The Taste of Tomorrow: New Dining Trends in Rome
Andrea Federici / courtesy of Smith Street Books.The Eternal City: Recipes and Stories from Rome is journalist Maria Pasquale's love letter to her adopted city. The Australian expat's beautiful book brims with photos, stories, and recipes in chapters dedicated to "a distinct concept that is part of daily life for most Romans" — like the trattoria, the market, the pizzeria, and at home, among others. We've published a recipe for the classically Roman cookie brutti ma buoni, and in the excerpt below have her take on Rome's culinary future: "The New Romans: New Dining Concepts and Trends."
While the culinary DNA of Rome is steeped in history and tradition, the city is still a modern capital that evolves constantly with new concepts and influences. Whether it be a famous chef who regularly brings back the tastes and techniques of their travels or the young Romans trying to break through with innovative ideas, there is always something new on the Roman dining scene, and some of these changes are even making waves around the world.
Renowned Roman pizza maker Stefano Callegari continues to expand his Trapizzino (the now famous gourmet pizza pocket) brand to the United States and Japan; mixologist Patrick Pistolesi has positioned Drink Kong on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars; and pioneers like Pier Daniele Seu and Marco Radicioni have respectively turned pizza and gelato on their heads. These modern-day Romans are making headlines, pushing boundaries and setting new trends.
Classics on the Run
Italians have never been strangers to the panino (a breadroll sandwich), but the Roman landscape has started to see new ways of presenting them. One of my favourite stalls at the Testaccio Market is Mordi e Vai ("bite and run"). The stall has been so successful because the formula is so simple. You choose a dish, from crumbed meat cutlets to l’allesso (succulent boiled meat) for the tame, or the full Roman offal selection (tripe; tongue; coratella – heart, lungs and liver) for the adventurous, and your panino is filled with the bread soaked in the tasty, lard-filled oil used to cook the dishes. Testaccio Market has become a haven for gastronomes with food outlets popping up throughout, but the panini at Mordi e Vai are so mouthwatering, you’ll not want to try anything else.
Roman Mixology and the Speakeasy
The first speakeasy on Rome’s bar scene opened in 2010. Before that, Romans had never been exposed to the underground cocktail scene that seems to have taken the rest of the world by storm. These trendy bars are quietly popping up all over town, found in butcher shops, barbers, and garages.
The Jerry Thomas Project is located in a dark alleyway with no other bars or restaurants, right by Piazza Navona. As you walk down the street, you would never suspect that one of Rome’s best cocktail bars lies therein. To get into the bar you must book ahead and provide a password at the door, and owner Alessandro Procoli says they don’t make exceptions for anyone.
He and his business partner Leonardo Leuci travelled the world and researched extensively to give this project life. Alessandro says the philosophy of their speakeasy is to showcase the mixology of years gone by. "Here in Rome, we gave birth to the first speakeasy of its kind in Italy, and we are still the benchmark, inspiration and role model for bars and mixologists across the country."
Another driving force behind Rome’s cocktail culture evolution is Patrick Pistolesi. Half Roman, half Irish, he has bartended for more than two decades, consulted on mixology around the world and opened Drink Kong in Rome. The venue is all neon lights and dark corners and the cocktails – with international bites to match – are outstanding.
And like most international cities, Roman drinking has finally moved to the rooftops. Just some of the vantage points with a killer view include The Court, the magnificent Cielo terrace atop the luxury Hotel de la Ville, Adele Mixology Lounge with 360-degree views of the Roman skyline, and Terrazza Borromini with a bird’s-eye view of Piazza Navona.
Gelato is serious business in Italy. And while many gelaterie in Rome claim to produce home-made, artisanal gelato, the truth is, many don’t.
In the early 2000s, Maria Agnese Spagnuolo moved to Rome from Puglia in Italy’s south to pursue her theatre career. When she was diagnosed as a celiac, she walked away from the arts world and began nurturing her childhood passion – gelato! And so Fatamorgana was born, now with multiple locations across the city.
I’m not talking about just any gelato. Fatamorgana gelato is 100 percent natural, home-made, and gluten-free (even the cones). They are completely free of artificial coloring or additives, with lactose-free and vegan varieties also available.
The flavors you find here aren’t necessarily the ones Italians were raised on. While they produce all the classics (hazelnut, pistachio, lemon ... ), they’ve become famous for unique flavour combinations, such as Kentucky tobacco-infused chocolate; basil, pear and gorgonzola; rose petal and black rice – and whatever else is in season. Maria Agnese says, "The secret to our success has been our ability to recognize and select prize produce – from varying types of almonds and pistachios, to quality fruits."
