On our second day in Rome, Chris and I left our Airbnb, walked 30 seconds down the street and sank into a wine red leather sofa to eat suppli for breakfast. Suppli, similar to its Sicilian sister arancini, was its star dish, a menu folding out with a list of flavours to choose from – spicy pepper to carbonara, oozing mozzarella and a ruby ragu version spilling with tomatoes. It was 11.30am and we asked for two coca-colas and were promptly told this was a place for water, wine or beer. We chose the latter, settled into the couches and could have happily ordered egg box after egg box of fat round rugby balls of risotto and cheese. We eventually rolled out of there to find the Trevi Fountain, but I think it was the moment we were sold on Rome and specifically, Rome’s way of doing things.
Rome is unlike any other, it has a outward confidence that it is right. There may be a green light indicating you may walk across the street but unless you do so with gusto, that Vespa will just plough straight through you anyway. You want a plate of pizza and a jug of wine? That waiter will nod, slam down that delicious jug of €4 red nectar and frisbee your thin crust onto your paper covered table. It’s Rome, it can treat you like you’re awful because it knows it can. It knows it hides the best gelato spots for you to eak out of it like a secret, to frustrate you in your finds for the perfect pizza only to deliver on your final day and force you to keep speaking Italian because you bloody well started it and you better keep going or the barman won’t tell you the name of the delicious red wine he’s pouring. So to make it a little easier, here’s some of our favourite spots we discovered during our trip to Rome.
Chris said that if this pizzerium I kept talking about wasn’t we’re I had written it was in my little Rome notebook, that lunch at the next pizza place we found would be on me. As we turned the corner to find an empty Japanese restaurant in its place, he laughed but 30 seconds later when we found it slightly further down the street, he was just as much pizza heaven as I was, footing the bill in the process. Span your arms as wide as they will go and it will give you an idea as to how big the fat, fluffy, salt topped crispy bottom trays of pizza were. And that would be just one flavour. Parma ham curled up next to roasted vegetables, feta crumbled on bianco bases, a folded calzone with salted ham and trays of suppli sat behind a glass window.
We grabbed a couple of cold Australian saisons, and picked our pizza. And then come the scissors. They snip squares and rectangles from the tray to your liking, and weight it in front of you. We stayed classic, opting for a molten mozzarella with crispy basil and the sweetest tomatoes and that delicious folded calzone. Pay then wait for your tray to be heated until the cheese is teasingly hot and run with it to a free bench or standing table outside. Nobody speaks, everyone is in awe of the simple scissor-cut pizza. If you are planning a day at St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums, forget the cafeteria and head here. The extra five minute walk will be worth it.
As I sat on the plane, going through our copy of Lonely Planet for recommendations, I remember poking Chris and showing him a citation for a little place that specialised in risotto rice balls. One of our favourite restaurants in Aberdeen serves a cheese and a ragu version and usually we order both as starters when we go there for dinner. But as I turned page after page, it became apparent it wasn’t just an area recommendation, it was a cheap eat favourite, an all round food favourite, a must see and as it happened, right by our Airbnb. The owner is so wonderfully friendly, sitting down and talking through the concept with us and giving beer recommendations to Chris at 11am for our breakfast. We ate there twice, each suppli costing around €3 and they are happy to just keep frying them until you’re full. The tomato, basil and mozzarella was my highlight but it was forever and always the ragu for Chris. They also have a little seating area outside, so if you visit Trastevere in the evening, pop by for a glass of wine – the surroundings are very pretty and picturesque.
The first night we walked past Vino & Olio, we stopped in our tracks and stared at the mishmash of Romans, Parisians and a Spanish speaker spilling onto to streets clutching beautiful stemware, drinking wine nonchalantly and chattering endlessly. We hesitated for a second before walking straight in and I utterly butchered the Italian language trying to order a red and a white. Despite appearances, Vino & Olio is very friendly and full of recommendations despite my skills reaching as far as rosso and bianco. The concept is simple – buy a glass, drink inside or out on the streets (the latter is preferable) and enjoy. If you love it, come back in and buy a bottle from walls lined floor to ceiling in vino. Our favourite was a dry red with some stunning hints of cherry, which was slightly chilled which delighted me (it’s a summery habit Chris hates which I picked up in Barcelona). Stupidly we forgot to ask the name, didn’t buy a bottle and walked out like it was all a dream. That was, until we realised it was on the same street as our Airbnb, yards from Supplizio. We returned on our second last night, watching the world go by and see the same characters trying to round up a squad from the benches to go partying. Incredible fun.
