Federico De Cesare Viola

The pandemic might have hit Rome hard, but the Italian capital isn’t called the Eternal City for nothing. Born and raised in Rome, Food & Wine Italia editor-in-chief Federico De Cesare Viola is thrilled to see his hometown coming back to life. Leading this revival is a new generation of imaginative young chefs and bartenders who have been busy launching new ventures across the city. Now factor in a handful of exciting new hotel openings and the message is clear: now is a very good time to (re)discover Rome.

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“There’s a Good Energy in Rome at the Moment”

In the last few years in Rome, the dining and cocktail scene inside luxury hotels was very interesting. Of course, when the pandemic hit, most of these places were either completely closed or empty due to lack of international tourism, especially in the historical centre where the economy heavily relies on such venues. Despite the very complicated administration of the city and other issues such as waste-handling, there’s a good energy in Rome at the moment and it’s really touching to see life slowly coming back to it. Rome was always overwhelmed by tradition. Doing something a little more innovative here was more difficult than in less-restrictive cities such as Milan, for example. But a group of young managers and chefs are headed in the same direction of wanting to offer something good, that’s a lot more contemporary. Most big investments are betting on those new ideas and I see promising times for my city with these new formats.

Promising Hotel Dining Options To Look Out For

The new W Rome hotel has all the right ingredients to become the hottest place in the next tourist season. It brought in a great combination of people, hiring Emanuele Broccatelli as head bartender to manage the entire mixology format inside the hotel. For the last decade, he has been one of Rome’s biggest characters in mixology. On the dining front, the hotel is collaborating with Ciccio Sultano, two-Michelin star chef of Duomo in Ragusa, Sicily. He’s really one of the most important Italian chefs and will help create all the outlets at the W Rome. Joining him as executive pastry chef is Fabrizio Fiorani, who has worked at Bulgari Tokyo for many years and was awarded Best Pastry Chef Under 35 at the Food&Wine Italia Awards 2020. I’m expecting a very high-quality offering that’s also very fun. The hotel is opening in Via Liguria not far from Villa Borghese and can positively transform the entire district. We badly need these kinds of projects to give a new energy to the city. We are also eagerly waiting for the Bulgari Hotel to open in Rome in 2023, which will enclose a restaurant by Italian, three-Michelin star chef Niko Romito.

Some of The New-Wave Restaurants Led by Young Chefs 

The most exciting place to eat in Rome right now – and one that represents the new movement led by young chefs – is Marzapane. The restaurant changed its location last year and is now in a lovely, independent building close to Piazza Del Popolo in the centre. A couple of young chefs run it, both with a very solid technical foundation, showing influences from France and Japan. They offer a menu that’s focused on ingredients and on taste. They use a lot of fire to cook, so although they’re ultra-modern in their approach to cuisine, they are in some way ancestral. The restaurant is rather small but is really a great place to dine. It has a few tables and a lovely bar on the ground floor where you can sit and watch a live open fire, and prawns and wild ducks cooking on a traditional Japanese robata grill. On the first floor is a classic dining room: in the summer, the restaurant opens its beautiful terrace. The most unconventional dining experience in town is at a bistro called Barred. It encapsulates the young and creative energy in Rome. Brothers Tiziano and Mirko Palucci – sommelier and chef respectively – offer the boldest, most original dining experience in the city paired with great natural wines. 

Everything You Need

Retrobottega is a very nice place to eat that represents the contemporary approach to cooking with outstanding quality. It’s one of three outlets by the same people, all within walking distance from each other. The second one is RetroVino, a wine bar focused on natural and biodynamic wines, that serves breakfast with great specialty coffee, and tapas in the afternoon. The third outlet is Retro Pasta & Pane, a lab entirely dedicated to fresh pasta. They all have the same approach to quality and deep research on the producers they deal with and the ingredients they source. The farmers and producers that work with them were in a very bad situation during the lockdown, so these guys organised beautiful weekly boxes to give them a chance to sell their goods. The boxes were amazing and full of fresh vegetables, eggs, ricotta, cheeses, whole chickens and meat from Rome’s countryside. They also enclosed fresh pasta like tortellino, ravioli and tortelli. These guys were part of the reason I survived during the lockdown.

