Roman Restaurants

While we were in Rome we worked and we ate. I wrote four thousand words; Scott about thirteen thousand. I am thoughtful writer, who thinks about her words, okay? Or something. Like Scott had an immediate deadline and I did not. My deadline’s not till August, which is AGES away.

The eating was way more fun than the writing, not that it wasn’t fun. I like my four thousand words but not as much as I loved these restaurants:

Osteria dell’Arco
Via G Pagliari 11
06 854 8438

This is a neighbourhood restaurant with a simple but elegant fit out. The owner was a total sweetheart whose good English made up for our non-existent Italian. The food was also simple but elegant. My favourite dish was home-made ricotta with roasted tomato and zucchini and intense wild mint. Though Scott’s artichoke soufflé was also pretty amazing. Way more artichoke than soufflé. Served with dried roasted artichoke. Though all the food was fabulous and the owner was very helpful picking a wine for us as neither Scott nor I know much about Italian wine.

I really loved the pace of this place. I never felt rushed. The long breaks between courses were very welcome. And we were given much help designing our vegie repast. The Waitress was also charming. She didn’t speak English (and why should she?) but did speak Spanish. Was fun getting to use my extremely rusty Spanish.

La Campana
Vicolo della Campana 18
06 6867820

La Campana is very old school, which befits a place that’s supposed to be Rome’s oldest restaurant. The waiters were mostly older blokes and spoke almost no English. We muddled by on my Spanish and guess work, which made everything that much more fun. The place cooks only traditional Italian (mostly) Roman food. Everything we had was wonderful. My favourite dish was (again) a salad. A huge oval of mozzarella di bufala with tomatoes and rocket. The tomatoes were sublime: sweet and firm and probably the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. Their skin was mostly red with some green and yellow striping and the seeds a dark green. I’m desperate to figure out what they were. Yum! The cheese was also sensational and bears no resemblance to the substance of the same name I’ve had in Australia and the US. (We actually had the same tomatoes at lunch at Cantina Cantarini Piazza Sallustio, 12—a very simple mostly fish restaurant that we also enjoyed heaps).

I ordered the wine at every restaurant we went to La Campana was the only one where they had Scott taste it. I did say old school. They also automatically gave him the cheque.

Glass Hostaria
Vicolo Del Cinque, 58 Traselevere, Roma

This was our favourite meal. Prices were very reasonable and the food was adventurous, well-executed, and delicious. Definitely not old school. This time my favourite course was my main: monk fish with almond cous cous and yellowy orangey reduction that I cannot remember what it was but it was wonderful and a sprinkling of chili. The whole thing was amazing. Dessert was sublime. We both had the orange and pavlova dish. Which was several orange segments in a line with salt and paprika sprinkled on them and then a big round kinder-surprise looking meringue filled with orange gelato with a kind of sherberty mixture at the bottom. It resembled an egg and was deeply fabulous. Even the bread was amazing. It came on a long platter with two slices of each kind which ranged from regular sourdough through to black squid ink bread.

The restaurant has a really fun fit out with dangling lights and plenty of glass. Including the tables. The wait staff are young and lovely, though sometimes a wee bit confused. The sommelier was spot on though and we wound up having the best wine we’ve had so far on this trip: a 1999 Gaja Chardonnay “Gaja e Rey”. I want it again!

The chef, Cristina Bowerman, came out to talk to us because there was almost nothing on the menu for vegetarian Scott. She was utterly charming and organised a fabulous meal for Scott that included coffee quinoa and chickory. It turned out she trained in Austin and spoke well of the wonderful restaurant we’d been to there, The Driskill Grill. Her favourite restaurants in NYC are our faves: Per Se and WD-50.

I wish we’d had longer in Rome. We didn’t manage to get in at La Pergola, which some say is the best in Rome. But there were also gazillions of neighbourhood restaurants I wanted to explore. Oh, yeah, and I guess we should have checked out the Colosseum and the Pantheon and that stuff. Did I mention we were working? Novels don’t write themselves you know! And hungry writers cannot work. Their mind’s wander and they start typing the same thing over and over again. It was essential for our careers that good food be our priority.

In short: Rome is now on my list of cities I could live in.

For a city to make this list it must be pedestrian friendly, have really good food and wine, and I must have, you know, been there. The other cities on the list are: Sydney, Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Paris, Mexico City.

I’m also very fond of Bologna, Salamanca, San Miguel de Allende, and Dunedin, but suspect they are all too small to live in for more than three months or so. Bangkok, on the other hand, is a bit too big, though I’d definitely love to go back and stay for a few months. Such good food there! Yum.

Oh, look at the time. I must away to my next meal.

What are your favourite food cities?


  1. marrije on #

    o brother, now i am hungry and must raid the pantry. what an excellent post, and what a super chef to whip up that meal for scott. i think i must bookmark this post for when we visit rome again.

    justine, you once mentioned in passing that all this traveling you’ve done has taught you how to find the good food in any city. perhaps you could (in a distant future, when you’re between books, and bored) tell us of your food-hunting skillz so we learn from you? i’d love to know any tricks you have!