My one regret of our holiday was not sneaking in another trip to Giolitti. Ok make that three, not getting a waffle cone coated in chocolate and ordering at least two more scoops. I know that seems like gelato overload, but Giolitti’s wares are just too damn good. You know you’ve found this vintage-style gem when you turn the corner into a street lined with people instagramming their cones and licking their hands as their gelato quickly melts in the sun.
The sign of a good gelato is sticky hands, differing from ice cream in that it has a higher sugar content to ensure it stays malleable and doesn’t freeze solid. Forget scoops, staff use something more akin to garden trowels to smooth scoops into your tub with an added flourish of thick white cream if you so desire. If you’re after a delicious cone, you first pay at a little till by the door for your tub or cone (make sure to pick a decent sized one!) then take your receipt to the staff behind the counter of gelato dreams. We both chose pistachio, flecked with slivers of nuts in a gorgeous muted green colour and I went for wild cherry with a pretty coulis rippled through the scoop. Chris’ tub, which looked tiny, was packed with the richest, fudgiest chocolate gelato I’ve ever tasted (we went to another gelateria the same night and it just wasn’t the same).
For a gelateria that began as a dairy and has been in business for more than a century, you’d think they’d get their frozen treats right and they certainly do. You can order sundaes and sit inside if you prefer, but half the fun is eating it in the sunshine strolling through Rome’s cobbled streets.
The modern gelato to Giolitti’s tradition-steeped scoops, Fatamorgana is ridiculously ambitious with its flavours but the walk to find this gem was completely worth it. For being so highly recommended, I was the only person in the shop scanning the tubs and the gelato descriptions, each pot filled with unusual concoctions and quirkily named. I chose an apple, walnut and cinnamon sorbet which was like melted pie, a very floral but not overpowering scoop of Thumbelina, a violet, lavender and honey gelato and my favourite, carrot cake. Each strand of carrot tasted sugar sweet with a combination of nuts and lemon bringing the whole scoop to life. We stopped by after our pizza at Bonci and it was the perfect way to round off lunchtime before returning to the Vatican.
We found this little gem completely by accident one evening after discovering the place we had intended to go was closed on a Monday. We remembered the brick archway and the fairy lights and wandered back, fairly late around nine and were promptly served by the friendliest waiting staff I think we came across. We had a wonderful antipasto starter to share from and I finally indulged in a large glass of homemade tiramisu for dessert. But the standout for me was the wonderful dish of spaghetti, fat prawns, garlic and stems of asparagus.
While my search for the perfect Roman carbonara fell flat (more on that later), this is the dish I recreate in my mind when I’m desperate for a taste of Rome. The house wine was very pleasant and well priced and we dined here for under €50.
A quick note on carbonara…
I love carbonara, please do not get me wrong. I ate three plates of it during our holiday desperate to find that holy grail twirled around my fork, but I discovered that Roman carbonara is very different to those I’ve tasted elsewhere in Italy. I like mine creamy, a sauce made of egg yolks and grated parmesan, fried garlicky pancetta and no cream. I’m not a heathen. But in Rome the taste is a lot stronger. Pancetta is swapped for guanciale, Italian pork cheek which is very flavoursome but adds a lot of oil to the dish with a lot of Roman pecorino, which I just find too strong. There were a few dishes where the sauce had disappointingly split, so my highest recommendation was a beautiful trattoria we found on our first night near Piazza Navona down one of the side streets. I love trying new things but I was a little disappointed at what I found. Nevertheless, if you’ve been to Rome and can recommend an amazing traditional carbonara, I’d love to hear all about it!
Read more about my top tips for sightseeing in Rome during the summer months here.