The first time I turned a tiny corner to see the dome of the Pantheon, I had a new comprehension for the famed arrogance of Romans; if ever overbearing pride is to be tolerated it should be for the cause of this city.
The ancientness and elegance is palpable and unique even amongst the other stars of Europe. Despite the financial tribulations of recent Italy, Rome remains the stoic and sophisticated matriarch of her country - beautifully groomed (if not suffering a little from the assault of very blah graffiti - it’s intentional not to refer to it as street art here) in her recently revamped Colosseo crown with a polished pair of Spanish Step shoes and her iridescent Fontana di Trevi handbag. Italian fashion houses such as Bulgari and Fendi have recently footed the bill for thorough restoration of the city’s monuments so if you think you’ve 'seen them before', see them now.
They’re so bright and glistening you could see them from the moon. Whilst I could talk you through the must-sees amongst the myriad iconic structures of the city with great enthusiasm, SOUQ had a mandate: to bring you a snippet of the best eating and shopping experiences to be enjoyed in a short time. And eat I did. For you. And for a small country.
Let’s begin controversially. With coffee.
*clears throat and takes deep brave breath...
It is my firm and unwavering belief that Australians make the best cup of coffee in the world. They did learn their craft from Italian migrants but along the way they have refined it so they have themselves become the masters of the trade. In fact it was a struggle to find an excellent coffee in Rome but if anything drives my persistence it is this loved and elusive perfect morning start. So without further ado, here are my top locales for the best coffee in the centre of Rome:
1. Caffè Roscioli - the owners of the famed Roscioli Salumeria and Antico Forno near the Campo de Fiori have opened a small espresso bar just a few doors down and they continue their legacy of perfection in everything they produce.
2. Er Baretto - the prettiest place to begin your day in the Monti neighbourhood and a gorgeous coffee to match.
3. Sant'Eustachio Il Caffè - though pricier than others with a cool attitude towards the 'tourista’ (of which there are many here) we don’t quibble when it comes to our coffee so will happily settle for this excellent cup served with a grimace.
And a tip for my coffee-connoisseur compatriots: if a piccolo is your preferred, ask for a macchiato in Rome whereas if your hit is a flat-white, request a ‘cappuccino senza schiuma’.
Moving on to food - I barely know where to begin.. and I certainly don’t know where to end thanks to the cryovacced-stores of fennel-dried prosciutto rind, fresh gnocchi, guanciale and white anchovies I returned home with.
Note that my efforts on this trip were directed toward very accessible food and restaurants - there were no Michelin stars shining on these places but honestly such accolades seem almost nonsensical when indulging in heavenly simply-prepared Italian produce. And I was fortunate to be there in Spring, the glorious moment of the artichoke which I made sure to delight in every way it could possibly come.
So here we go, my best culinary moments from this short trip:
1. Campo de Fiori - the daily market that operates here, though overrun with global, cheap, poor souvenir landfill, is still a good place to buy a pungent summer peach or a basket of magenta cherries to have with your coffee and a little vine of tomatoes for later. But for God’s sake don’t stop there. Wander over to Forno for a slab of pizza with artichokes and pecorino or zucchini flowers and anchovies, then cross back to Baccanale for a porchetta panino (not the best of it’s kind in Rome but start your quest here and you’ll not regret the journey). Still going. Stop at two places to add to your stores for later: Ruggeri where you must buy a fresh burrata languishing in it’s little bath of brine and some Sicilian sea salt.
Then over to Norcineria Viola, generational experts in one thing only: cured pork. Buy Prosciutto di Parma and glowing red strips of prosciutto rind dried with fennel. Allora: you have snacks for the day’s basalt-pounding that exploring Rome requires.
2. Nonna Betta - in the Jewish Ghetto not far from the Palazzo Venezia, order as follows: artichoke carpaccio, white anchovies with olive oil and pink peppercorns, fresh pasta with pecorino, pepper and chicory (and then order this again) and artichokes in the Roman-Jewish style - carciofi alla Giudia.
3. Trastevere - I adore this neighbourhood and there are so many incredible spots to eat but an equal number of horrible traps. My recommendations are Trattoria Da Enzo, Osteria zi Umberto and Tavernaccia Da Bruno - all wonderful places to introduce you to Cucina Romana.
4. And lest I omit the holy grail of gelato, I have only one must: Frigidarium near the Piazza Navona. There was not another gelateria that came close for me.
But truly to isolate only a few places from so many exquisite offerings in Rome is too difficult a task. Wherever you go, you must enjoy the 4 classic pastas of Rome that gorgeously build on their ingredients from one to the other, all of which famously were the frugal ingredients to be found in the backpacks of shepherds of old wandering the Lazio region:
- cacio e pepe made with only black pepper, pasta water (essential) and lashings of Pecorino Romano;
- pasta alla Gricia which adds guanciale (cured pork) and garlic to the above;
- pasta all’Amatriciana made as alla Gricia with the addition of tomatoes and chilli; and
- pasta alla Carbonara which excludes the tomatoes but adds eggs to the base of guanciale, pasta water and Pecorino Romano.
For aperitivo or digestivo you’re mad not to pop by the gorgeous garden of the Hotel Locarno for a bittersweet Roma-Bracciano but I mostly adored sitting in the courtyard of the Bar del Fico or eagle-eyeing the suave crowd at Salotto 42.
Having waxed lyrical thus far, Rome it must be said is an odd place for shopping. As with most cities around the globe it has succumbed to the ease of housing big international brand stores (though it’s true that the designer houses of Europe seem a lot more at home in the refined setting of Rome) and Italians are not the most adventurous when it comes to welcoming smaller design brands that don’t have Italian heritage. Also, unlike many international cities, Rome is not home to a grand and impressive department store - Coin and La Rinascente fall far short of anything comparable to Merci in Paris, Liberty in London or Barneys New York. So in Rome I think it’s almost better to talk of shopping areas rather than particular stores:
1. Monti has my heart; full of vintage stores spilling over with fantastic pieces from 50’s Italy like a scene from The Talented Mr Ripley. It’s also home to a lot of burgeoning young design stores you don’t see elsewhere. Wander down Via del Boschetto and Via Panisperna, down to Madonna dei Monti and be sure to visit interior design store Nora P.
2. Across the centro historic in the Piazza Navona area are some more homewares gems - the divine Society Limonta for luxurious linen bedsheets and home textiles in exquisite colour palettes; tiny L’Argania for silver lamp shades and high-end Moroccan imports; Sfera Otto for rich original furniture and homewares which are hard to come by in a city devoted to their national design brands.
3. Fashion stores are planted all over the city but the more prominent brands are housed in the vias close to the Spanish Steps running between Via Del Corso and Via Del Babuino. The famous Italian hat company Borsalino is a gorgeous place to admire and one of my favourite Italian brands is close by - Maliparmi combines tribal prints and textures with beautiful colour palettes in shoes, bags and clothing. & Other Stories is a great inexpensive fashion brand whose flagship store in Via Borgogna is very impressive and worth a visit and Delfina Delettrez is stunning for her jewellery.
4. If you’re an amaro-lover as I am, go to Angelini Enoteca - a pirate’s chest of alcoholic treasure with bottles of everything, some very old, stacked to the ceiling baring gorgeous Italian graphics. Angelini himself still mans the counter and looks as though he’s barely moved for 50 years.
And so ends a brief summary of a very short trip - never long enough but long enough to have won my heart as my favourite city in the world. I’ll only have more to add to this list as I go back and back again. But in fact the real pleasure of Rome is in simply being there. Walking. Eating. Looking.