusted, doughy pizza bases.  Most Roman pizzas, like their pasta dishes, have two, maybe three toppings on them.  Don’t be tempted to do more, especially not in this restaurant, as you will be unable to finish it.  Toppings  are designed to enhance the pizza base not drown it out, similar to the toppings for pasta.  For example the best pizza is usually the Margarita (named after their last Queen) which consists of tomato paste, mozzarella cheese and basil (the three colors of the Italian flag) .  The wood panelled walls and old-world decor make it a relaxing and casual dinning experience, inexpensive and a nice place to eat as a couple or in a small group.  The menu is not large but has most traditional Roman food on it.  It is small, quieter than the other restaurants and has high quality food.

 
 
 

Top 5 Eating spots in Rome

Although there are many great restaurants in the suburbs of Rome, these are not them.  These top spots are all in the “centro historico”, the city centre of Rome.  Handy if you are visiting Rome as generally this is where you will be staying.

My definition of a top Roman restaurant is one that:

  • has been in operation for at least one hundred years
  • is family run (usually by the second or third generation by now)
  • specialises in traditional Roman cuisine (simple, fresh and offal based)
  • has a menu that depends on what is available at the market that day
  • does not depend on decor as a selling point.  (Not for me the modern, sleek, sharply fitted out interiors with modern twists or re-inventions on traditional dishes.  If I wanted those kind of restaurants I would go to Milan or Melbourne.)

So here goes, the top five are not in any particular order:

1.  L’Hostaria Romanesca – Piazza Campo dei Fiori, 40 – 06 6864024

Don’t bother calling as you can’t book and if  you are lucky enough to get a seat you will have to wait a long time often for your meals.  It consists of one small room inside plus a square of the piazza. There is a sign on the wall written in local dialect warning about the wait and not to bother the chef with complaints.  But it is worth it.  Dishes are individually and lovingly prepared, and spilling over with food of the highest and freshest quality.  The Spaghetti Carbonara, Pollo con Pepperoni (only found in Rome)/chicken with capsicum, and Fegato alla griglia/grilled liver are the best I have ever tasted.  But everything on the menu is good, cheap, and cooked with care and attention to detail.  Try any of the specials as they will be seasonal and based on the chefs traditional knowledge.

And while you are waiting you will have the spectacular Campo dei Fiori to watch – full of people, no cars, magnificent medieval buildings, and a statue of Giordano Bruno, the last person burnt to death there in 1600 for heresy.  Reflect on how, if waiting for some spectacular Roman food while sipping wine and eating bread is the main problem you have at the moment, then life is much improved since 1600.

2. La Carbonara  – Piazza Campo dei Fiori,23 .- 06 6864783

You will be lining up often with international movie stars and politicians to get a seat but it is not a pretentious or expensive place, just a Roman institution.  At the other end of the piazza from L’Hostaria, it is thankfully much larger so your chances of eating there are greatly increased, and they take bookings.  Again it produces very traditional, high quality Roman dishes with just a bit more flair (and prices) than the down market L’Hostaria. The Fiori di Zucca/fried zucchini flowers, Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal with proscuitto and sage) are the best I have ever tasted and the Carbonara is on a par with L’Hostaria.  Again you will have the Campo dei Fiori piazza to look out upon and will be entertained by a parade of non-stop travelling musicians.

 

3. Il Bric – Via del Pellegrino 51, 06-687-9533

This one is around the corner literally from La Carbonara and has a gorgeously rustic, cosy, and wine filled interior,  with a wine list that resembles an encyclopedia.  It is often referred to as the “cheese restaurant” by locals as one whole window is dedicated to a range of melt-in-your-mouth French and Italian cheeses in such an array that stops passersby in their tracks.  It gives the impression of being only a Vineria (wine bar) but has a full restaurant menu.  It is fairly new (twenty five years old) and its decor does draw me in, hence the rules don’t always apply.  But the combination of feeling like I am eating in someones lovingly kitted-out cellar, with high quality food based on traditional Roman and French cuisine, in a romantic and more tranquil atmosphere than the other two, gets me in every time I want something just a little more upmarket and refined, without feeling I have to forgo my casual Roman street-wear.   Booking is essential.

4. Il Drapo – Vicolo del Malpasso 9, 066877365

Il Drapo is certainly the most upmarket, expensive, romantic and luxurious so far.  It is great for a romantic dinner for two, or elegant get together with more.  I notice that they tend to put couples and quieter parties together which preserves the atmosphere in some rooms, and makes others louder.  The food is Sardinian based so you will get a slightly different menu but they are respectful of where they are (just around the corner from La Carbonara), and Roman cuisine is also honored.  It is a peaceful and attentive experience compared to the above four.  The food is fantastic, beautifully presented and you come out feeling like you have been refreshed and pampered with a belly full of excellent memories.  My favourite here is the suckling pig in juniper berries.  Bookings essential.

 

5. Da Luigi – Piazza Sforza Cesarini 23, 06 6865 946

I stumbled on this place when I used to live around the corner from it and noticed it was always full with lines of people waiting.  Hence I usually had to eat dinner next door in a grossly inferior establishment.  Da Luigi is packed full with Roman families who like to keep this place a secret.  It is squashed along the side of a tiny piazza across the road from Piazza Navona.  Here you will find reasonably priced, down-to-earth Roman dishes specialising in sea food.  It is noisy and always crowded and there is nothing to look at, but the variety and good reliable quality of the food makes up for it.  The booking system doesn’t seem to work so be prepared to wait for a table which is never very long.