If you take an evening walk along the narrow alleyways of the historic centre of Rome, you’ll discover a world of al fresco tables, picturesque corner restaurants and the aroma of authentic Italian food. Some of the area’s best food experts recommend their favourite restaurants in the centro storico to indulge in a delicious Roman meal.
In Rome’s heaving centro storico, finding a place to dine that’s a genuine feature of the city rather than set up exclusively for passing tourists is no easy feat. Culture Trip speaks to executive chef Gabriele Muro, food stylist and TV presenter Camilla Monteduro and veteran restaurant manager Paolo de Angelis and shares their favourite places to eat in the neighbourhood.
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Adelaide Restaurant lies inside the historical Palazzo Borghese – now the five-star Vilòn Luxury Hotel – in the heart of Campo Marzio. In this refined ambience, executive chef Gabriele Muro serves up modern Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. The menu changes regularly, using the freshest seasonal ingredients to create evocatively named dishes such as With Candlelight (pasta infused with chicory coffee, sea squills and burrata) and The Vice of the Sailor (a sandwich that combines the catch of the day with caviar). At the heart of his food, Muro says, is the “armonia” – the harmony of taste that keeps all the flavours in perfect balance.
Chef Muro hails from Naples, and when a chef shares their birthplace with that of pizza, you know you’ll be able to trust his recommendations for where to eat Italy’s most famous dish. His top pick in Rome’s centro storico is Pro Loco Pinciano. This unassuming restaurant lies near Porta Pia, a gate in the Aurelian Walls. The pizza served here is typically Neapolitan with a visible and substantial crust circling the toppings; choose from classics such as buffalo mozzarella or more original flavours like chicory and wine-cooked bacon. Muro says, ”It is a modern pizza made of a lighter dough, a sign of a careful and longer preparation.” As well as pizza, Pro Loco Pinciano serves traditional Roman cuisine based on the philosophy of a short supply chain, carefully selecting products and raw ingredients from the Lazio region, and it also offers a variety of local wines.
Rione Monti is one of the most characterful areas of the capital. Located near the Colosseum and just a few steps from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Cuoco e Camicia embodies the intimate vibe of this neighbourhood. It accommodates only 30 diners, so make reservations. The restaurant is built on the concepts of slow eating and conscious tasting – philosophies that aim to heighten the pleasure of dining on good food (which is, of course, accompanied by good wine in this Roman establishment). Its menu offers modern interpretations of traditional dishes that don’t sacrifice taste for style, exemplified by the ‘inverted’ carbonara, a recipe that serves the sauce inside a tortellini shell. Muro says, “The cuisine is fresh, seasonal, and the service is very helpful and attentive.”
Established in 1959, the exceptional Trattoria Sora Lella lies inside a Medieval building on Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island); the beamed ceilings and traditional stone floor showcase the heritage of this beloved local restaurant. The name refers to grandmother Sora Lella who, as well as being a fine cook, was the sister of actor Aldo Fabrizi who appeared in many classic Italian comedy films in the mid-20th century. The restaurant is elegant and homely, with classic Roman dishes executed perfectly. Expect to find a menu filled with meat and traditional seafood, such as cod, squid, mussels, clams and anchovies. Muro’s choice is one of the hearty pasta dishes: “The amatriciana gnocchi is spectacular!”
In addition to her profession as a food stylist and TV presenter, Camilla Monteduro is the manager of the historical Caffè Hungaria. Located in the heart of Parioli near Villa Borghese and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, this rebranded establishment now offers fine confectionery and dining in an elegant Art Deco setting. The cuisine fuses classic Italian flavours and international dishes, with the menu featuring everything from traditional English roast beef to a poached egg with a thyme and mushroom potato mousse. Its pasta dishes also stand out. For example, the maltagliati (fresh pasta cut into irregular shapes) served with chickpeas and cod, and the truffle tagliolini (long, thin strands of pasta) are two highlights. Monteduro, who’s passionate about making healthy food delicious, says, “All the fruit and vegetables used are organic and supplied directly from a local farm, with the pasta also handmade every day.”
For dining with a difference in Rome, Monteduro recommends heading to the elegant Pianostrada Laboratorio di Cucina, located on Via delle Zoccolette close to the Ponte Sisto. The all-female team behind the restaurant have put together a deceptively simple, incredibly creative menu, serving pasta and sandwiches on its signature black bread. Here, the modern cuisine is served tableside or at the chic bar for a more casual but no less delicious experience – the latter allows you to look into the open kitchen as your dishes are prepared. Monteduro says, “The level of professionalism is at the very top, both here [in the kitchen] and in the sala, where the elegance of the tables is evident.’’
It’s easy to miss this unique restaurant, situated a few yards from Campo de’ Fiori along Via del Pellegrino; however, Monteduro says that it’s worth seeking out for a truly authentic Roman dining experience. Almost hidden from view, Settimio is a Roman trattoria as they used to be – family-run with a simple and informal atmosphere. The cooking is equally cucina casereccia (homespun), with diners feeling they have been ushered into a casa di mamma to enjoy a hearty meal of strictly Roman fare. Though the menu changes daily, it offers gnocchi on Thursdays, fish on Fridays and, of course, fettuccine pasta for a mouth-watering Sunday meal eaten by the whole family. Monteduro recommends the carciofi alla giudia (Roman-Jewish fried artichokes).
Paolo de Angelis is the manager of Achilli Caffè in the heart of the upscale centro storico neighbourhood of Prati, near the Vatican. The sister establishment of the famous Enoteca di Achilli al Parlamento, it offers a perfect dish for every moment of the day, including fresh, flaky croissants for breakfast, a quick brunch of salad and fresh pasta made to order and early-evening aperitivos accompanied by a tray of nibbles. For dinner, there’s a full à la carte menu offering sophisticated dishes such as veal brisket with breaded mushrooms. Overall, the cuisine is simple but with thorough attention dedicated to the products used, sourcing ingredients such as prosciutto D’Osvaldo di Cormons from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. And don’t skip the sweet biscuits served after your meal; De Angelis says, “The dolci are tremendous! And the wine list, of course, is one of the finest in Rome.”
Le Vele is technically just outside of Rome’s historical centre, in the Aurelio quarter, but it’s more than worth the trip. De Angelis recommends this restaurant as Rome’s best place for “fish of the highest quality”. Featuring an array of carefully prepared dishes, Le Vele offers a refined take on traditional Italian cuisine, with a focus on both cooked and raw fish. Elegant but not overly formal, this is the perfect place for a special meal; choose from a menu rich with delights such as fresh oysters, linguine with lobster and the best calamari you’re likely to find in the city.
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