Pergola is within the impressive Hilton Cavalieri hotel, which is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the city. The dining room in on the 9th floor, has fine views out over the city, and is lavishly decorated. The owner of the hotel has a reputedly vast art collection, and the dining room has several pieces on display, including paintings, glassware and furniture. The room has a blue/gold patterned carpet, picture windows and generously spaced tables. Chef Heinz Beck trained originally at Heinz Winkler before moving to Pergola.
Pergola is laid out along one side of the hotel in which it is situated, the dining room snaking along the top of a hillside overlooking Rome; this layout means that most tables have at least some part of the view, and a spectacular view it is. All of Rome sprawls beneath you, with St Peter’s Basilica just one of the clearly visible landmarks. The dining room itself is lavishly decorated, with mirrors along the rear wall and lovely pieces of art dotted around the room.
Bread is made in the kitchens, Italian rolls with top class olive oil for dipping, with the flatbread being my favourite of those tried. There was even a salt trolley to complement the olive oil, with a wide array of salts from around the world, from Japan, Hawaii and France amongst others; truly the salt of the earth. Perhaps the most intriguing was a Norwegian salt that tasted slightly of pepper, a sort of all in one condiment. I generally prefer French bread to Italian, but this was certainly well made (8/10). As I mentioned in my last review, the wine cellar here is immense, with 3,000 separate wines available and 60,000 bottles.
On this visit I had an enhanced tasting menu (the regular one costs EUR 198), which arrived as follows. Salmon with a little fennel salad and tangerine sauce was the introductory taste, and although the combination is perfectly sensible and the fennel was good, I found the salmon itself somewhat unexciting (7/10). The meal got into its stride with a duck liver terrine with smoked apple, almonds and amaretti. This was spectacularly good dish, the terrine having stunning flavour, the apple providing just enough balancing acidity (10/10).
Deep fried courgette (zucchini) flower with caviar on shellfish and saffron sauce was a pretty dish, the courgette flower arranged in a star, the sauce having clean flavours (8/10).
First of a trio of pasta dishes was “Mezza lune” with broccoli, squid and clams. This was extremely delicate, and mix of shellfish and broccoli worked well (9/10). Fagotelli “La Pergola” is a feature of the menu here, and has remarkably light pasta (9/10).
Tangerine risotto with scampi carpaccio and mint was technically skilled and had lovely langoustines, though I wondered whether the mint was a flavour too far (8/10).
Following the pasta was a Cannolo of scampi and vegetables, olive sauce and tapioca with Campari; again the langoustines were extremely good, though they are a delicate taste that for me got a little lost amongst the powerful flavour of the olive sauce and the Campari (8/10).
Warm emincé of sea bass with vegetables marinated in olive oil was impressive, the fish itself perfectly cooked and with lovely flavour, the excellent vegetables giving a nice light balance to the dish, and a again a sense of the tastes being very clean and pure came through in this dish (9/10).
Black cod with marinated anchovy’s vinaigrette and sweet chill pepper was perhaps my favourite dish of the night, the reason being the incredible accurate use of the pepper, which was in exactly the right balance to lift the taste of the cod, but no more; in less skilled hands this dish would just be a blast of spice, but this worked really well (10/10).
A warm Emincé of hunter’s style rabbit on sweet pepper cream was also successful, the pepper cream superb with intense, pure flavour, the rabbit excellent (9/10). The final savoury course was liquorice-flavoured shoulder of Iberian suckling pig with herbed potatoes. I am not personally that keen on liquorice as a flavour, but it was well controlled here, and the pork itself was of very high quality (9/10).
A trolley contained an entirely Italian cheese selection, the cheeses in very good condition. I found a local goat cheese that superficially resembled St Maure was particularly impressive, but the better known cheeses such as Taleggi, Gorgonzola were all good (9/10).
Orange jelly with bergamot ice cream and edible flowers was a very pretty dessert, the jelly having lovely texture and clean flavour (8/10). An iced pomegranate ball on gianduia cream was the final dessert, leaving the meal on a pleasing rich note (8/10). Coffee was top class (9/10), along with a little silver box in which drawers opened out to reveal an array of excellent petit fours (9/10).
Service was flawless through the evening. Wine pairing was generous throughout. For those interested this ran through Guilio Ferrari Reserva del Fondatore 2000, Girlan Sauvignon Flora 2008, Vigneti Massa Derthona 2006, Manincor Pinot Nero Mason 2007, Borgogno Barolo riserva 1978, and then I finished on a high with JJ Prum Auslese 2005 and d’Yquem 2002.
The thing which came across through this lengthy meal was a lightness in the cooking (Heinz lectures in nutrition) and a sense of clean, pure flavours. Despite the number of courses (which were more than just bites) the meal felt fulfilling rather than overwhelming. This is a very skillful kitchen brigade.
