When in Rome

Saturday, March 08th , 2014

rome 5472 view over St Peters-crop-v2.JPG

Pergola was on excellent form. Heinz Beck has a deep interest in nutrition, lecturing on it at a local university, and the result is that his dishes are unusually light by the standards of Italian food. The cooking here is modern Italian, with the chef’s toys in the kitchen put to good use with a superb take on osso bucco: a centrifuge is used to produce a meat jelly, served with beef tartare with a deconstructed gremolata to provide some balance. The intensity of the meat jelly was really remarkable, an example of using modern cooking technique in a way that actually enhances flavour. The rest of the meal was lovely too, with the signature fagotelli carbonara just one highlight, another being a superb foie gras and mushroom dish. Service is very slick here, and the wine cellar is vast, with 65,000 bottles available.

The newest three star Michelin restaurant in Italy is Reale in a mountainous area in Abruzzo, about 85 miles east of Rome. This is a two and a half hour drive, or two hours with an Italian driver. Reale is in a remote spot in an old monastery, and the décor is a touch stark, though the dining room has a nice view over the nearby hillsides. One positive was the very generously priced wine list, meaning that you can indulge with very low mark-ups. The food is quite classical, and I was really looking forward to it, but was rather disappointed. There were some very good dishes such as the suckling pig, but the general standard was around one star rather than three, and there was actually one quite poor pasta dish. It is partly an issue of expectation: if this has been a one star restaurant I would have been perfectly happy, although it was a touch expensive for that level. However the three star rating seemed to me completely incorrect based on this meal. There are other two star restaurants in Italy that I much preferred to this.

Roscioli is a wonderful bakery and delicatessen that also has a few tables. It was just as good as I remember it, though its reputation has grown since my last visit as it was packed out at a Monday lunch. Ingredients are of a high standard here, and the cooking is rustic but excellent: a lovely spaghetti carbonara, superb rigatoni with two different Parmesan cheeses and the excellent bread were delightful. As a bonus the wine list is extensive and very kindly priced, with many wines only a little more than their UK retail price. It is not fine dining, and the service can be a little chaotic, but this is a little gem of a restaurant.

Back in London I tried the chef’s table experience at Parlour. This is a secluded table next to the kitchen, from which the chef produces an extensive surprise menu of many of the dishes on the menu, and more besides. Old favourites like the home-cured smoked salmon and inventive salads featured, as did a clever take on chicken nuggets and a superb parsnip puree accompanying the sea bass. There was even, in a nod to Alinea, a dessert “painted” on the table by the chef. The cooking at Parlour shows both skill and wit, with some truly original dishes, a high degree of skill and a genuine sense of fun.