Having just returned from a trip to Italy's capital and facing an unusually prolonged heatwave in London, I couldn't help but crave the fantastic pasta I had eaten under the Roman sun just a couple of weeks ago whilst slurping on an ice cold Aperol Spritz. Of course pasta isn't the easiest dish to find done well and in an authentic manner in this city. Yes, if you want a cheap and quick pasta fix Vapiano is far from terrible, though it is technically speaking more German-Italian and the queuing concept doesn't exactly lend itself to a sophisticated dining experience, however if you are searching for that real deal pasta to sweep you of your culinary feet you are seriously going to struggle (and let's not even consider somewhere like Jamie's Italian as capable of serving anything even near passable with their "Anglo-Italian" travesties).
There however appeared to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon after I had heard A LOT of very good things about a little place called Padella, a rather cosy restaurant in the heart of Borough Market, which opened less than a year ago and got me very intrigued to say the least. Owned by the duo behind the highly successful but slightly more pricey Italian restaurant Trullo in Highbury which has been on my to try list for years, Padella's premise is so simple, to only serve fantastic fresh pasta at ridiculously good prices, that you wonder why no one else has done something similar before because here the results are simply outstanding.
Of course news of such a brilliant spot opening it's doors travels very quickly in the London foodie scene, with Padella receiving stellar reviews from all the top restaurant critics out there including one of my favourites Marina O'Loughlin at the Guardian, which has made one of the stools around their bar one of the most coveted seats when it comes to eating out in the capital, further aided by the fact that one has to try pretty hard to spent more than £30 a head here even when eating your way through their starters, pasta mains and with added prosecco.
Determined after my Rome adventure to keep pasta in my life a little longer, we decided to use an early dinner on a Sunday as our chance to dodge the crowds. At this point I do have to mention that between me and my friend hatching these plans and us actually going a terrible, terrible thing happened in the exact location we were planning to head to for this dinner. This was of course the very recent London Bridge terror attack, where innocent people were brutally injured and murdered as they were trying to enjoy their Saturday drinking, eating and just enjoying a warm summer evening. There was still a very sombre feeling in the air as I walked through the market a mere week after it had all happened and heartbreaking reminders of the tragedy that took place here were visible everywhere through flowers and notes left behind.
I will however make one thing very clear here: terrorism is conducted in order to intimidate and deter us from openly living our lives by spreading fear. I for one refuse to let their actions stop me from enjoying not only my life but also London as a whole. I love this city from the bottom of my heart and I also love it's vibrant and constantly evolving eating, drinking and going out scene. I will therefore not only continue to enjoy and visit Borough Market but also all the other things that make this city so bloody brilliant, even if they involve big crowds or other potential "danger factors". I will not let terrorism intimidate me because a life lived in fear is a wasted one.
Anyway to come back to the actual restaurant review and our early Sunday dinner here (which thankfully was still well visited by fellow diners sharing a similar mindset to us). I love a restaurant with a confident and concise menu that does a few things very, very well and that is definitely the case at Padella. Order yourself an ice cold glass of prosecco to start, a very reasonable £5 a pop, and then make sure to get the burrata with Puglian olive oil as fast as is physically possible. Why? At a ridiculously affordable £4.5 you get one of the best burratas, I hazard a confident guess, you'll ever be able to find anywhere in this country, so simple yet so brilliant, especially when you soak up every last bit of cheesy goodness with the delicious bread served on the side.
Moving on to the star of the show which of course is the pasta here. With so many fantastic sounding options on the menu we eventually settled on sharing 3 dishes between the two of us which was just about right. To clarify this isn't going to be the spag bowl size portion you have at home but is indeed much more about trying as many different pasta shapes and sauces as possible so please share to make the most of it! Even with the three we settled for I could have easily tried more of the menu if that had been at all socially acceptable without being classed a total glutton, with 7 of the 8 pasta dishes being suitable for none meat eaters and each already on paper sounding utterly dreamy. They may not have quite measured up to what was undoubtably the best pasta of my life at Da Enzo in Rome ( I still day dream of their Cacio De Pepe), but all three were nonetheless utterly outstanding and of a standard of pasta like I have never had before in the UK.
