Eating well in very touristy parts of the world can be a challenge. In central Paris you are surrounded by restaurants that have pictures of the food on their menus. In Rome, like in Leicester Square, you find exactly the same thing.
The best meal I’ve ever had in Rome was in December 2011 in a small trattoria on a back street way off the tourist trail. They only served a set menu for lunch, which was fine by us, but we didn’t even get to see it. We sat down expecting to be shown the menu but instead were given a bowl of soup about ten minutes later with no description or explanation.
It looked awful but, my, did it ever taste wonderful. It was a simple stracciatella soup topped with a beautiful, golden, peppery olive oil. Then followed porchetta with olive-oil-tossed potatoes. Simple. Delicious. And for the grand total of about twelve euros.
I went back to Rome at the end of July. With temperatures hitting 36 degrees, it was almost unbearably hot but luckily I had been given a hit-list this time by our resident Roman, Giulia Cambieri.
For gelato, Grom was her suggestion. They have a number of stores around the city including one near the Pantheon so we tried the Crema come una volta, which is made from an egg custard and is their signature flavour. It has a remarkable flavour with the egg really coming through, but not in an unpleasant frozen omelette sort of way.
If it’s not conventional to have ice cream at 11am, you may as well go all in and follow it with pizza from Antico Forno Roscioli. This place is a little bakery where they give you pizza by the slice. We missed out on the pizza bianca, which I’m told is wonderful, but had a simple margherita straight from the oven, glistening with olive oil.
The only problem with this ice cream-pizza combination was that we actually had lunch booked at the Michelin-starred La Terrazza dell’Eden. Set at the top of the Hotel Eden, La Terrazza has one of the best views out over Rome, with perhaps the exception of Heinz Beck’s La Pergola at the Rome Cavalieri.
La Terrazza has sweeping views over the entire city from its position at the base of the Borghese gardens. It really is a lovely place to sit and on a day when it is so hot outside, the air conditioning is pure bliss. The menu is, unsurprisingly, Italian but this is fine-dining Italian. It is a more refined take on the flavours of the trattoria and surrounding countryside, and the atmosphere – no shorts allowed, starched white tablecloths, waiters in full regalia – matches this refinement.
From the set menu (€50), we had a starter, primo (pasta) and secondo (meat). While the main dishes were perfectly executed – I had a lovely translucent piece of fish with summer vegetables – it was the starter that really stood out, bef carpaccio with parmesan.
This was the beefiest beef I’ve had in a long time. It packed a hell of a farmy punch. Served as it should be at room temperature with huge flakes of deep, rich parmesan and a green bean salad, it was as silky as a carpaccio comes. It will take some beating.
On the other side of the restaurant a table of businessmen had ordered some dish that resulted in dry ice whooshing all over the starched linen and then over the floor to great whoops of excitement and flashes of smartphones.
The Hotel Eden itself is a five-star grand old dame of a hotel, slightly tired from years in the centre of Rome but nonetheless utterly charming. Our room looked over the palm tree surrounded villas of the north of Rome right down to the Altare della Patria with ceiling-height windows.
For a city centre hotel it felt incredibly calm – close enough to all of the main sites but removed enough that you could enjoy a little privacy. It offers old-school glamour – and, well, we all need a bit of that from time to time.