Roman cuisine: seven leading restaurants that’ll whet your appetite

by Sean Hillen

Romans are immensely fond of their food thus the sight of multiple restaurants, cafes and trattorias vying for precious space on every piazza. Making one’s way through this mesmerizing culinary maze may not be easy so here’s a few choices to start your taste buds humming.

Le Jardin de Russie

Jardin de Russie Rome, Hotel de Russie Rome, Set in and around tranquil gardens at the rear of Hotel de Russie, this restaurant presents two contrasting seating choices – inside, a classically-furnished dining room with French windows facing the courtyard; or outside, a bucolic setting in a verdant garden rising up to Villa Borghese park.

A comprehensive menu prepared by chef Fulvio Pierangelini covers all reasonable tastes including, among the starters, a selection of four focaccines – flat oven-baked bread – with tantalizing toppings ranging from artichokes, cheese and black truffle to langoustine, zucchini and ricotta. Making up a generous roster of other starters are salads, veal tuna, foie gras, risotto, soup and no less than five pastas.

Rome restaurants, where to dine in Rome, fine dining restaurants in Rome

From what’s called the ‘Himalayan Pink Salt Grill,’ fish and meat ‘secondi’ dishes abound, the specials being a mixed grill of fish, crustaceans and calamari and a ‘Wagyu’ beef sirloin. We started local, with artichokes Roman style, home-made gnocchi with burrata and bottarga and ravioli ‘cacio e pepe,’ a traditional pasta of pecorino cheese and pepper. For mains, we went ‘surf and turf,’ indulging in perfectly seared octopus delicately flavored with thyme oil and capers and veal Milanese with saffron risotto. Our delectable finale was home-made Tiramisu de Russie and a refreshing digestive from zibibbo grapes, also known as Muscat of Alexandria, from Pantelleria island, near Sicily. Weekend buffets are popular, book early.

La Terrasse Cuisine & Lounge

La Terrasse Cuisine & Lounge, best restaurants in Rome, Rome fine dining restaurantsFew places for a romantic dinner compete with this 7th floor terrace, with optional indoor seating, offering panoramic views over Saint Peter’s Church, Villa Medici and the gardens of Villa Borghese. Chef Giuseppe D’Alessio has designed a comprehensive menu, his seasonal signature dishes listed on the opening page. Several weeks ago, we sampled his well-balanced and diverse four-course dinner which included a medley of tartars, a ‘foliage of flavors,’ comprising scampi, tuna, guacamole, prawns and salmon roe with fennel curls and artichoke foam.

restaurants near villa borghese rome, La terrasse restaurant romeOur primi continued the seafood theme, a creamy risotto with buffalo stracciatella with lobster sauce and tomato powder, as did the main act – escalope of Turbot accompanied by vitelotte potato with fleur de sel. My advice on dessert – easy-peasy: pastry chef Leonardo Sommella’s seductive, succulent black and white chocolate with roasted peanuts and ice-cream.

Best to leave wines to masterful sommelier Gianfranco. With around 600 grapes throughout Italy, his region of choice was Calabria – and he hit the right note.

Pauline Borghese Gourmet Restaurant 

Pauline Borghese Gourmet Restaurant, top restaurants in RomeNamed after Napoleon Bonaparte’ sister, a most voluptuous young woman by all accounts, this is a gracious 18th century salon on the ground-floor of Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel & Spa, with views through floor-to-ceiling windows across to trees bordering Villa Borghese. A bright ambience in uplifting colors of yellow and gold suffuse the room with fresh flowers in a basket adorning tables.

pauline borghese restaurant rome, where to eat in rome, best restaurants in romeOut of the seven starters, ranging from tuna tataki with purple potatoes foam and artichokes chips to thin sliced butternut pumpkin with soy milk cappuccino, we chose carpaccio of lamb with puntarelle chicory salad and burrata cheese, a fine example of executive chef Gianfranco Calidonna and chef de cuisine Antonio Menichini’s balanced use of local fresh produce. The burrata was akin to a delicious white moelleux, its softness pouring out lava-like at the very first cut. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ is oft-quoted advice, so we did, sampling the traditional candele romane pasta with smoked octopus on onions and shitake mushrooms, as well as the delicate veal cheek, creamy Jerusalem artichoke and crunchy carrots. Suddenly, relentless rain outside paled into insignificance.

Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar 

Il Giardino restaurant rome, best restaurants in rome, restaurants with a view of romeLocated on Pincian Hill, this rooftop bar and restaurant provide dramatic views over Il Vittoriano, St. Peters, Villa Medici and the stately Borghese gardens. It is one of two restaurants – the other being a Michelin-star – in this recently renovated hotel, Hotel Eden, part of the Dorchester Collection, completed last April after a 17-month closure. Polished wood floors, art nouveau furnishings including shapely chairs, a dwarfish olive tree and an open-kitchen style characterize this eatery ‘in the sky.’

Oval-shaped lamps, resembling bright larvae poised to transform into butterflies, hang from the ceiling, create relaxing penumbras. A glass half-wall separates the restaurant from the bar area where a pianist entertains.

