Like numerous restaurants in any capital city around the globe, it isn’t always easy to sort out quality from quantity. When you’re focusing on a city that has a long-established tradition and reputation as a culinary destination, that task is sure to become bogged down between expectation and reality. It might be a cliché to state this so plainly, but not everyone knows the difference between crispy and chewy, or al dente and mush. Being selective, also, can cause problems between the passionate foodie and the loyal customer, but then that’s what lists like these for. Enjoy, debate, agree – or not!
BEST FOR THE HIPSTER
Barred: With a working modus operandi that other chefs should perhaps take note of (“many pay more attention to the name than to the result. Our name is ‘nobody’, the result is us and our ideas”), the Palucci siblings Mirko (sommelier) and Tiziano (chef) concoct a genuinely audacious, inordinately hip menu. Modernist plates vie in competition with craft beers and (yes) craft cocktails, and depending on the season the starters could include lemon brioche with marinated sardines or pappardelle with artichokes and liquorice.
Address: Via Cesena, 30, 00182.
BEST FOR THE ADVENTUROUS
Bistrot64: Pitching itself as a ‘gastro bistrot’, this impressive restaurant sees two cultures interweave – Italian simplicity and Japanese inventiveness. The owner (and chef) Emanuele Cozzo applies his love of rustic and seasonal ingredients in collaboration with Kotaro Noda, a Michelin star winner. While Cozzo oversees the general operations of the restaurant, Noda applies the knowledge of his homeland’s cuisine to regional Italian classics such as carbonara, cacio e pepe (aka cheese and pepper), and amatriciana. The results are stunning.
Address: Via Guglielmo Calderini, 64, 00196.
BEST FOR PIZZA/1
Seu Pizza Illuminati: Yes, there is such a thing as a creative pizza chef. You only have to look at and taste the handiwork of award-winning Pier Daniele Seu to know that the stall owner in the city’s Mercato Centrale (in which he still works around the lunchtime trade) has crafted something very special with his first stand-alone restaurant. In truth, Seu has copper-fastened his reputation as a chef to watch with a range of Neapolitan pizzas that appeal to traditional tastebuds as much as those that crave something fresh and exciting.
Address: Via Angelo Bargoni, 10-18, 00153.
BEST FOR PIZZA/2
Pizzeria Da Remo: We have to mention another pizzeria in a city full of good ones, so we are sticking our neck out by choosing Da Remo. Rightly regarded as the purveyor of classic scrocchiarella (ultra-crispy, paper-thin crust) Roman pizza, your best bet here is not to load your base with too many toppings. You have a choice of seating, by the way: inside the spacious closed-roof restaurant, or at a wobbly table on the uber-atmospheric piazza pavement. Either way, you’re in for a pizza-munching treat.
Address: Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44, 00153.
BEST HIDDEN GEM
Zia: Named after chef Antonio Ziantoni, whose first restaurant this is (following a superb learning curve with Anthony Genovese at the Michelin-starred Il Paliaccio), Zia is an intimate space. With 30 covers and an interior design that fuses clean, sleek Scandi lines with delicate hints of Roma, Zia is one of those restaaurants in one of those areas of the city (Trastevere) that can too easily be overlooked by the tastemaker cognoscenti. Search it out, though – you won’t be disappointed with a seasonal menu hat smacks of true culinary refinement.
Address: Via Goffredo Mameli, 45, 00153.
BEST FOR THE CLASSICS
Osteria Fratelli Mori: Family operated (and overseen by brothers Alessandro and Francesco, and their mother Giuliana), Osteria Fratelli Mori is a throwback to less precious times, an era when one person used to cook for the entire family on Sunday. Such tradition is carried on here in a large space that can cater for about 120 people. As the name and ethos imply, there are no frills here – there are rural, family-style tables, an open kitchen, fun people and seriously good food of the pasta and pizza variety. Best bit? It’s all very affordable.
Address: Via dei Conciatori, 10, 00154.
BEST FOR REFINED RUSTIC
Giulia: This landmark gourmet-rustic and compact restaurant (it seats just over 40) is located in a historic building facing the immensely pretty Via Giulia. It is also a genuine box ticker in that it’s not only inexpensive but it is also fit to bursting with innovative foodie ideas that blend the traditional with unashamed ambition. While the starters and mains are impressive, keep room for the desserts, which are renowned in the city. Even thinking about the tartlet of amarena cherry and ricotta di bufala is causing delicious stomach growls.
Address: Lungotevere dei Tebaldi, 4a, 00186.
BEST FOR INNOVATION
Mercerie: Prepare for your preconceptions about ‘trendy’ restaurants to be upended. Mercerie is a fine dining place that is noticeably modern and glossy (the kitchen’s frosted glass sliding door is motion-sensored, the bartenders perform effortless, artful tricks whilst making cocktails) yet which consciously manages to balance the superficial with real substance. There is a confidence about Mercerie that is justified, yet it never spills over into arrogance. In this it mirrors its Michelin starred head chef, Igles Corelli, who brings a lifetime of Italian cuisine knowledge to bear on a simply wonderful dining experience.
Address: Via di S. Nicola de’ Cesarini, 4/5, 00186.
BEST FOR GOURMET STREET FOOD [NB: Images on Facebook Photos page]
Pianoalto: Founded, operated and overseen by four women, Pianoalto is the sister venue to Pianostrada, and is located across two high-up floors that provide wonderful views of the city. That isn’t the only wonderful aspect here, however, as the menu (think creative, gourmet, street-food) presents many signature dishes. Believe me, if you haven’t tasted the restaurant’s Bacca Burger (salt cod burger, fried zucchini flowers, focaccia, lemon – encased in a squid-ink bun) then you haven’t lived.
Address: Lungotevere Portuense, 200, 00153.
BEST FOR CONTEMPORARY [NB: Images on home page]
Spazio Niko Romito: After winding your way through a coffee bar to the back of this space, you will chance upon a fine dining restaurant that could pass as a city-based greenhouse. Welcome to the workplace and (yes) actual laboratory of Niko Romito, the Michelin-starred chef who applies diligent research to ensure his everyday ingredients are transformed into light, fresh meals. The aesthetic here is to crunch everything down to its essence – the food here is minimalistic compared to other restaurants, but the proof (so the speak) is in the pudding. Exceptional.
Address: Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, 9, 00198.
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA