Via dei Giubbonari 21, Rome, 00186, Italy

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Roscioli is a tiny place, both a bakery and a restaurant. It is a family run venture that is now in its fourth generation, and the bakery dates back to 1824. As you enter there is a bar with counter seats, with tables at the back. There are also cabinets stacked high with delicatessen offerings like dried pasta.

There was a vast wine list. A huge book of Italian wines was accompanied by another huge book of wines from the rest of world. Examples were Antinori Marchese Classico Riserva 2021 at €45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for around €38, Frescobaldi Rufina Riserva Vigna Montesodi Chianti 2020 at €88 for a wine that retails at €57, and Vignobles de la Coulee de Serrant 'Clos de la Coulee de Serrant' 2012 at €125 for a bottle that will set you back €153 in the high street. There were plenty of grander offerings too, such as Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi 2013 at €730 for a wine that retails at €402.

A focaccia tray offered a classic focaccia and one with a topping of tomato. The classic with olive oil was good but the tomato one was even better, with the wonderful quality tomatoes with deep flavour that you only find in a really hot climate like southern Italy. Culatello ham from Parma was aged in a Roscioli-owned cellar and served with olives. Culatello is from the thigh of the pig, stuffed in a pig bladder and cured for up to 14 months. This ham is documented as being produced as far back as 1735, is still made by hand and is the costliest Italian ham. It doesn’t seem right for me to score a bought-in dish such as ham but this was certainly lovely, with delicate silky texture and deep flavour, nicely complemented by the olives.

Spicy Cantabrian sardines came with Taggiasche olives from Liguria on crunchy bread. There were also a few vegetables (carrots, red peppers, cauliflower) pickled in vinegar. The plum sardines were lovely and the texture of the flatbread worked well with them, but the clever part of the dish was the pickled vegetables. Their tartness from the pickling process worked really well with the natural oiliness of the sardines, resulting in a very well-balanced dish (15/20).

Carbonara (“coal worker style”) is another classic Roman dish, though its origins are much disputed. Spaghetti with guanciale (cured pork cheek), is flavoured with pecorino cheese and black pepper. The cured pork adds a saltiness that works well with the generous amount of black pepper, and the eggs were from Paolo Parisi in Pisa, noted for their high-quality yolk due to the goats milk fed to his hens. The pasta was cooked al dente. This was an excellent dish (15/20). In terms of the history of the carbonara dish, I consulted a published food historian, and am informed that there is no definitive answer, just competing theories. One is that carbonara was invented in Naples, another that it originated in Abruzzo, another that it originated in see the USA, another that it came from Lazio and others that it came from Rome, where it was certainly popularised. The truth is probably lost in the mists of time. It may well have been a local Roman family dish that was later made famous in restaurants. For more on this see the excellent book Semplice by Dino Joannides.

Cacio e Pepe is a Roman classic, a very simple dish of spaghetti, cheese and pepper. The dish was certainly produced in the 19th century and probably well before that. In addition to the classic Pecorino Romano, the version here uses Moliterno (a hard sheep milk cheese) and Pecorino di fossa cheese from Sogliano al Rubicone. This is a sheep milk cheese matured for five months. The pepper here is a blend of Indian pepper, Malaysia Sarawak pepper and Chinese Sichuan pepper; the peppers are roasted in a pan to bring out their aromas. The result is a really deep flavour that beautifully complements the excellent pasta. This was superb cacio e pepe (16/20). 

Deer was from a farm called Zilieri. This was pan seared and came with purple potatoes and white and green asparagus, with a sauce of the cooking juices and a little raspberry vinegar. A spinach side dish was cooked in French butter with a little 36 month aged Parmesan Reggiano cheese. The deer was cooked pink and had very deep flavour, the earthy asparagus a nice contrast to the richness of the sauce (15/20).

Two aged Parmesan cheese then appeared. One was aged for 60 months and the other 84 months, served with a Balsamic vinegar aged for 20 years. Both were superb, and the balsamic was remarkable, intense with considerable sweetness. After all that food I could only manage ice cream - Madagascar vanilla ice cream. The ice cream had very good texture and nice vanilla flavour, though the degree of vanilla used could have been more (15/20). I can recall one version at Epicure with a remarkable amount of visible vanilla flecks and deep flavour. The Roscioli version was certainly very good though. 

Coffee was from Gianni Frasi, a speciality roaster from Verona who also produces Maricha dried peppers. The family’s coffee business dates back to 1947 and is now run by Simone Fumagalli. The company still roasts the coffee beans over an open flame, using the same machine that was used in 1947. The coffee itself was from Guatemala and was excellent. With the coffee came a little dish of hazelnut doughnuts made with red wine and olive oil. These came with a dip of Ecuadorean chocolate sauce.

Service was charming, my waiter (Salvatore) having considerable depth of knowledge of the dishes and the origin of the ingredients. I was being treated to this meal by a friend so I did not see the bill, but if you ordered three courses and had some modest wine then a typical cost per person might be around €80 (£68). This seems to be great value given the high quality of ingredients used here. Roscioli is all about ingredient quality. Its owner Maria Elena Roscioli scours Italy for the very finest products to use in the food here, and the cooking is intentionally restrained and simple, to show off the fine ingredients. It is highly recommended.

Further reviews: 18th Feb 2014 | 01st Sep 2008

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