Our final stop on our Azamara cruise was in Rome, one of my favourite cities in the world. We had some fortuitous timing and our visit coincided with white truffle season which starts in November, the prize truffle that only grows in Italy and some areas of Croatia. Needless to say there was so much to see and do in Rome. The cost of a truffle dish while they are in season is not exorbitant, it is affordable allowing Romans a treat every day should they wish.
"Signor, tartufi por favor" the man says walking into the small restaurant on the quiet side street of Rome. Osteria Barberini's chef and owner Gabriele Guadagno nods and holds out an upturned palm to direct the man and his family of seven downstairs. It's a routine that we will watch over and over again, with tourists and locals flocking to the restaurant that specialises in both Roman food and truffles.
There is a white and black truffle under a glass dome each revolving slowly like a jewel on display. We're in the midst of white truffle season here in Rome that starts from late October through November. At Osteria Barberini there is no shortage of truffle dishes and all at reasonable prices. Italy has the white truffle, a truffle that you cannot grow outside certain areas of Italy and Croatia.
Gabriele picks one up, his hand dwarfing the small truffle that appears like ginger and waves it under my nose. He does the same with the Scorzone black truffle and the aroma is completely different. The Bianco Pregiato white truffle is stronger and hits you strongly.
Gabriele appears again and we ask for his recommendations. "Everything is good," he says deadpan but then points us towards the risotto for a taste of white truffle and the ravioli for a taste of the black. He is a seventh generation Roman and the Roman specialties are marked on the menu. We try a Satrico Bianco Lazio wine from the region with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Trebbiano grapes. It's a fabulous wine.
We start with a crostini topped with pecorino shavings, rocket and fine slices of aromatic black truffle that have an almost creamy coloured centre.
Our mains come out and I start with the white truffle risotto made with Prosecco. The rice has the tiniest bite in texture but is creamy and moreish. Usually Mr NQN finds risotto hard eating and stops after a few forkfuls but he eats this with relish. The truffles are particularly fragrant here.
The other main is the house made ravioli filled with ricotta and served with a creamy mushroom based sauce and topped with shaved truffles. The pockets of pasta are plump with filling and the pasta is well made.
Mr NQN is still hungry so we order the lasagna. "Still hungry, like me," Gabriele says rubbing his belly. It's not often that you see a lasagna topped with truffle shavings. It's good, the flavour boosted with porcini with a fine layer of black truffle on top.
"My mother makes the desserts," Gabriele says appearing again. Although he is the chef, he spends a lot of time on the floor attending to and talking to guests. "This is my mother's recipe," he explains. His father sits at the desk at the front and nods. His mother is a children's doctor but helps out with the desserts. The torta della nonna (technically, "grandma's cake" and a Tuscan creation) is a lemon, egg and ricotta cream filled tart topped with pine nuts. The filling is wonderfully soft and it's freshly made so that the filling oozes gently out when you take a fork to it.
We pay our bill and go for a walk. We're both tired after the amount of travel but the sun is shining and we wander around the streets. We watch as a man takes a sip from a fountain - yes it's fine to fill your bottle with water from these fountains and it tastes fine too.
We find ourselves at the Trevi Fountain. It is being repaired but it doesn't stop tourists from dropping the three coins in the fountain in the hopes for a return to Rome (and it worked for me the last time I visited). Alas it is now just a walk through scaffolding site.
We wander around the streets marvelling at all the ancient buildings. Soon we reach our hotel the M Gallery Griffe, a unique boutique hotel where our suite is one of the most unusual we've ever stayed in. Would you like to take a peek inside Dear Reader?
Our suite is the fitness suite which made me think that I had misheard things. It is a two floor suite and we enter the downstairs area with a comfortable leather two seater and two chairs and a Juliet balcony looking down onto busy Via Nazionale. There is a large dining table and enormous flat screen television and a small bathroom downstairs.
Climbing the spiral staircase we reach the top floor where a large king size bed awaits. Next to this is a jacuzzi bath which is one of those things that I love although if you're not sharing with your significant other this can make things awkward if you want to have a bath!