More Take-Out Saviours

If I wanted to have something cooked during the lockdown, I ordered from Spazio, the casual bistro by Niko Romito that also offered a delivery service. It does this amazing thing called bomba which is like a cruffin [croissant muffin] that can be salty or sweet. The savoury options include a filling of pork and salad, or anchovies and mozzarella. It also makes amazing burgers and a special fried chicken. If I wanted comfort food that’s more traditional, I called Trattoria Da Cesare Al Casaletto, a place I go to very often, and its delivery was also great. It’s a modern, neighbourhood osteria far from the centre that’s popular among the locals and follows beautiful Roman recipes, including stewed meatballs, tonnarelli cacio e pepe and Roman tripe. It has a seasonal menu, some specials of the day and an incredible wine list – not something that you expect in a trattoria. 

Fine-Dining Favourites

Per Me – Giulio Terrinoni (“per me” means “to me” in Italian) is a fine-dining favourite that’s not too radical in its approach. I would describe the dishes there as smart, elegant and honest. The “pigeon five moves” is a signature dish and you can’t go wrong ordering any of the seafood pasta dishes. There’s a risotto with shrimp, black garlic and sea urchin that’s outstanding. I love it every time I go there, because the restaurant is in a beautiful spot between Via Giulia and Via dei Banchi Vecchi: a lovely corner of the city that is becoming a “gourmet” district. A few metres away is Supplizio, which makes the best supplì (Roman fried rice balls with mozzarella and tomato sauce) in town. There are two other Michelin-starred restaurants around there that are not to miss: Il Pagliaccio and Pipero

The Japanese Influence on Roman Cooking

I love any meal by Francesco Apreda, one of my favourite chefs who’s now the executive chef at the Pantheon Iconic Hotel. I knew him from the very beginning of his adventure here in Rome. He’s from Naples and worked in India and Japan for many years before moving here. The hotel has one of the most beautiful terraces in the centre of Rome and is somewhere you can enjoy a nice meal, a few cocktails or some sparkling wine. It’s truly amazing because it overlooks the Pantheon and the Roman roofs and domes of the historical centre. The restaurant on the terrace is a casual one that serves typical Roman dishes from pizza and pasta to tapas. Not far, is Idylio by Apreda, where the chef really gets to express his entire philosophy in a fine-dining setup. It’s a travel kind of cuisine: a journey from Naples to Japan and back to Rome where his roots and his experiences meet in a very intense way. What I really like is that he doesn’t use salt in his cooking and substitutes it with spices, seaweed and the use of fermentation. One of his classics is a beautiful chicken dish called pollo in due culture (“chicken in two cultures”) that’s sort of a bridge between the Indian tandoori-style – he has a tandoor [oven] at his restaurant – and the classic Roman chicken. Roasted chicken with pepperoni (the Italian word for “peppers” or “capsicum” and not the famous pizza cured meat topping) is a classic Sunday dish for many Roman families. He marinates the chicken for days in a blend of spices. He also makes an umami-rich dish that’s this amazing ravioli filled with Parmigiano Reggiano in a broth with tuna.

Perfect Cocktail Experience

Also not far from the Pantheon Iconic Hotel is the Jerry Thomas Speakeasy. I still like to go to it, even though the speakeasy format is starting to seem a little old-fashioned and I need more simplicity nowadays. Nevertheless, it was the first and most famous speakeasy-style bar in Rome and is still one of the best places to have a perfect, classic cocktail. One of the bartenders there has a hand in La Punta Expendio de Agave in Trastevere, another one of my favourite spots with a vibrant, colourful Mexican aesthetic. As the name suggests, it’s focused on mezcal and tequila.

Where to Enjoy an Aperitivo 

I prefer natural wine bars that are not too radical. I love places where you can find good wines, regardless of whether they’re on the natural side or whether they’re more conventional. For me the criteria is quality. There’s one place I like very much and it’s the new place by the people behind La Barrique. It’s called Barnaba and has a great selection of wines in a great location just by the Pyramid. Yes, it sounds bizarre, but we have a pyramid in Rome, just on the intersection of Testaccio and San Saba which are two very nice districts. The bar has lovely outdoor seating which you can enjoy when the weather is nice. The food is tapas-style: small bites to pair with a great selection of sparkling wines and Champagne. The focus is on small producers from all over Italy as well as some from France and Mosel. It’s basically all the bottles that Fabrizio, the owner, likes. 