The gnocchi, served with nutmeg butter and sage, were light yet earthy and inhaled by us in a few forkfuls and the tagliarini (a very thin spaghetti) served with brown shrimps, raw courgette and chilli tasted like summer on a plate with it's vibrant, almost singing flavours. Our absolute highlight however was the most simple sounding of the them all- a plate of divinely made pasta served just with Chiarentana olive oil & parmesan. The combination of fantastic pasta making skills and authentically sourced and great ingredients made it a dish I will not forget in a hurry, even more impressive when one considers that this dish will cost you a mere £6.5. Indeed our whole meal, including two glasses of prosecco each, came to just under £24 which for me is as good a value meal you are ever going to get in London.
It may not be quite as they do in Rome but Padella for me serves the best pasta in London and I am not the first one to come to this conclusion. Yes, you may have to queue here to snag a table but I don't think there has ever been a better time to do so, not only to have a truly outstanding meal that won't break the bank at the end of it but also to support Borough Market and to make it abundantly clear that us Londoners haven't forgotten how to have a brilliant time and make the most of our city.
I very much enjoyed my first trip to Rome during my early university days. With my travel budget being my student loan and ever so inexperienced when it came to seeking out the more sophisticated and grown up things in life, I had an amazing long weekend in the city and got my first taste of La Dolce Vita. However it was not those memories that led me and my favourite travel buddy from Finland, Emmi, (we go on some sort of travel adventure once a year with New York last year and hopefully all things working out Tokyo next year) to embark on another visit to this fantastic and history laden city. No, it was a film, and not any film but the stunningly shot or 'The Great Beauty' in English by Paolo Sorrentino, that inspired us.
Located in the centre of Travestere, one of the most beautiful parts of the city full of restaurants, bars and picturesque cobbled lanes and courtyards, and in view of the Tiber river that divides Rome into two distinctive parts, is this utter, utter gem of a place. Housed in a former garage it is really not the inside of this bar that counts. Indeed the crowds of cool creative people from all around the world quickly spill into the square outside in the evening and create an infectious buzz while you sip your chosen beverage in the sunshine. However what's even more spectacular about this place is their aperitivo spread.
Yes, most Italian bars will serve you some sort of nibble, be it a bowl of peanuts, when you order a drink but here they take it to the next and utterly delicious level. In fact once you have purchased your drink you are eligible to as many helpings as your heart desires from their fantastic mainly vegetarian / vegan buffet. Plastic plate in hand you can pile on as much of their delicious salads, which vary from amazing pesto pasta to berlotti beans in garlic sauce to curried rice, as you like and top it with freshly made hummus, fluffy homemade bread or pickled beetroot. This was not shitty buffet food or an afterthought of how to cheaply line your patron's stomachs, no this was absolutely amazing food that you happen to get completely free with you 5 euro glass of prosecco or 8 euro expertly prepared cocktail.
Come here on a Friday or Saturday night, stuff your face with delicious veggie fare, drink, be merry and make friends with people that are having an equally fantastic time. This place is unique, it is worth the hype and I wish something like it could exist in London but if I'm honest I don't think it really could. Frenzi E Frizioni encompasses for me what Rome is all about and if you go to one place for a drink make it this one.
2. A Walk Through Rome's Rose & Orange Garden On The Aventine Hill
Sometimes you find the best things by accident or chance. On the Sunday of our trip Emmi and I had planned a little excursion to the Seaside town of Santa Marinella, a half an hour train ride away from the city, yearning for some beach time. However with trains only running every two hours and us not sure whether the beach would really be worth loosing precious time on our full last day there for we decided to rethink the itinerary. Following a quick walk around the San Lorenzo neighbourhood, which was recommended by many blogs as the cool student quarter but turned out to be pretty dead on a Sunday afternoon, and after assessing a ridiculously long queue outside the Colosseum that stressed me out by just looking at it, I decided to think on my feet.
We yearned to get away from the crowds and find something picturesque that, I have to admit being a stupid BLOGGER (dirty word I know) would also work well for some blog pics. A quick google search of "most beautiful open spaces in Rome" later I found a Guardian article that mentioned the Orange gardens and within minutes we were citymappering our way there, it looking like just the kind of place we had in mind and I am happy to report it not only managed to exceed our expectations and wow us like we never expected even before we got there.
Indeed to get to the orange garden we had to walk through Rome's rather stunning rose garden first. Only open from April to late June, it showcases a unique collection of rose breeds, cultivated in the most pristine garden and though only 10 minutes walk away from tourist hell, instantly transported us into a completely different, calm and serene world, surrounded by equally excited nuns, inspecting and sniffing the beautiful roses just like us.