The notes below are from my first visit, in September 2008.
We initially sat in an attractive ante-room while we read the menu, nibbling on some excellent bread sticks and macadamia nuts. Amuse bouche of an excellent deep fried red gamberi Mediterranean prawn, tomato with mozzarella and an aubergine cone with tempura vegetable were very good; the latter appearing with the aubergine as edible “paper” wrapping for the tempura. On the menu starters are around EUR 49, first courses EUR 44-65, main courses EUR 54-62 and cheese EUR 25, while the nine course tasting menu is EUR 195 (six courses is UER 170). All the incidentals are carefully attended to. There is even a mineral water menu with no less than 27 choices from around the world, each with tasting notes (mostly around EUR 8 a bottle).
The wine list is immense, two large tomes, one for Italian wines, one for the rest of the world. The wine collection here has an amazing 3,000 choices, the cellar having 60,000 bottles. A few examples include Antinori Tignanello 2004 at a not unreasonable EUR 140 for a wine that retails for perhaps EUR 60 or so, Trimbach Frederich Emile 1999 listed at EUR 110 for a wine that in the shops costs around EUR 30-35. Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 is more reasonably priced at EUR 90 for a wine that is about EUR 40 in the shops in the UK. A wide selection of bread rolls appears, served warm: white, pumpkin seed, milk, brown, olive oil, rosemary and soy (around 8/10), as well as a “strega” bread that is a local form of the thin carta di musica, which was excellent. The bread is served with some top class olive oil and a selection of four different salts.
The meal proper began with a stunning sorbet of yoghurt with cucumber sauce. This had remarkable depth of flavour for what is inherently hardly the most exciting taste in the world (10/10). A little piece of tuna with dried artichoke and soy was lovely (9/10), while amberjack fish with pepper and herb sauce had good taste (8/10), a little squid with mango was an interesting combination of flavours (8/10) and a potato crisp with aubergine, tomato and balsamic had very carefully selected vegetables, giving great depth of flavours (9/10).
Next was cylinder of scampi with olive oil powder and tapioca vinaigrette in the form of little globules. A few little vegetable crisps added a welcome firm texture contrast, and the scampi was lovely, though tapioca will always be tapioca (8/10). At this point our meals diverged. Stella had macaroni with a remarkable smoked puree of aubergine which had really deep, smoky taste, an intense tomato sauce, dazzling prawns and dried pepper. The pasta was excellent but the prawns were as good as I have tasted anywhere (9/10 overall).
I had a signature dish of the restaurant, fagotelli pasta with essentially the elements of the local Roman dish carbonara (bacon, eggs) tucked away tidily inside the pasta casing. The pasta itself was lovely, and a nice modern take on a classic (9/10). Red mullet caponata was well matched with an iced mint and honey; the liquid nitrogen flourish for the mint bonbon added nothing (8/10). Turbot “ravioli” encased more superb red prawns, well matched with an earthy soup of puy lentils with fragrant Greek basil (8/10). Medallions of tender lobster and foie gras were served with a lime puff and pea sprouts. Here the modern technique of the puff worked well, adding acidity to balance the richness of he foie gras (9/10).
Fillet of veal was marinated with yogurt and served on a peach puree and a fine reduction of the cooking juices. A clever touch was the addition of a few pieces of roasted pistachio, giving a textural crunch amongst the softness of the puree and the meal, while the peach added useful acidity (10/10).
The cheese board was entirely Italian, and in excellent condition, with classics such as Taleggio, Gorgonzola from Lombardy and Pecorino with thyme, as well as simply the best Parmesan I have ever tasted, amongst a number of less well known choices. While on the cheese board from heaven I would mostly choose French cheeses, it is entirely appropriate that a restaurant in Rome should honour its local products, and they have selected them beautifully (10/10).
A pre-dessert of ricotta cheese puff with diced pear was another example of good balance of flavours, and was very refreshing (9/10). A liquorice soufflé was well executed, though it is not my favourite flavour (8/10). Raspberry gratinee was excellent, more a clafoutis for me, but none the worse for that (9/10). Iced coffee and chocolate had great depth of flavour with a delicate peach sorbet (8/10).
A little silver “chest of drawers” opened out to reveal a host of petit fours, including Palmier biscuits, a perfect almond macaroon, a Tiramisu tart and what an Englishman would call a Jammy Dodger, amongst other delights (9/10 petit fours). Coffee is top of the range, with choices such as Blue Mountain, Mexican coffee, Sidamo from Ethiopia etc.
Service was superb throughout, and we were very well looked after indeed by the whole service team, who were both generous and genuine. A proper 3 star restaurant.