A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Rome

Words: Kate Weir

Spending 48 hours in Rome is to switch back and forth between the city’s great and storied past, and its glamorous present. High-end boutiques rest alongside the ruins of the Empire; novice monks and nuns wander the busiest streets, and the most forward-thinking bars and clubs sit in the shadows of colossal monuments.

Day One

Roma Luxus

Flights either land at Rome Fiumicino or Ciampino airports, both of which have excellent transport links. Ride the Leonardo Express from Fiumicino (€14 a ticket, trains depart roughly every 15 minutes) to Roma Termini Station. From Ciampino, your best bet is a shuttle bus (around €5 one-way).

Check in to Roma Luxus Hotel, a leather-sandaled hop-skip from the ruins at Trajan’s Market. We love its bright rooms, artfully graffitied hallways and foliage-strewn bar.

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Fendi Private Suites – Feeling flush? Check in to the fashion powerhouse’s new digs. When you enter its extremely well-heeled (and dressed and coiffed) pieds-à-terres, clad in leather, velvet and marble, it’ll be the first time you’ll feel like dressing to impress a hotel room. Dangerously, Fendi’s Largo Carlo Goldoni boutique – close to the Spanish Steps – is just downstairs.

Palazzo Dama – This boutique stay has a rare city-centre pool, and we love its dark and cosy basement cocktail bar, hung with a bunch of ironically po-faced portraits.

Breakfast

breakfast Rome

Judging by the city’s lengthy, caffeinated history, the Romans have never really been morning people, but to cover the Eternal City in a mere 48 hours you’ll need something to rev your motor. Pergamino Caffè brews up ‘third wave’ coffee that’s even been glowingly reviewed by Australians. A mad scientist’s array of gizmos churn out aeropress, siphon and nitro coffee. And their cold brew – steeped for around 17 hours – will make coffee geeks vibrate with excitement (or just with the caffeine rush).

On the way from the hotel, avoid the late-in-the-day crowds and meander past the Pantheon and through Piazza Navona.

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Fabrica – If you tremble at the thought of a Defcon-five espresso, industrial caff Fabrica shows that Italians can do a cuppa almost as well as the Brits. With 70 kinds of tea on offer, and pastries and breads to accompany, this joint proves its mettle with a kettle.

Mondi Caffè – This unassuming spot roasts its own blends and has delightful chocolatey and buttery things to nibble on; if you’ve always thought of dessert as an afternoon phenomenon, prepare for re-education.

Mid-morning

sistine chapel

Rome isn’t lacking in ravishing artwork – after coffee, you could crane your neck up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Yes, it’s amazing, but protectively dim lighting, and having to rub elbows and the Pope-knows-what else with other art-lovers, diminish the impact. You could also check out the Pietas and apostles in St Peter’s.

However, Rome’s paint palette didn’t run dry in the Renaissance: Maxxi Gallery, designed by the late-great Zaha Hadid, has a superlative programme in 2017, showcasing Letizia Battaglia’s grim snaps of mafia massacres and ‘excellent cadavers,’ as well as an exhibition delving into the prison system. Gritty, yet engaging, and encased in some damn fine architecture.

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galleria borghese

Macro Gallery – You’re greeted by an orange-plastic pavilion and a stained-glass ceiling reminiscent of a Gilbert and George piece in this super-cool gallery space. We also like the slightly mad Op-Art portrait on the roof terrace. The exhibitions are deliciously experimental, and the current Anish Kapoor show reveals the artist’s visceral side. The Galleria Borghese is across the street if you’re seeking an old-new mash-up.

Cinecittà – A legendary Italian film studio, everything from White Telephone films, to Antonioni and Rossellini masterpieces, to more recent Scorcese works have been filmed here. The Cinecittà Shows Off tours let film buffs immerse themselves in the studio’s many worlds. They’re followed by cocktails and wandering off into the sunset. Fine.

Lunch

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A German chef who’s mastered Italian cuisine, Oliver Glowig’s career path is gleaming with Michelin stars. His new restaurant, Oliver’s Kitchen, sits on the bustling Mercato Centrale. The menu pulls off a tricky balancing act. It’s at once simple and creative, with ‘rustic skewers’ of cured ham and bread, sea urchin arancini with cheese and pepper, and to finish: goats’ cheese mousse with prickly pears. The best part? Prices run cheaper than at his full-fledged ristoranteMolto bene

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Caffé Propaganda – Design firm Dacomo & Leonardi (the team behind hip wine bar Litro’s sleek look) have dressed this space in metro tiles, monochrome flooring and leather banquettes, giving it a French bistro feel. The cheese and meat plates are lauded, as are the burgers, and the wine list is well worth investigating.

