This restaurant is tucked away in a side street between Knightsbridge and Hyde Park, and opened in November 2017. Its website makes no mention of the background of the chef or owners but after some digging around it turns out that the head chef is a gentleman called Alessandro Pagliaretti, who is from Rome. The menu is notionally all about the food of Rome and Lazio, but in fact the menu darts around Italy, with dishes from Sicily to Sardinia as well as Northern Italy, in addition to ones from Rome. Antipasti dishes ranged in price from £14 to £22, pasta dishes £14 to £22, main courses £19 to £29 and desserts £9, with a simple side salad at £7, as were vegetables.
The all-Italian wine list had 53 labels and started at £29 before rising rapidly up to £650. Despite the fact that the median price of the wine here was £65, with just three exceptions there were no vintages listed at all. Moreover, some of the descriptions were highly ambiguous. For example consider the “Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut”. Valdobbiadene is a town near Venice with numerous producers – which one appears on this list is a mystery. For an illustration of why seeing the vintages is important, consider the Antinori Tignanello, listed without vintage at £180. Might this be the 2016, whose retail price is £96, or the sublime 1978, whose market value is £241? Perhaps it is somewhere in between, so who could sensibly buy this bottle, sight unseen? To add insult to injury, the markups are vast: the wines averaging a median markup of 3.6 times their retail (never mind wholesale) price, one of the highest I have seen.
Sample references were Torresella Sauvignon Blancat £38 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for about £7, Vernacio di san Giminiano Colombaio St Chiaraat £65 compared to its retail price of £12, and Cont'Ugo Tenuta Guado al Tassoat £94 for a wine that will set you back £38 in the high street. For those with the means there was Sassacaia Bolgheri Tenuta San Guido 2014 at £450 compared to its retail price of £174, and Antinori Solaia Tenuta Tignanelloat £480 for a wine whose current market value averages £235 across vintages. This whole list is a lazy upraised middle finger to customers, who the restaurant presumably assumes are either too ignorant to care about vintages or are too stupid to notice that they are being fleeced, or both.
The dining room is dimly lit but pleasantly decorated, with tiny tables that may encourage you to think you have stumbled into an old episode of “Land of the Giants”. On each table was a pot of basil, each plant pot taking up a substantial proportion of the available table space. In due course the waiter cut a little basil and doused it in olive oil, and after its removal you have a fighting chance of getting two plates on the table at once.
Salt cod fritters were pleasant enough, with crisp batter and not being overly salty (13/20). Gnocchi had black truffle sauce poured over them at the table. These had good texture, and the truffle sauce was rich and enjoyable (14/20). We had pasta dishes rather than main courses, both served in saucepans rather than on plates, which must save on the washing up. Cacio e pepe is the classic Roman pasta dish featuring just cheese and pepper. The pasta itself had very good texture, though for me a bit more peppery bite would have made the dish better. Moreover it would be more traditional to amalgamate the Pecorino Romano with starchy pasta water to create a creamy emulsion to coat the pasta rather than just lay a slice of cheese on top of the pasta (12/20). A beef ragu with mushrooms and guanciale on fettucine pasta was marginally the better of the two dishes, the pasta again having very good texture, the ragu reasonably rich. It was odd, or at least untraditional, to see mushrooms, and especially button mushrooms, in the ragu, but I liked the flavour of the ragu itself (13/20).
A side salad of rocket and Pecorino cheese had no dressing, but a bottle of olive oil and vinegar were brought to the table. The rocket itself was peppery and of good quality, but if I wanted to make my own salad dressing I would eat at home rather than pay £9 for someone to put the ingredients (which I doubt cost much more than £1) on the table and let me do it. Why not go the whole hog and just leave all the ingredients for the guests to prepare? Maybe just put a pasta machine on the table with a bag of OO flour and some eggs and just let the customers get on with it. Desserts were made in house with the exception of the ice cream. Almond tart had decent pastry and good almond flavour (13/20), but the tiramisu was better, having plenty of coffee flavour (easily 14/20). Coffee was from a Nespresso machine.
Service was functional rather than particularly friendly, and towards the end of the meal the two waiters abandoned the dining room completely. When we got the bill the waitress said that service was already included, but “You could of course add more”. I am sure that we could have done but (spoiler alert) we didn't. The bill came to £59 a head with just water to drink, and bear in mind that we had only pasta dishes rather than main courses. If you ordered three courses, water and coffee and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might come to around £90 or more. This is hardly cheap, though you are of course in an expensive part of town. I found Osteria Romana a somewhat frustrating experience. The pasta was really very good, but to set against that you have the high pricing, dismal wine list and lacklustre service.