We were understandable already pretty chuffed with how this day was turning out even before we had actually made it to the orange garden, however once we got there we were nearly lost for words by the beauty that faced us. This place was just...it's hard to put it into words and to convey it's beauty to you without having seen it with your own eyes. Low hanging orange trees, a stunning view over Rome, water fountains and benches filled with people equally in awe of the timeless beauty of this spot. It was almost other-worldly in it's complete detachment from the modern world, like a beautiful painting you can actually walk into. As it turned out this spot was also a location in 'The Great Beauty' which we only realised after and though it may not be found in your standard guide book it was truly one of the most incredible places I have ever been to in my life and even just thinking about it makes my heart bounce a little.
Of course Rome is filled with hundreds if not thousands of restaurants serving pasta and pizza but one has to dig a little deeper to avoid tourist traps that serve pretty mediocre, unauthentic and overpriced fare to anyone that looks like they won't know the difference. I did a lot of research via food blogs and friends before the trip and one name kept on popping up when it came to fantastic pasta, Da Enzo. After giving them a quick Insta location stalk it became pretty clear that this place was the real deal and led to me reserving us a dinner spot here a week before our arrival, something I'd highly recommend doing for anyone wanting to eat well in Rome to avoid long waiting times and ensure a fantastic meal on every night of your trip.
Da Enzo is a proper a whole in the wall trattoria with only a few tables squeezed inside and a queue already sneaking out the door before the place had even opened. Yes, it is still pretty touristy but these are tourists that have done their foodie research and in the end of the day the dishes served here do the real talking. Order the artichoke if its in season, we had two types one simply grilled and one in a divine mint sauce and then of course get the pasta for your main. I had the Cacio E Pepe, the most famous Roman pasta dish, which may sound pretty boring- being literally pecorino cheese, pepper and pasta, yet when done to perfection is absolutely incredible and as matter of fact far from easy to make. Emmi was equally stunned by her dish of Gricia- pork cheek (which she claimed to have been the best pork of her life), pecorino, rigatoni and egg, and we couldn't help but sit in near silence while we tried to fully appreciate every forkful, washed down with their amazing house white which came at 8 euros a caraffe. Of course what we paid for the entire meal seemed almost like a joke (50 euros for starters, mains, desert and wine if you care to know) considering what we would have paid for the same in London and for days after we were still talking about just how fantastically simple and delicious everything here was. This place has that true authentic Italian flair and for me is a must visit for anyone seeking outstanding pasta in Rome.
This was not an entirely new discovery, being the foodie highlight of my first Rome trip and I am more than happy to report that it is just as good as I remembered. A good 45 minute walk away from the centre, La Gatta Mangiona is much more of a local Roman favourite than a tourist hot spot, with us being the only none Italians there on both occasions I visited. That is not to say this place isn't popular- no, Romans are very much aware that they serve some of the best pizza this city has to offer here with not a single table free on a Sunday eve just half an hour after opening. I of course was clever enough to book a table here as well beforehand so we got to sit down at one of their lovely outdoor tables to enjoy the evening sun. Though service may not be quite as smooth as in places used to more none Italian visitors the food served here is not only ridiculously cheap but across the board simply outstanding.
You may undoubtedly be about to demolish a huge pizza here but make sure you don't skip starters. We ordered a whole selection, with the suppli, a Roman street food classic of cheesy deep fried rice balls, being absolute must tries as well as their deep fried selection of vegetables. The pizza of course is out of this world not only in terms of the dough (crispy, slightly chewy and thin) but also the stunning toppings. Go for one of their 'bianche' options, a base without tomato sauce, and be prepared to never think of pizza in the same way again. I loved my pizza topped with smoked salmon, potato and fiordilatte so much on my first visit so many years ago that I had to order it again, more than a couple of times having thought about just how good it was ever since, and was not let down.
This is still the best pizza of my life hands down and I will wait to see what can top it. Though pretty stuffed after finishing even the last bite of crust I was adament we needed to order desert. Why? Well they also serve some pretty damn fantastic tiramisu here, made using the same family recipe for decades, a huge slab of pure sweet deliciousness that is hard to to beat even if it meant I had to basically be rolled out of the place. If you don't take my word for that they make the best pizza in Rome here I dare you to go and not agree. I for one will be dreaming of that salmon pizza until my next visit.
