Saturday, 5 January 2013

How to Eat in Rome 2012 - Part Seven - Checchino dal 1887

Checchino is located in the Testaccio neighbourhood which is the historical home to Rome's central slaughterhouse and, in turn, home to a lot of restaurants specialising in offal. Given that this restaurant is known as the best of its kind, and my interest in offal, I was keen to try it. With its pricey menu and my high hopes, I booked us in for the last night of our holiday in the hope that it would be a good way to round off our time in Rome...

I was surprised to find that this restaurant (one that charges 63 euros a head for the tasting menu) was located opposite a open air car park. Hardly glamorous, but, we weren't in the most glamorous part of town. We were a little early so we were shooed away by the waiter... always a little hurtful and embarrassing  but something I have witnessed before in Rome. However, this waiter didn't crack a smile and welcome us with open arms once the clock struck 8 (our reservation time). Instead he continued to ignore us, busying himself with laying tables, making us wait around like a pair of dicks for a good ten minutes. Hmmmm not a great start!

Despite the awkward start to proceedings we were determined to enjoy ourselves and make the most of our experience at Checchino, so we ordered the Historical Tasting Menu, a glass of prosecco each and a bottle of frascati to share. The prosecco was lovely; packed with apple flavours, just how I like it. 

Very shortly after we placed our orders our first course, trotter salad, arrived. Its appearance at our table was worryingly quick, especially as it was served at room temperature (where had it been standing since it had been prepared?), but I reminded myself of the good reviews this place has received and tucked in (and thinking back, I don't think chilled trotters would have worked). The fatty chunks of trotter 'meat' were served with a salad of very simple ingredients (as is the Italian way). To be fair the salad worked well with the fatty trotters and the salsa verde cut through some of the fattiness... but I don't think I want to eat trotters prepared this way again.

Our next dishes were pasta dishes and I was surprised (and disappointed) to find that they were served together. A taster menu needs to be a relaxed affair of small dishes; receiving two carbohydrate packed dishes at once did not suit me.

Rigatoni with pajata was something I had been looking forward to. It's lamb's intestines, still filled with the milk from its mother which results in an almost ricotta filling. Sounds vile yeah? Well, you know me, the weirder a dish is, the harder I will work at making sure I get to try it. The dish wasn't particularly attractive, thanks to the pieces of intestine that looked like rubber tubing, but it was good. The pajata had a strong, offaly taste which added depth to the tomato sauce, but it is something I wouldn't want to eat without a sauce due to the intense flavour.

Bucatini alla gricia was the second serving of pasta. If you've read Part Six of my Rome blogs you'll already know that bucatini is one of my favourite pastas. You'll also know what cacio e pepe is and this was similar but with the addition of guanciale (which is essentially pancetta made from the jowl). The pasta was well cooked and the pieces of guanciale were quite chunky which is always a bonus. I was, however, starting to fill up!

But there was no respite, and as soon as Gav had finished his last mouthful and before I had taken mine, the waiter was there ready to take our plates. I surrendered mine on the basis that I probably didn't need to clear my plate, but this was just another example of being rushed through our meal.

Next up was Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail). Having cooked this dish before I knew exactly what to expect and was actually a little disappointed that there were no surprises; it was no better than the version I had made at home. A side of chicory was, however, a welcome addition, especially as it was cooked with chilli.

We then moved onto the first dessert of the meal. Being in Europe the cheese was served before the dessert (something I despise, but when in Rome and all that). Pecorino Romano was served with honey; a new one for me, and one that I will repeat. 

I didn't finish all the cheese and we decided to share the dessert which was a chocolate, ricotta and almond cake. It was delicious; really moist and chocolatey and given how rich it was, I was glad we'd shared a piece.

So how was it? Well, all in all my time at Checchio dal 1887 was the most disappointing restaurant experience I have had in years.  The food was average to good, the atmosphere was dire (people don't eat dinner until 9.30pm in Testaccio) and the service was rushed. In fact, it wasn't just the speed of the service that annoyed. Neither of our waiters offered to talk us through the history of the dishes (we were eating from the historical tasting menu!) or even bothered to crack a smile... until it came to paying the bill that is... when one sprung into life with tales of his time in Edinburgh (which just made me think he was after a tip). The service wasn't helped by the fact that one of the owners was swanning around. He was overseeing the service, no doubt, but added no benefit to my experience and just pushed me that bit further into total discomfort.

But it wasn't just the snooty attitude that annoyed; our waiters would rarely take our cutlery between courses and on one of the odd occasions that my fork was taken, I had to ask for a replacement when the next course was delivered (I remind you that this was 63 euros a head, before wine - fresh cutlery should not be too hard a task)! The actual restaurant wasn't up to much either. The outside tables were adorned with plastic pot plants in bright yellow plant pots (yes, seriously!) and the bathrooms were dirty, musty and covered in mould.

It's not often I feel ripped off when eating out; I will happily pay good money for good food and service, but this wasn't on. The bill must have been in the region of 170 euros and we had been ripped off.

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