Rome is one of the most charming cities in Italy. Not only are there plenty of sights but the people are also generous and friendly. Here we delve into one of its neighbourhoods. Monti is said to be like Paris's Marais district and there is so much to see and eat there. But make sure whatever you do, to try the Lardo di Colonnata, a Tuscan specialty, lots of gelato and the four classic Roman pasta dishes!
There's always the temptation that when in a city for a short period of time to stay close to the sightseeing highlights. That's a particular challenge for those visiting Rome as the sights are plentiful and the list long but having had a few days in Rome already we decided to visit a small neighbourhood of Monti, Rome's first ward about 200 metres away from our hotel (Mercure Coloseo) near the Colosseum.
We had an ulterior motivce. With feet sore, the Monti area is close to our new hotel, the Mercure Colosseo. Although the room is cosy in size, the hotel's location is superb. Located about 100 metres away from the Colosseum it is also within walking distance of the Jewish quarter and about 300 metres away from the Monti area and close to central Rome.
Service is also excellent and all of the staff speak excellent English and are eager to assist.
Monti is a neighbourhood that has been described as Rome's equivalent of the Marais, a boutique lined hip neighbourhood full of aperitivo bars, restaurants and shops.
Even as recently as in the last 70 years it was a working class area and the haunt of prostitutes. Now a younger crowd has moved in as witnessed by the raw, vegan stores, almond milk, vintage shops and artisinal stores. There is much road work happening in the area which can detract from its charm at times.
It's time for lunch and we have our eyes set for Zia Rosetta, an artisanal sandwich maker started by a gentleman called Alessandro. It's a tiny sliver of a shop located on Via Urbana 54. As the name suggests they specialise in rosetta rolls, so named because they resemble a rose. The menu has an excellent range of rolls, all named after types of roses. There is also a fresh juice menu, somewhat a rarity in Rome and poor sick Mr NQN chooses a juice while I choose the rolls. There is also a wine list available.
Having studied the menu online, I knew that there was one rosetta roll that I wanted to try. The Lardo di Colonnata rosetta roll. We order and take a seat at the tiny tables provided. It's small and most of their business is taken with lunch time deliveries but it doesn't stop the store from filling up its tables while people pick up takeaway order all smartly packed up in signature black paper carrybags.
The serpenti juice is a superb mix of melon, carrot and lemon with plenty of sweet apple and carrot to balance out the lemon.
Ahhh the Lardo di Colonnata! Dear friends, and I think we are all friends here no? Let me explain Lardo di Colonnata. It is a Tuscan specialty making use of two of Tuscany's best products - pork and marble (Michelangelo's David was made in Tuscan Carrara marble). Lardo or pork fat is placed in basins of Carrara marble (only one kind is used) and then salts and aromatics are added. It is then cured in caves for 6 months and then served thinly shaved. Zia Rosetta's lardi di colonnata is made by The Larderia Mafald the oldest Lardo producer in Tuscany. Interestingly, it is said to have a very small amount of cholesterol! It's absolutely delicious and here it is served on a roll with a crispy potato cake. Heaven.
The second rosetta roll is the Vanity, with porchetta and mustard a l'ancienne. The porchetta is warm and filled with a perfectly balanced mix of fat and lean with some lovely crispy bits thrown in too for good measure. It is simply spread with mustard a l'ancienne. But I forgot to mention the roll didn't I? The key to a sandwich is the roll and here it is so fresh and light yet crispy. It's that mix that is so hard to replicate elsewhere. The rolls are baked by Alessandro's friend Simon.
Our eyes betray our stomach some more and we just have to try a few mini rolls. You see mini versions are also available for €2 or €3.
The allspice is a chicken curry with raisins and almonds that isn't bad at all although I think that I prefer the Italian fillings. The Seva is an ode to Scandinavia with smoked salmon, baked potato and a mustard and dill sauce. Alessandro is proud of the potatoes and tells us that they are the best potatoes because he buys them from the market himself. The Moderna is a single plump meatball resting inside a roll with a generous spoon of rich tomato sauce over it.
There's also a daily special with marinated Angus beef with a pecorino cream cheese and an aromatic mixed salad. It's hard to decide which is a favourite out of all of them and we only lament that we can't go back to try more. And just in case I haven't already been completely charmed by Rome and its people already, Alessandro wraps up a generous chunk of Lardo di Colonnata for me! Honestly, are these the most lovely people ever?
We wander into shops and walk around the cobblestone paved neighbourhood. It's unseasonably warm this time of year so we pop into Il Gelatone. There is an impressive range of flavours available and we choose three: marron glace, crema de nonna and a pistacchione, different to the pistachio as it contains pistachio jam.
They are all excellent the crema de nonna such an intriguing mix of pine nuts and vanilla cream. I do love the marron glaces, just pure sweetened chestnut and the pistacchione is thickly studded with pistachio nuts and chunks of pistachio paste.
Nearby at Gelateria dell’Angeletto there is a smaller amount of flavours but they're no less enticing and here they allow you to sample. Their most popular is pistachio but we have had so much that I want to branch out to other flavours. I choose the persimmon that tastes like nothing but pure, sweet persimmon.