5. Cappuccino @
New York Times critic William Grimes once said about this place that "…When the need for a real espresso becomes overpowering, buy a ticket to Rome, tell the taxi driver to head straight for the Sant’Eustachio cafe. The espresso will be perfect. A little expensive, but surely worth the trouble.” and he was not wrong. In fact my coffee-snob self would definitely jump on a plane at least once a week to drink the perfectly made cappuccino served here were it not for a lack of funds or my severe fear of flying. Sant'Eustachio has been open since the 1930's and rightly so as this is as close to caffeinated heaven as one can get in my eyes. Try and grab a table outside as the cafe is located at a quiet piazza just minutes away from the Pantheon and watch the world go by. Oh how I wish I could find a cappuccino like this in London.....
Gardens Of Palazzo Barberini
Stunning secluded garden that belongs to one of the grandest papal palaces in Rome and is yet to be discovered by the tourist masses. You can access the garden for free which makes it the perfect tranquil spot to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet just 10 minutes walk from Rome's most busy streets.
The building in which this contemporary art museum is housed is worth a visit in itself. Designed by the late Zaha Hadid, the stunning space is as much part of the exhibition in it's modern, smooth and unpredictable forms as the exhibits. Escape Rome's heat for a few hours and and learn more about Italian artists and their work in the last century or so and appreciate the sheer genius of Hadid who we sadly lost way too early.
The Vatican At Night
Don't pay 30 euros for a 4 hour tour around the Vatican grounds and wait hours in a queue full of obnoxious Americans before you even get in ( I did that on my first trip and honestly there are only so many paintings of popes you can see in one day), instead get yourself down here when the crowds are gone to fully appreciate not only the impressive architecture of the building and skill that was involved in creating it but the sheer scale of the whole thing, you are after all in a different country as long as you are within the Vatican grounds. We headed here around 11:30pm and it left a visual impression on me I won't forget in a hurry with not an annoying selfie stick in sight.
A proper local watering hole where young Roman creative types hang out on a Friday night to drink, smoke and have a good time. A hidden gem that came recommended to us by two American architect students who had lived in Rome for a while and who pointed us in Big Star's direction when we asked them where to get a decent drink in Travestere without the tourists. Best Aperol Spritz of the trip at a ridiculously good 5 euro a drink.
Slightly off the beaten track in up and coming neighbourhood Pignetto (which is still very much on the up and coming rather than established cool side of the scale so don't come here expecting Brooklyn) is this super cute bar with lovely outdoor garden. Again you aren't likely to bump into many tourists here, no this place is clearly cherished by the cool locals who pick it as their venue of choice for their afternoon tipple. If you are in the area a must visit.
If you are after something a little more sophisticated when it comes to enjoying a glass of fine Italian wine head to Hotel Locarno's dreamy courtyard bar. It's an oasis of calm just a few minutes away from the Spanish steps and oozes Italian style. Order yourself a nice little glass of rose (which at 10 euros is bearable considering what you would pay at an equally upscale hotel in London) and watch the effortlessly suave clientele around you start their evening with a couple of drinks. This is the perfect place for your first evening in Rome, hatching plans for the trip ahead in a luxury little spot, away from the hustle and bustle of the main tourists sights.
Made from all organic ingredients Fior Di Luna may be a little more pricey than its Trastevere gelato competitors (3.5 euros for 3 flavours in a cup) but this was without a doubt the most flavourful and creamy gelato of the entire trip. Order the stracciatella and melon and let the flavours explode in your mouth!
Offering a huge range of dairy free options and made from seasonal, fresh ingredients, Fatamorgana prides itself in making gelato with a difference and wins with its unusual flavour combinations. They have a few branches around Rome so be sure to try their fantastic baklava variety and their incredible range of dairy free fruit flavours.
Not strictly a Roman speciality (they do originally stem from Sicily) I am a massive canoli fan and try to eat as many as possible every time I'm in Italy. At Ciuri Ciuri you get to pick what goes inside your cannoli, whether you go for ricotta with chocolate chips, pistachio or chocolate, and witness the crisp delicious shell getting filled right in front of you. One of my favourite sweet treats out there, make sure you stop by here one morning for a breakfast treat to have with your cappuchino.