My daughter, Lois, and I spent a very happy few days with my brother, Johnny, and his wife, Emma, in Rome a weekend or so ago. Rome (and Italy in general) may be going through a rough patch at the moment, but there’s not other city or country I would rather visit, particularly when I want to be reminded of the civilising virtues of food and sociability.
We either ate (and very well) in Johnny & Emma’s flat between the Piazza Venezia and the Pantheo, or in a series of traditional Roman trattorias plus the Eternal City’s finest gelateria. None represent the fierce cutting edge of contemporary cooking. Rather, each is a reminder of the enduring pleasures of traditional food when cooked with precision and experience, and subscribes to my theory that the best food in Italy is to be found in the most self effacing of restaurants. The more money spent on external display, the worse the food. Here are quick summaries of each.
Hostaria Da Giggetto, Via del Portico D’Ottavia 21 / a-22. tel 066861105 – fax 066832106. http://www.giggetto.it/
Trippa alla Romana, Lingua di vitello alla salsa verde, coratella con carciofi, animelle d’abbacchio – the menu at da Giggetto is a treasure house for the offal lover. However there are plenty of non-interior dainties to guzzle as well, such as carciofi all giudia, the deep fried artichokes so particular to Roman Jewish cooking that crackle as you bite into them until you hit the firm, dense heart. There were supplì al telefono as well, that deep fried rice bomb with a heart of molten mozzarella, and crunchy deep fried zucchini flowers. And then for me fritto misto with brains and sweet breads, soft and squidgy inside their jackets of crisp batter, with wilted chicory on the side. Others had a range of pasta e ceci, bucatini al’amatriciana, saltimbocca alla romana etc. Da Giggetto has been doing this kind of thing since 1923, so it knows what it’s up to, and, quite rightly, sees no reason to change. Familiarity can be a comfort in the world just at the moment.
Gelateria Alberto Pica, Via della Seggiola, 12, Rome, Italy
Tel: +39 06 686 8405
And then on to the Gelateria Alberto Pica for pudding. Modest on the outside, it’s a palace of iced delights on the inside, particularly for Alberto Pica’s exquisite rose petal ice cream, rice and cinnamon ice cream and the incomparable caramel ice cream. The one is as floral and delicate as the perfume of the flower; the next has a nutty texture like healthy clotted cream, with a dusting of the spice; while the last has the proper nip of bitterness of proper caramel (rather than the salt of the ubiquitous and rather cruder salted caramel). And then you have the innocent past time of trying to get Nonna Pica, who guards the cash register, to smile (impossible).
Ristorante Abruzzi, Via del Vaccaro 1, Rome, Italy (Trevi)
Tel: +39 06 679 3897
It looks as of has been at the end of the piazza since the dawn of time. It feels as if it has been there since the dawn of time. The menu has remained unchanged since the dawn of time. And some of the waiters look as if they’d been there longer. It’s as comfortable as an old muffler and champions that long vanished glory of the buffet antipasto, that means you can load your plate with all the things you love the best (fat cannellini beans; slippery tinned mushrooms, floppy peppers, plump mussels, stuffed melanzane and zucchini and so on and so on. After you’ve settled the nerves with the antipasti, it’s onto bucatini amatriciana or tonnarelli abruzzi (fresh egg pasta with mushrooms, prosciutto, peas, and tomatoes) or gnocchi (traditionally on Thursdays), although Lois and I went straight to Secondo Piatto, that in her case meant straccetti di manzo con rucola and in mine, an exemplary golden veal chop with wilted chicory with a dash of chilli.
Enoteca Fratelli Corsi. Via del Gesu’ 88, 00186 Rome,
Tel +39 06 679 0821
A caff, a canteen, a classic. I first came here twenty or so years ago, and at once felt at home in the earthy, raffish warmth of the place. The dining room was filled with locals at lunch, who acted as foils to the several daughters of the owner, who were distractingly sexy and ruled the crowded tables with good humour and ferocious back chat. The Enoteca Fratelli Corsi still has the earthy, raffish warmth. The girls are now ladies but they still manage the diners with sassy good humour. The decor is bright and utilitarian (terracotta walls; cluttered photos and pics; tiled floor; paper table cloths) and the food is, as it always was, Roman fundamentalist – tonnarelli all’amatriciana, baccalà con pomodoro e patate, ossobuco, insalata di bollito in agrodolce, dessert al limoncello. Or Cacio e pepe, pasta carbonara and coratella (braised lambs heart, liver, lungs and other organs) for me. All textbook treats. There’s an enoteca next door, so the wine list is well endowed.
Food present and food past are both perhaps present in food future, to bastardise TS Eliot.