This leads through to the shower, toilet, bidet and sink with motion sensor lights. The shower has multiple heads pointing in different directions for a water massage. And then there is the gym and sauna. Yep that's right a small gym and sauna in our very own suite-hence why it is called the fitness suite! I love creative suites and we really enjoy our stay here.
After a short afternoon's rest for Mr NQN and some work for me we head back out in search of dinner. I had a place in mind - in a city like Rome there are plenty of touristy places to dine at and I wanted to avoid known tourist traps. Alas the place that we were looking for was such a hidden gem that there was no website and no opening hours and they were closed.
Deflated, we search the streets for wifi (to no avail) before returning to the hotel and looking for an alternate venue that was within an easy walking distance. Osteria Quarantaquattro is about 12 minutes' walk away and they take bookings so we ask the concierge to book us a table.
Located on Via Aureliana which is a side street that tends to be a little quiet, it's a restaurant that gets rave reviews not just for the food but for the service. Indeed, when we walk in we are greeted warmly by the maitre'd who shakes both our hands and welcomes us. He's professional but warm and offers us both complimentary glasses of Prosecco to start off our evening.
Our waiter also has a deft touch with service, he's slightly cheeky but never oversteps. The decor is smart and stylish which belies the fact that this restaurant is great value. There is an indoor and outdoor section but as it is chilly and segueing into winter, we choose to sit indoors.
They set down our prosecco and some salmon tartare on triangles. When we ask him the specials he says, "Please relax and enjoy the salmon and the prosecco, I will be back soon." It's a little of that relaxed La Dolce Vita that is perhaps missing from our lives and we do as instructed.
English is spoken here which means that the restaurant is very popular with Americans but the menu is all in Italian but the waiter translates everything that we can't understand and makes recommendations.
We start with thinly sliced raw mushrooms with chunks of parmesan cheese and a light amount of truffles. They are so light that it's hard to discern the truffles but it's a tasty, fresh dish nevertheless.
Our pasta dishes arrive and I start with the home made pappardelle, thick ribbons of pasta served with a rich duck ragu. The tomato based sauce is rich and coats the ribbons of pasta well.
But it's the spaghetti with pieces of tender seabass, lemon, capers and extra virgin olive oil that I am smitten with (although Mr NQN finds it too strong in lemon for his taste, he dislikes lemons whereas I love them). It's fresh, the spaghetti perfectly cooked and the lemon and capers give the fish a delightful freshness. I can see myself replicating this at home.
By now we are comfortably full but we have a main to come. Thankfully we have only shared the one main and it's an Osso Bucco done Roman style instead of the traditional Milanese style. Here it is served with a generous amount of peas and some carrots. I take the bone parts while Mr NQN takes the meat. The meat itself is soft but I love the marrow and peas that I spread onto the dark and nutty bread provided. Heaven.
It was a choice between cake or semifreddo and the latter won out as Mr NQN loves ice cream. It is served semi frozen (hence the name) with a fluffy, dreamy consistency alongside pistachios and fresh berries. It's gone within four gulping spoonfuls by Mr NQN who adores it and me who just moments earlier had protested that I was full. But Rome does that to you.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever planned a trip around a particular food or food season? Are you a truffle lover? Would you enjoy staying at the Fitness Suite?
NQN travelled to Europe as a guest of Azamara Cruises and stayed in Rome as a guest of Accor and MGallery La Griffe Rome. All meals in this post were independently paid for.
Azamara Club Cruises
Fares start from $3,699 per person twin share for a 10-night Great Barrier Reef voyage onboard Azamara Quest. For further information or to make a booking, visit www.azamaraclubcruises.com, phone 1800 754 500 or contact your local travel agent.
Via della Purificazione, 21, 00187 Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 474 3325
Monday to Saturday 12:15-2:45 pm, 6:30-10:45 pm
La Griffe Roma MGallery Collection
Via Nazionale 13, 00184 Rome, Italy
Via Aureliana, 42/44, 00187 Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 4201 3318
7 day 7am-midnight