Saturday, 7 July 2012

How to Eat in Rome – Part One – L’Osteria di Monteverde

Before travelling to Rome I tracked down a few local food bloggers for some tips of where to eat. After all, where better to look for some good old honest reviews? Some guide books can’t be trusted for their honesty and the only one I do trust (David Downie’s ‘Food, Wine, Rome’) was written a few years ago, and although it can still be relied upon for those classic die-hard Roman restaurants, I fancied somewhere new.

After studying  a few blogs, including Elizabeth Minchilli’s Eat Rome,  My Life in Two Parts and GT Food & Travel I booked a table at L’Osteria di Monteverde for our first night on the basis that service was going to be friendly, food was going to be good (and a bit innovative) and it was going to be reasonably priced. I’m pleased to say that my research paid off and we had an excellent evening.

Trudging up from Trastevere to Monteverde was a bit of an effort in 30°C heat, especially as it was up a bit of a hill (didn’t I leave those behind in Sheffield?) and by the time we entered the restaurant we were both a tad hot and bothered. Thankfully the place was air conditioned and we soon cooled down.

Far from being intimidated by the all Italian menu, we were pleased to find that we had hit on a local restaurant not some tourist attraction (I know, I know, a tourist wanting to get away from tourists – it makes no sense – but that’s just how it is). Having said that, although we knew what the pasta dishes were (the menu included all the Roman classics) and we could work out some of the ingredients, we did need a bit of assistance from the waiter. Thankfully his English was pretty damn good and he was pleased to take us through the main dishes in a helpful, but non-patronising manner.

Dishes ordered we chose our wine; a Frascati (hailing from the Lazio region, Frascati was the drink of choice all week), and this was a particularly delicious bottle. Priced at around €16 it was expensive for Rome, but more than reasonable for those of us who are used to British prices.

Proceedings kicked off with an amuse bouche of sea bream. Served on spoons, it was the perfect mouthful and although it was sea bream, it tasted of mackerel (of the tinned variety!). I missed how it had been cooked, but there was some tomato in there, which explains the tinned fish taste.

Wanting to experience the whole Italian dining experience without stuffing ourselves to the brim we decided to share an antipasto of steak tartare with truffle oil and mushrooms. The waiter insisted that he arrange for the dish to be split onto two plates rather than have us struggle over the one. This was a good idea, especially as on first mouthful, I know there was no way I could have shared my plate with anyone!

Fat, juicy chunks of raw steak were served in a tidy pile topped off with raw white mushrooms and sprinkles of Parmesan. Truffle oil wasn’t overly strong letting the beef do most of the talking and it was delicious. Simple and delicious. It was refreshing to see a beef tartare without the usual chopped onion, capers and the like… and the meat fared better for the chopping rather than passing it through the mincer.

We had also ordered a contorni, which I had thought would be served as a side with the secondi, but it arrived with our antipasto. It was a bit bizarre and it confused us no end, but strips of courgette with truffles and Parmesan would be good at any stage of any meal at any part of the day. The truffle was stronger in this dish and there was plenty of Parmesan making a simple dish of courgette truly luxurious!

On spotting those traditional Roman pasta dishes on the menu, I couldn’t resist a primi course. I hadn’t had an all’amatriciana before and as it’s a real classic, I was keen to give it a go. Rigatoni was cooked perfectly; al dente so that there was still a slight white ring inside the pasta on biting. The tomato sauce was delicious and rich and guinciale (think pancetta made from the pork cheek) was fatty, but crispy adding further texture. It was brilliant! After falling in love with carbonara on my last trip to Rome it’s fair to say that the all’amatriciana is my new passion and I will be curing my own pork cheek so that I can master this one at home.

Gav didn’t fare so well as his ravioli stuffed with aubergine was a little under seasoned and although the tomatoes and their juices served with those fat pouches of pasta were good, he could have done with a bit more as the flavour worked well with the creaminess of the aubergine.

Onto secondi and I went for the squid special. I liked the simplicity of the grilled squid served with chicory, but the squid was a bit overcooked for my liking. It wasn’t impossible, but was disappointing given the quality of the food I’d had so far.

Now it was Gav’s turn to win the best dish competition (doesn’t everyone want to win this competition?). His sea bream had been grilled on one side only, leaving the underside very barely cooked. It was served on a bed of pearl barely; something we rarely see being used, and why? It has such a great texture and we should use it more. It was good, by the way. Cooking the fish on one side is something I’d only previously seen in a sushi restaurant, but the technique makes perfect sense and allows for the best of both worlds in one mouthful.

By this point I was stuffed, full of both wine and food. Gav did manage to squeeze in a dolci. Strawberry sorbetto was a bit more elaborate than we imagined from the menu as it was served with some sugar work and apple. It looked beautiful, but I stuck to the alcohol and had some of the distilled white spirit flavoured with lemon on offer.

What a start to our holiday?! Apart from a couple of glitches in the squid and the ravioli, the food had been excellent and well worth the trek from Trastevere. Service had been absolutely spot on; friendly, smiley and chatty and we left the restaurant on a high.


(And for those concerned about Roman pricing… for the shared antipasto and contorni, a primi and secondi each, a dolci, 2 bottles of wine and 2 spirits we paid €114; again not cheap, but comparable to Sheffield prices).

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