Panina Rome – This sandwich shop on Viale Europa is perhaps the most beautiful ‘fast-food’ joint we’ve seen. Pull up a turquoise stool, admire the Pantone wall decals, and order a sandwich packed full of fresh mozzarella, country ham, rocket, caramelised aubergine and more. They arrive on a little wooden tray, and they taste divine.

Afternoon

vespa

By now, your legs might be getting a little weary, so why not hire a Vespa to zip between sites faster? Assemble your mod squad at Baci & Baci and prepare for the insanity that is driving in Rome. So much cooler than a Segway…

One can’t really avoid history, here. Luckily, the old is always reinventing itself (although, usually out of crumbly necessity). The big event last year was the Spanish Steps finally shedding their scaffolding thanks to Bulgari’s extraordinarily generous donation; once again, you can skip gleefully up and down them like Audrey Hepburn. (It’s a safer bet – you’ll get fined if you re-enact Anita Ekberg’s La Dolce Vita scene).

The Colosseum has also been primped up by luxury shoe brand Tod’s, and millions have been bestowed to revamp its arena floor. (Will gladiatorial battles return? In this political climate, who knows?)

hermes

Pay a visit to some of the old-school fashion dynasties. Hermès opened an enormous new flagship store on Via Bocca di Leone last October. And India Mahdavi (who deftly styled Sketch’s gallery dining room) has given the REDValentino store a jawdropping, retro, powder-puff pink and chartreuse makeover. It’s worth a gander even if the wares are way beyond your budget.

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La Rinascente – Yes, it’s Rome’s answer to Westfield, but the behemoth store is getting a reboot this year. Its stable of brands is a seamstress’s cut above your average identikit department-store go-tos.

Dana – Amid graffiti-scrawled walls and ancient arches, this cutting-edge boutique stocks still-sizzling-from-the-runway looks. A hot new Italian-style pick, Marianna Cimini’s Wong Kar Wai-inspired silk dresses are sold here, so it’s a safe bet for ahead-of-the-game ensembles.

Dinner

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Korean barbecue restaurant Galbi is so clean and minimalist, it looks like it was formed using an X-Acto and an extremely sharp Pentel. Alongside joints such as I-Gio and Hana, Korean food is gaining in popularity in the capital – perhaps the locals have pasta-fatigue? Or maybe it’s the perfectly pungent kimchi, the stickiest of short ribs, and pork roasted over oak coals until its skin achieves peak crispiness… Pasta who, now?

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Cucina Eliseo – This theatre restaurant is extremely eco-friendly, sourcing its creamy buffalo mozzarella and tender lamb from farms in the Lazio region. In fact, it’s so locally sourced that you can map out everything on your plate to the nearest farm.

Tramjazz – Your enjoyment of one of Rome’s more unique dining experiences depends heavily on your tolerance for jazz. Diners are driven around Rome in a converted 1940s tram car, and as champagne flows and the meal is served, a revolving troupe of musicians pootle trumpets and blare horns. If that’s the kind of thing that makes your fingers click and toe tap, then all aboard…

After Dinner

wine rome

If ever there were any doubts of Brylla Wine Bar’s range, the 17-page wine list (with a handy key), will dispel them. A newcomer to Rome’s sipping scene, Brylla doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel – it simply works. You’re not really here for the food, but the charcuterie and cheeses and the Josper-grilled tapas make excellent pairings.

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Kook Restaurant – The enormous glass-cased tree growing within this dapper Roman kitchen and bar reminds us a little of a vegetarian iteration of Tramshed’s Hirst centrepiece. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess, since Noses Architects have matched old-school tiling with industrial concrete, exposed pipes and aged-leather chesterfields in a successful style-clash. Set a little north of the city, this is an intriguing destination-drinking spot.

Cinema Piccoli – Rome’s gilded and Carrara marble-lined maximalism puts Vienna to shame, so it’s a rare treat to find a deliberately dialled-back treasure. Located in a small wooden chalet in the Villa Borghese gardens, there are just 63 seats to this teeny cinema’s one screen. As such, the programme is a little limited, but come evening, this is a sweet, intimate date-night spot.

Late

In most Roman bars, the barrels are filled to the brim with remarkably fine vino, but Be.Re. is a celebration of suds. Swap Peroni and Moretti for a pint of Vento Forte, Rebel’s microbrew, homegrown Ritual Lab lemon ale or Bavarian Knoblach. The bronze-and-silver interiors are made all the more cosy with communal tables. Think a chic Oktoberfest – and the taps run dry around 2am.

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Mons Angels – If dive-y arts club is more your scene, or you’re homesick for Hackney, this hip hangout is your Mons (sorry). Niche mezcal and gin brands lurk behind the bar, and creatives tickle the ivories on the ephemera-plastered stage. Some eponymous angels wear Kiss-inspired warpaint and the rest of the decor tests the limits of kitsch.

