Romeo Chef & Baker - New Hip Restaurant in Rome
Melbourne is endowed with its share of standout Italian restaurants including Il Solito Posto, Lupino, Sapore, The Italian, Church Street Enoteca and Grossi Florentino to name a few. But Italy is the benchmark and some new exciting restaurants are emerging...
Rome restaurant scene : Romeo Chef & Baker is the latest hipster restaurant to enter the eternal city's gourmet scene, and its already a hit with the locals.
Situated in the Plati district, not far from the Vatican, Romeo's the marriage of the Roscioli baking dynasty (featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations) and one of Rome's hottest chefs, the Michelin-starred Cristina Bowerman.
Opened just before Christmas, Romeo's not at all created for tourists. You won't find spotters out the front, luring you to chequered tablecloths while speaking in cliches. Nor will you find an English menu, or indeed much English at all spoken around the room. What we find visiting Romeo on this cool Roman evening is a chic room with a modern design emphasising futuristic white and red lighting fixtures.
The place is packed and the vibe is fantastic. Its not showy or pretentious. Everyone's looking relaxed yet part of the scene. At night it's an achievement to get a booking here.
Walking to our table takes us past the salumi bar. Think your best Roman delicatessen, thanks to the Rosciolis brothers. Breads, cheeses, pizza rossa, the best proscuitto, it's all here and all available day and night.
For us its a signpost of the quality of produce to come. We begin with free pizza bread, some juicy salami, and the freshest ricotta, drizzled in oil and sprinkled with ground black pepper.
Looking around, many young couples are sticking with the salumi theme. Why not spend many happy hours here with simply a bottle of barolo or prosecco, full of conversation and laughter, lingering over a succession of plates of antipasti of the highest order?
But for us it's primi, in the form of a ravioli dish that local food blogger Gina Tringali describes as "the star dish". Homemade and filled with indulgently good campagnola, it's surrounded by a rich pumpkin foam and crunchy hazelnuts. A traditional dish with quality produce, modernised with innovative touches and contemporary techniques. That sums up Cristina Bowerman's approach.
Or there's a vegetable terrine, a beautiful presentation of rolled zucchini, eggplant and red peppers, with the crunch of breadcrumbs. Its simple, healthy and delicious!
The secondi dishes also build on tradition. Chestnut vendors abound in Rome on city streets, and Cristina has no hesitation to incorporate a chestnut puree into her dish of slow-cooked beef cheeks with potato done two ways and sweet onions. Or there's the uplifting of a rich broth of quail and bean casserole with sprinkles of pomegranate.
The service throughout is fantastic. The staff are run off their feet yet nothing's too much trouble, be it a wine suggestion or a discussion about the produce.
And now for dessert, and we opt for the tiramisu. It's like no tiramisu we've seen. Christina's version has a chocolate ball of creamy, coffee goodness. The sponge stays separate, rather than being layered inside, thereby creating the colour contrast on the plate which is striking. So familiar, yet so different!
No wonder Christina tells me at the end of the evening : "Tradition is very very, important. We must honour it...but then we must also progress the cuisine. New ideas and new ingredients should be a part of our approach here in Rome, we shouldn't just rest on what we've always done. I want our customers to enjoy all that Rome food has to offer, in fresh and exciting ways."
From the look of the packed, happy room tonight, there's no doubt the beautiful people of Rome agree.
Romeo Chef & Baker can be found at Via Silla 26A.