My Second Home

Whenever I cross the centre, I always stop at Roscioli for an espresso at the bar and a maritozzo con panna, a typical Roman morning filled with cream. It’s super good there. Roscioli is absolutely my second home or office. You can go there from the morning till late at night. It is a family affair and is basically one of the oldest bakeries still alive in Rome. It has a deli shop or as we call it in Rome a “gastronomia” a few metres from the bakery. The new-generation Roscioli transformed the deli shop into a restaurant some years ago and called it Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina. There you can shop for the best of the best of Italian products from everywhere in Italy, whether cheese, salami, tuna, jam or pasta. It has one of the most incredible wine lists in Italy. It’s also a very good restaurant mainly focused on its products, so you get to try all of these amazing things before you buy them. The chefs cook beautiful Roman dishes and offer a selection of oysters, cheeses and tartares. It’s really my favourite place in Rome. Sometimes I go there alone when I’m super tired after the office and stay at the bar. I’ll order a glass of Franciacorta or Champagne, paired with mortadella and pizza bianca, which is very typical in Italy. It has one of the best pizza biancas in town. Then maybe some friends will join and we’ll stay for dinner before we move to Roscilio’s third place, Roscioli Caffe Pasticceria. It’s on the same side of the street just a few metres away. There’s also a fourth place called Rimessa Roscioli that’s younger and funkier, but still quality-driven. Everything is in a 50-metre distance of each other and close to where I live in the centre of Rome. It’s in a nice district called Rione Regola that’s just by the Jewish neighbourhood. 

Comfort Food on My Lunch Break

On my lunch break I go to Santi Sebastiano e Valentino, a bakery that does amazing breads and baked specialties and has a small daily menu with fresh dishes that are always very good. It could be roast beef with seasonal vegetables, grilled octopus with a purée and sauce, or a pumpkin and chestnut soup. It’s real comfort food. Not too far is a nice specialty coffee shop called Faro, where you can explore different coffee extractions from espresso to V60, French press or Chemex.

The Finest Gelato

Otaleg is my special address for gelato. The name is the word “gelato” backwards. It’s in the middle of the Trastevere Movida which is one of the liveliest districts in town. I love Marco Radicioni, the owner and gelato master. He’s a completely crazy guy who’s obsessed with making the perfect gelato and is never satisfied with the outcome. With gelato, I’m a big fan of fruit, and what I really love about Marco’s is that it is incredibly clean, incredibly fresh and incredibly intense in taste. You feel like you’re tasting that ingredient for the first time but in a gelato. Everything is seasonal, of course, and some options will only be available for just one or two weeks sometimes, because it’s when he can get the perfect maturation of that fruit. Sometimes there will be prunes on the menu. Sometimes it will be wild berries. It’s a constant turnover of flavours and he opens year-round. He’s also amazing with creamy flavours and classics such as chocolate and pistachio. He does an amazing salted peanut flavour and a delicious zabaione [an Italian dessert made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine]. The liquorice flavour is also one of his best: very strong, very radical and a gastronomic taste perfect for pairing.

My Favourite Roman-Style Pizza

The so-called “Roman-style pizza” was never really made well. Though Rome was late in catching up with the trend, what happened with pizza here in the last few years is the same phenomenon that happened with pizza all over Italy and the world: pizzerias started to use indigenous flours, make their own starters and use very high quality and creative toppings. A couple of great pizza chefs like Jacopo Mercuro, chef and owner of 180g Pizzeria Romana, started to make Roman-style pizza this way. What they did was important for Roman culture and tradition because it gave a sense of value and pride back in the traditional Roman pizza. At 180g, Jacopo plays on childhood memories, Roman or universal ones. He does a pizza called “Smashingpumpkins”.

My Favourite Pizza, Period

Put simply, Seu Pizza Illuminati makes the best pizza you can have in Rome. The texture, the quality of ingredients and the creativity that Pier Daniele Seu nails are unbeatable. He makes the “old school” pizza choices such as marinara and margherita really well, but also makes signature pizzas that feel more like fine-dining dishes in terms of concept, method of preparation and technique. He too plays a lot on memory triggers and does great sweet pizza such as the assoluto di pesche with peach and fried specialties such as frittatina di pasta (breaded and fried pasta) and supplì.

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