I also choose a zabaglione with a hit of marsala but my absolute favourite is the marron and rum or chestnut and rum, a twist on the rum and raisin and even headier a delight.
Right nearby Gelato d'Angeletto, we pop into La Bottega del Cioccolato for one final afternoon treat of chocolates. The range of truffles and chocolate is tempting and the red themed store is a visual treat. All of the chocolates are hand made and sold by weight. The woman in front of me buy just a single chocolate for €0.60c.
I buy four for Mr NQN who is feeling poorly (chocolate fixes all ails right?). I buy a licorice chocolate, a marron chocolate, a pepperoncini or chilli truffle and a log truffle. The chocolatier Maurizio Proietti is the son of a founder of Confetteria Moriondo e Gariglio and the family has been making chocolate since 1800.
Around 6pm Italian indulge in a little ritual called Apertivo. This is where you have a pre dinner drink or an aperitif and at many places this is accompanied by a range of small snacks. Some places lay out an elaborate spread that diners can help themselves to all for the price of a glass of wine. It is sometimes more an exercise in quantity more than quality and some have unlimited buffets where you can practically eat a light dinner.
Fafiuché in the Monti district serves up aperitivo and is located on the Via della Madonna dei Monti. Meaning "lighthearted fun" in Pugliese this small wine bar and retailer is said to have an excellent aperitivo. For just €8 you can have a glass of wine and help yourself to a plate's worth of their evening buffet or a plate is charged at €3 separately. They recommend a glass of Gavi Biologico San Pietro 2013.
It's a mostly starch based buffet but what is there is decent quality. There is even a rice, salami and truffle salad that is strong on truffle. It's fairly quiet inside but it is early and they are pleasant enough although it wasn't quite the atmosphere that I was told there would be. I'm guessing that happens a bit later.
After our aperitivo we walk a few doors down the street to La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, a classic Roman restaurant run by the same family for four generations. Chef Alessio is standing outside with his chef's toque on and his black rimmed glasses.
His standard question with a small smile is "Do you have a reservation?" and it's a sad walk away to those that don't because this restaurant is extremely popular and books out easily. The hotel had booked for us just that morning which is a bit late so we were given the table by the door where we witnessed a great number of people being turned away because they did not have a reservation.
Service from all of the staff is very courteous and attentive and because we had already had an aperitif and food we weren't as hungry as we would normally be. We decide to share an entree and have a pasta each. And as we learn, ordering house wine in Rome can often get you an excellent glass at a very reasonable price.
The decor of the restaurant is like being in someone's home and curiously there are pictures of cats as well as a cabinet full of family photos and trinkets.We ask our waiter about the cats and he explains that they are a "cat friendly restaurant" and that they had sort of adopted a stray cat that lived on the street.
Ahh porchetta, that incredible roasted pork stuffed with herbs. It's a very good version here, strong in herbs and thinly sliced. The garlic bread is very crunchy with olive oil although not particularly strong on the garlic.
In my previous post about Rome's classic four pastas, we had the cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper), carbonara and gricia. The final classic Roman pasta is the Amatriciana, similar to the gricia but with tomato and chilli added to the guanciale and bucatini pasta is the traditional pasta used. This version is superbly saucy and I tuck in my napkin after I find myself having a serious makeout moment with this pasta and realise that I am wearing white. The sauce is sweet and tart while the generous amount of guanciale adds pops of texture and flavour to the pasta which is more hollow and thicker than spaghetti.
Any truffle devotees are advised to quickly get themselves to Italy during truffle season because truffle dishes can be had every single day without breaking the bank. This pappardelle is served with a soft veal ragu and truffle and the aroma of the truffle is superbly intense and suits the soft veal ragu perfectly. It's the kind of dish you eat slowly and strand by strand lest it ever end.
Claudia, Alessio's daughter is said to create the desserts. There were several specials and the one that we gravitate towards is the pistachio cheesecake. It's very light and fluffy with a chocolate cake base although it isn't discernably very pistachio in flavour or much like a cheesecake, more a cream cake than anything else.
By now we realise that our table is a hot piece of real estate so we ask for the bill and depart, the streets to Monti looking just that bit more familiar. Which can only be a good thing.
So tell me Dear Reader, which the four Roman pasta dishes have you tried (cacio e pepe, carbonara, gricia and amatriciana)? Have you ever enjoyed a pasta so much that you eat it by the strand? And what is the best food gift you've even given or been given?
NQN travelled to Europe as a guest of Azamara Cruises and stayed in Rome as a guest of Accor and Mercure Colosseo. All food in this post was independently paid for.
Hotel Mercure Roma Centro Colosseo
Via Labicana, 144, 00184 Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 770021
Via Urbana, 54, Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 3105 2516
28 via dei serpenti, 00184 Rome, Italy
Phone: +39 06 482 0187
Via dell'Angeletto 15, Rome, Italy
Phone: +39 487 4760
La Bottega del Ciocolato
Via Leonina, 82, 00184 Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 482 1473
00184, Via della Madonna dei Monti, 28, Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 699 0968
La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali
Via della Madonna dei Monti, 9, 00184 Roma, Italy
Phone:+39 06 679 8643