Rome has a quiet edge. Almost despite the remarkable vistas and miraculous artefacts, this is a city busy about its ordinariness. In the shadow of overwhelming monuments and remains of ancient civilization you can find simplicity in its food and cooking. Here there is no real requirement to seek out culinary genius. With the best ingredients available, for the hungry traveller it’s a city with lots of great places to find modest ambition doing its thing in the kitchen.
Today we’re so attuned to getting the insider information on what is interesting and new, that we sometimes stop following our noses. So I went in search of a variety of the traditional and the new. I don’t have too many rules away from home except to discount the obviously touristic or fashionably virtuosic.
But it’s always better to keep pounding the streets than settle for a less than average restaurant, when your heart is telling you that just around the corner, lies a secret treasure.
Everywhere in this recession food pioneers have flourished. Rome is no exception and fosters its share of innovators. The fonte de Trevi was too distracting and the awe of the Pantheon delayed me from the Umbrian expertise of Lucio Sforza at L’Asino Doro. But that misfortune led me to the culinary entrepreneurship of Luca and Francesca who own Aromaticus in Monti, a sort of herb growing shop serving perfectly judged small plates and great wine in the afternoons. They recommended the work of local hipster cooks at the brand new Trattoria Epiro further south in the city (but it only has sixteen seats so book ahead). Also in Monti is Urbana 47, a new Brooklynesque project from Rome’s locavore pioneers. Another daily changing menu in a beautifully designed space full of vintage stuff you can eat from or buy.
For me Italian cuisine is unsurpassed when it comes to cooking fish and vegetables. And none better than the popular Osteria Gensola in the Trastevere. It’s traditional but with Sicilian influence rather than cucina romana, though they do serve those simply fried carciofi giudia, artichokes so crispy and ubiquitous it is hard to stop eating them.
There used to be a time when I came back to London worrying about how long it would be before I saw a great market, or tasted simply-cooked, wonderful ingredients again. 48 hours in Rome is hardly long enough to be an expert, but it certainly reminds me that what we have in the UK can be every bit as good. Now that is a new civilization.