Black Market – Settle onto a well-loved Louis XVI sofa, order something cheesily classic – a Harvey Wallbanger for the gent, Cosmopolitan for the missus – and relax. The venue plays host to up-and-coming indie and jazz acts, and occasionally runs limited-edition beers, but it’s the louche living-room ambience that keeps luring us back.


Day Two

Breakfast

centro

Ensure it’s a buon giorno at Centro on Via Cavour. The eatery’s retro-diner decor is a promising start, but we won’t get up early for anything but the jam-, honey- and chocolate-filled cornetti pastries – thick slices of ciambella cake and custard-filled bombas. There’s also eggs, but if you don’t fill your formica tabletop with cornetti, you’ll be sadder than Coriolanus.

Mid-morning

rome gelato

Now, it’s time for that rare phenomenon – holiday dessert breakfast. After all, you have less than 24 hours left to fill your face with Rome’s edibles. Stop by the new kid on the Centrale, Cremilla, whose towering cones have gained a cult following. Ice-cream maestro Luca Veralli has travelled throughout Italy to source the best seasonal produce. The result is a moreish menu that requires revisiting: Toritto almonds with gianduja, peaches and cream, coffee-infused marscapone… How cool, indeed.

Take your treat to the Villa Borghese park for a lazy stroll, or head to the left bank’s Orto Botanico gardens.

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Grom – One of Rome’s most well-regarded gelaterias, this spot’s caramel flavoured gelato with Himalayan pink salt is especially good. Thanks to stalwart classics (chocolate, marron glace, the quintessential pistachio) and fresh seasonal sorbets, it’s usually teeming with visitors.

San Crispino – Tucked into an unassuming side street near the Trevi Fountain, this gelateria makes ice-cream for grown-ups. No, really. The lemon sorbet is sozzled with calvados; the zabaione has a slug of aged-20-years marsala wine; the red wine sorbet works remarkably well; and the whisky ice-cream is an unholy, yet heavenly, collision of nightcap and dessert trolleys.

Lunch

burbaca

Yes, we know Rome is the place for elegance and timeless cuisine prepared just like nonna and her nonna used to make, but maybe your nonna’s thing was burgers…. Burbaca is in the Ostiense neighbourhood and is overlooked by the Blu mural across the street. Interiors nod to the Twenties, and while the food’s American in concept, it’s wholly Italian in execution: the Caprese burger has fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce, and the Red Hot has a smear of ‘nduja and Puglian straciatella cheese. Unlike McDonalds, you can also get a decent coffee here.

Afternoon

pyramid of cestius

Arrive in spring for Open House Rome, where architectural intrigues are fair game for gawping at. In April, the Marathon takes over Rome’s streets in typically chaotic fashion – but unlike the old days, it’s run fully-clothed. For historic kicks, seek out some left-field sites. A ‘novelty’ tomb, the Pyramid of Cestius, reopened to the public last year for tours of the frescoes inside. Try to wangle your way into the Mithraic Temple underneath Circus Maximus (this must be booked through a cultural association and is usually only available to organised groups, but occasionally a private guide can be arranged).

Otherwise, bat uselessly at the new 3D animations bringing Nero’s Domus Aurea to life. Knowing what we do about the decadent emperor, we sincerely hope they’re not too realistic… 

Dinner

il buff

All the products used in Il Buff, in Rome’s trendy Trastevere neighbourhood, come from one farm in Calabria. As the name suggests, mozzarella is the star of the show, popping up where you’d expect (parmigiano, risotto) and elsewhere (cheesecake). The salt cod is a stand-out dish, too. There’s also a shop with cheesier souvenirs than the Vatican.

After Dinner

cocho apartment

We love Sacripante Gallery and Bar: the little apothecary drawers and liqueurs in vintage medicine jars, the scuffed walls, the velvet sofas. The gallery itself has some superb ‘new low-brow’ eye candy, and the bar lures sophistiqués with fresh-fruit libations and a setting that brings old-school Roman glamour up to date. LGBTQ nights are run here and DJs spin mellow choons.

Two-storey COHO Apartment is business on top, where it’s a groomed New York loft, and party on the bottom, where palms, pops of bright colour and idiosyncratic sculptures amp up the fun.

Late

jt-project

Make your last few hours in Rome magical with a stop at speakeasy bar The Jerry Thomas Project, named after the legendary US barkeep. Getting in is easier nowadays than when it opened, but a bit of niche mixology knowledge certainly loosens the entrance’s hinges, and it’s highly recommended to make a booking. Cocktails are – as you’d expect – rather moreish; the bar’s take on Thomas’s signature, the Tom Collins, will see you through to its 4am last call. 

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