Roman-born Marco Radicioni also started his career on a different path but ended up with his famed gelateria, Otaleg. It’s easy to remember because it’s gelato spelt backwards. And that’s no accident either, but perhaps the perfect way to describe his concept; that is, turning the traditional upside down!
Otaleg hit the ground in 2012, but Marco says the idea had been brewing for at least a decade. "My vision can be defined by one of subtraction. Working by continuously eliminating all that is superfluous. That is, to leave only the finest of ingredients, creative thought and the feeling that the taste leaves you with – regardless of the time and cost it takes to produce it."
That’s why Otaleg gelato is natural and offers the consumer only the best-quality produce. It’s completely seasonal – at different times of the year you’ll find figs, raspberries (my absolute favorite), persimmons, chestnuts, and coconut on the menu. But you’ll find adventurous offerings too, like couscous, chicken broth, biscuits and gorgonzola, brie and peaches, and the Roman classic cacio e pepe. Every idea that travels through Marco’s mind, conventional or not, usually ends up in a gelato tin here.
"Gelato is my favorite food. It brings joy and makes you reflect. And remember not to chew it – what a waste of time!"
Dining? Isn’t that what Rome and pizza has always been about? Well, no. In Rome, the neighborhood pizzeria is usually a bustling hive of activity. You sit, you order, you eat, you get out. It’s reasonably quick, it’s delicious, but it certainly isn’t a linger and indulge experience.
Enter pizza restaurants, as opposed to just pizzerie. These restaurants focus on the most premium and indulgent of ingredients, on a wine or craft beer list and on creating more of a journey for diners, like the absolute hottest and best in town, Seu Pizza Illuminati. Pier Daniele Seu has won just about every award there is and has cemented his name as one of Italy’s and Rome’s best pizzaioli.
Together with his wife, Valeria Zuppardo, they keep pushing boundaries, and every season they devise a new menu to keep you on your toes. You’ll find things like cocoa powder and coffee, liquorice and spritz gel on their pizzas; you can choose to try these tasting-menu style (“degustazione”) and follow them up with a dessert pizza (uncommon in Italy).
Another hotspot on the outskirts of Rome is Jacopo Mercuro’s 180 Grammi. Yes, you come here for the pizzas – thin, crunchy, Roman style – but the fritti (fried starters) like their trademarked sampietrini (cobblestones – to give you an idea of the shape) are filled with cucina Romana classics like coda alla vaccinara (Roman-style oxtail stew) and cacio e pepe.
The whole pizza landscape continues to evolve with a host of gourmet pizza restaurants hitting town, like Sant’Isidoro Pizza & Bolle in the Prati quarter serving up pizza and, as the name suggests, bubbles, as well as Spiazzo in Ostiense where pizza slices come topped individually on the plate like works of art.
New Roman Gourmands
It’s hard to go past the classics. But what about when you take the classics, deconstruct and play with them a little, and they give you that same nostalgic feeling? That’s what you’ll find with many of the dishes at Riccardo Di Giacinto’s Ristorante All’Oro, which deservedly has one Michelin star.
His fun take on coda alla vaccinara arrives in the form of a chocolate rocher and his riassunto di carbonara is a carbonara cream with crispy guanciale served quite literally in an eggshell. It tastes exactly like carbonara, it engenders the comfort of a carbonara, but it’s a contemporary interpretation, and for me, that’s not only okay, it’s outstanding and impressive. It demonstrates an even deeper knowledge of Roman cuisine because it transforms it without losing its essence. The same goes for his maritozzi salati (savoury maritozzi) that I’m addicted to. Usually, maritozzi are sweet and stuffed with fresh cream. Riccardo delivers them with various fillings, from the signature chicken salad to burrata and pomodorini to a twist on the Piedmontese classic, vitello tonnato.
The all female-run Pianostrada continues to delight Rome with an ever-changing seasonal menu that can be savored in their vintage-style bistro and open kitchen space or in the fairy-light-filled garden. Chef Paola has a wonderful talent for flavours and fusion with an eye on quality. Their version of the famed Roman fiori di zucca (stuffed zucchini flowers) comes deconstructed, with each flower lightly tempura fried and layered in a stack with anchovies, buffalo mozzarella, and Pianostrada’s signature lemon zest.
And the guys behind Rome’s contemporary Retrobottega, Alessandro Miocchi and Giuseppe Lo Iudice, have brought the world of foraging to the Roman table. Here, minimalist decor, small plates and stories of the land combine to stimulate the senses.
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Reprinted with permission from The Eternal City: Recipes and Stories from Rome, © 2023 Maria Pasquale. Published by Smith Street Books.
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