Il Giardino restaurant Rome, Rome's finest restaurants, restaurants with a view of RomeFor us, dinner began with what executive chef Fabio Ciervo terms ‘cicchetti,’ a selection of delicious gourmet snacks, including a dish of mini boat-shaped fried courgette blossoms stuffed with melted mozzarella and anchovies oozing with flavor and a lightly grilled octopus salad. My primi was a modern twist on the traditional spaghetti with black pepper and pecorino cheese, this one presented cocoon-like, with turmeric adding a hint of piquancy. Three generous golden slices of veal spooning each other on the plate comprised my Milanese di vitello, accompanied by a mound of grilled zucchini, tomato and endive. Interestingly, we were also given a personalized printed menu of our choices as a keepsake, an invitation to return and start all over.

Romeo – Chef & Baker 

Romeo Chef & Baker Rome, chef Cristina Bowerman, the Roscioli brothers, fine dining in RomeOnce a warehouse during the Second World War, chef Cristina Bowerman has created this interesting, spacious store-cum-restaurant concept close to Porta Portese.

An open, multi-functional space, it includes a 25-meter long bar, one of the largest in Rome, with eight signature cocktails a major attraction for a younger, trendy crowd; and a delicatessen and bakery featuring an array of meats, breads, pizzas, biscuits, cakes and cheeses. You can even buy what’s called ‘Carbonara’ and ‘Amatriciana’ kits.

Proper table seating stretches fifty meters to a back wall, with a chef’s table tucked discreetly in a corner behind glass. Open pipe and brickwork, presumably a leftover from renovations, augment the ultra-contemporary ambience.

gourmet food in Rome, Rome's best restaurants, Roman foodHungry after a long walk, we demolished a plate of cold cuts of bresaola, Bologna maltadata, Tuscany salami and coppa in record time, before making short work of an innovative beef tartare mixed with celery, green olives, orange zest, white miso sauce and orange caviar. Then it was time for primi, an impressive list ranging from barley with asparagus, pecorino cheese and spinach purèe to tagliatelle with peas, lemon and dried mullet roe. Our choice: tortellini with mortadella, Grana Padano fondue and crispy prosciutto; and carbonara from using proper pig neck ham from renown butcher, Simone Fracassi, and pecorino cheese from Castel Gandolfo, 25 km south of Rome.

Our second course was a tender cut of quail, stuffed with grapes, pine nut and chicory. Dessert: an obvious one for chocoholics – ball-shaped tiramisu covered in chocolate on a bed of chocolate hearts and covered with marsala.

The Mirabelle 

The Mirabelle restaurant Rome, Roberto Naldi restaurants, dining in the center of RomeWith the sommelier boasting between 600-700 wines in his cellar, dining expectations at this top-floor restaurant with its panoramic city views are high – and well met. Cozy, elegant and intimate with unobtrusive oval egg-shaped table lights and a posy of fresh flowers on each setting, this classic venue has some distinct advantages for any nervous suitor.
One of Roberto Naldi’s six five-star hotels, the Splendide Royal, a converted 19th-century monastery, avails of the comprehensive experience of executive chef Stefano Marzetti. Reluctantly declining six different types of breads offered for fear of overeating, we dived into the starters.

fine dining restaurants in Rome, gourmet food in Rome, Roman fine food, Burgundy-style snails are presented in a creative way – resting on cooked tomato slices framed by a parsley brioche and frozen garlic-flavored cappuccino. You can even add chili oil using a small pipette that’s provided. A staple of Roman cuisine, artichoke, is innovatively disguised as a Rocher-shaped ball resting on a creamy dollop of egg and pecorino cheese.

The restaurant’s classic risotto Milanese undergoes an inventive twist: cooked to a crisp and shaped as a large coin atop a sea of parmesan cheese.

Bread-encrusted pigeon with foie gras, grilled corn cream and black truffle means savoring the best part of the bird, slow cooked and retaining its natural tenderness and flavor. The same goes for the Barbary duck, known for its leanness.

L’Uliveto 

l'uliveto restaurant Rome, chef Fabio Boschero, rome cavalieri restaurantAmong the culinary innovations from executive chef Fabio Boschero here, at Rome Cavalieri, are ‘Senatore Capelli’ and ‘Kamut’ whole grain pastas, as well as a special ‘detox menu,’ comprising such healthy selections as beetroot carpaccio and horseradish marinated with Amalfi lemon and poppy seeds and red lentil cream soup with organic whole-meal oats.

Feeling less health-conscious than hungry, we decided on the chef’s cold cuts’ selection, a platter of Parma ham, salami, coppa (dry-cured, cold cut muscle pork), finocchiona (fennel-flavored) salami from Tuscany; as well as local artichoke carpaccio with pecorino flakes.

best restaurants in rome, roman food at its best, italian food in romeEyeing the homemade pasta, we couldn’t resist the tortelloni filled with buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce topped with fresh basil leaves. So varied were the mains, from Teriyaki grilled flank steak to roasted octopus, choice was a challenge. We opted finally for fried ‘paranza,’ a mix of prawns and squid, in a light Julien batter, with Amalfi lemon zest and homemade mayo. Due to its seasonality, we complemented this with a side-dish of puntarelle chicory salad with anchovies, black pepper and vinegar. Other intriguing secondi included smoked wild boar ‘salmì’ style with polenta and ‘Il Bollito piemontese, a classic northern Italian meat stew.

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