  2. Dave H on #

    Justine, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” isn’t from the 1990s *or* from a girl band…

    My grandmother died two years ago – during ConFusion, actually – but the Alzheimer’s had taken her away years before. It’s been at least 10 years since she was able to cook her family’s traditional Italian food. Her mother was Neapolitan and her dad was Piedmontese, so the recipes were a mixture of northern and southern Italian.

    I miss that. I’ve never been able to find an Italian restaurant to match it.

  3. Justine on #

    Marrije: Thanks. Those were just my faves but we honestly didn’t have a bad meal in Rome.

    justine, you once mentioned in passing that all this traveling you’ve done has taught you how to find the good food in any city.

    I said that? What hubris. What I prolly meant is that I’ve gotten good at doing research on it. I know who of my widely travelled friends I can trust for food recs and which guide books. Time Out’s suprisingly good. Zagat’s hit and miss. Etc. Etc. And beyond that it’s really obvious stuff like avoiding restaurants in the super touristy areas, or that are full of tourists and not locals, so places that are full to bursting with locals are often worth a shot (if you can get in). When I get chatting with locals I suss out how they talk about food and if we seem to be on the same wavelength. I also keep an eye on the annual top one hundred restaurants list and stuff like that. Cause, you know, if you don’t eat you die.

    Dave H: Sorry to hear about your nonna. I don’t think any restaurant—no matter how good—can ever come close to a home cooked meal eaten with the people you love. I’d often rather cook for family and friends or have them cook for me than go to even the best restaurant in the world.

  4. Rachel Brown on #

    This is skewed by the amount of time I’ve spent in them… but Tokyo and Los Angeles have fantastic food. Tokyo is probably better overall but Los Angeles has more variety of cuisines. And also, in both cities you can spend a reasonable amount of money (full meal under $25 for dinner or $15 for lunch) and get truly delicious food.

    New York has great eating too, and I’d probably rate it equal to LA if I’d spent more time there and had more opportunities to ferret out the best restaurants.

    In Japan you can even get good food at convenience stores. I miss the packaged egg salad sandwiches from Japanese 7-11s right now. Generally, excellent food seems very easy to find all over Japan.

    I didn’t have great luck with restaurants in Italy but the gelato and mozzarella were fantastic everywhere I went.

  5. Dan Goodman on #

    I was in Bologna for about three days in 1971, and gained about ten pounds. The food was wonderful — and I was eating at the low end.

    It was possible to find bad food in Bologna; for example, at the youth hostel. But much easier to find very good food.

  6. Hillary! on #

    My Poppa is 1/2 Italian, and although my family hasn’t spoken Italian for generations by tongue, our food still speaks fluent Italian. I live in SoCal and I still haven’t found an Italian restuarant that measures up to at least my Poppa’s lasagna. I didn’t even know I was 1/8 Italian until this Easter, I thought I was 1/20, and that I just really liked Italian food much better than most other foods. I mean, really, vegetarian-ise just about any of their dishes.

  7. Gabrielle on #

    Hm. I think Rome is actually too big for me. *gasp* Well, not big… Small, in a way. What I’ve seen of Europe just seems too crowded for me. However, Australia I could see myself living in. 🙂

  8. feign on #

    Ah, you’re making me hungry. D: It doesn’t help that I’m watching Top Chef, which is showing some yummy looking food, right now either. NEED FOOD.

    And I need to go to Rome. It sounds amazingly awesome.

  9. limeywesty on #

    Like everyone else, I am now starving! I was already hungry, but now, my tummy is sooo grumbly!!!

    My favourite food places, are places where they aren’t necessarily restaraunts, but stalls. Like Thailand. they make the world’s best noodles, and chicken and stuff there… this isn’t helping my hunger problem either. only ten more minutes until dinner.

  10. mark c on #

    we tend to get a Time Out guide whenever we go on holiday to a new city too, they are the best city guides we’ve ever found.

    Barcelona is great, as a city and for food, we had all sorts from tapas and local sea food dishes, to fantastic mexican, pizza (nicest I’ve had ever, in a really cool neighbourhood restaurant with v stern head waitress), and excellent modern european (also with cute, friendly but confused young waiting staff).

    I was also amazed at the food in Flanders/East Belgium – we visited Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp, and everything we had was lush, however simple or straightforward it looked on the menu. Antwerp is the only one I would want to live in, as the other two are v small. but Ghent is very nice too. Everyone go to Ghent!

    hope you had nice food in London, there’s lots to be had – as a yokel I could have given you some recs if only I’d checked your blog earlier…

  11. Caryle on #

    I’m making a completely wild guess here, but your awesome tomatoes with the striping on them sound like heirloom tomatoes.

    I ate like a fiend when I went to Italy. I miss it. 🙂

  12. Camille on #

    Rome is the most romantic city in the WORLD. (And there are awesome drinks in the Piazza Navona.)

    I love the food in Florence (smoked salmonnnnnnnnn) and Osaka. (The rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo over okonomiyaki — a sort of Japanese pizzaish bread-based thing — is fun.) The quality of the food in Jerusalem is outstanding. I felt healthy.

    I’m quite comfortable with the food in New York (and London for that matter), though.

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