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Romance in Rome: Luxe Lunches

When I was putting together my plans for Rome I found it wasn’t too challenging to find places for dinner (though I did have to contend with the fact that lots of places were closed on Sunday and Monday!).

There a simple equation which I follow:

Michelin Stars + A Room With A View = A Good Night.

Anyway, by following my equation I can usually guarantee my criteria of good food while maintaining a sense of place of where I am…

Lunches are a little more tricky though…we wanted places that were a little more casual but with really good food. In cities like Rome, it’s so easy to fall into tourist trap restaurants and eat average food with exorbitant prices. To avoid this I cross referenced guide books, blogs, asked Twitter and the hotel. Ok…I know what you’re thinking…’Angie, chill out and just walk into somewhere that looks nice’… don’t worry I planned some spontaneity for our last day 😉

Le Mani in Pasta

Le Mani in Pasta was recommended to me by a Roman tour guide and also by our hotel, so I was pretty confident we’d get good authentic Italian food there.

Located in the quieter and less touristy Trastevere, down an alley way and with little signage, was this hidden gem. We passed by some pretty little restaurants with beautiful outdoor spaces nestled under hanging vines… so when we got to Le Mani in Pasta and there was no terrace, just a tiny cramped dining room, I questioned whether I’d done the right thing.
But without even ordering a thing, a glass of prosecco was poured and a plate of the most beautifully cooked spaghetti carbonara was placed on our table for us to try.

 

It may not have been artfully presented, but it was incredible. However, so rich, I only had a few bites but it certainly set the standard of what was to come.
We shared an artichoke salad that had just about the right amount of bite to it, lightly dressed in a lemon oil with a smattering of parmesan cheese layered over the top.
Beautifully prepared fresh, al dente pasta full of fat prawns, juicy clams and ripe tomatoes. Certainly not a pretty plate of food but hearty and rustic, which for me is the authentic taste of Italy.

 

Main courses were grilled sea bream for me and a big plate of lamb for him, portions were huge and filling and so beautifully cooked. But definitely don’t come if you’re looking for a quick meal, Le Mani in Pasta, is a slow drawn out affair, to enjoy with a good bottle of wine and plenty of time on your hands.
It’s certainly not silver service or ultra-luxe but the food quality speaks for itself and there is heart and soul in this little Osteria. Definitely one to pop in to if you’re looking for the perfect plate of pasta in the Trastevere.
 
Le Jardin de Russie
Ok so maybe sitting in cramped, hot restaurant down an alley way isn’t your thing. If not my next suggest is Le Jardin de Russie, located in the Hotel de Russie on Via del Babuino.
I’d stayed at the Hotel de Russie the first time that I visited Rome and I remember the absolutely gorgeous garden restaurant. It seemed the ideal place to go for lunch on the day of our anniversary.

 

The hotel is located on one of the city’s busy shopping streets just at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, but when you enter the Rocco Forte property it’s like an oasis of calm away from the chaos.

Isn’t it a stunner! We were even greeted by the same general manager that I met years ago and he was quick to recommend us a crisp glass of white wine as the perfect refreshment for the hot day. Rather annoyingly we’d arrived towards the end of the buffet service, and we had the choice between what remained there or the bar menu. We plumped for the latter, which was rather reduced from the a la carte.

 

 

Aubergine Parmigiana was the best dish that we sampled at the Hotel de Russie but the Veal Tuna was rather average.

 

For main courses, the fritti misto was rather too heavily coated in batter though the pasta bolognese was tasty and hearty. Overall the food at Jardin de Russie was a little average, though it’s a shame we didn’t have the full menu to choose from. So on the opposite end of the spectrum to Le Mani in Pasta the Jardin de Russie had a totally gorgeous and open setting but food that was over-priced and below par.
Having said that the service certainly reflected the five-star standard of the hotel, and I’d definitely recommend a visit to the hotel’s secret garden to enjoy the beautiful setting. Though perhaps it’s more ideally suited to popping in for a chilled out cocktail or a gelato.
Our final day was our ‘spontaneous’ day…our waiter the night before had recommended Roscioli, and our tour guide for the day seconded that motion. Right, I was ready to be spontaneous! Although not too spontaneous, I mean I still booked it…I didn’t want to not get a table.
The interior of Roscioli had the busy, casual feel that for me typifies an authentic Italian restaurant but without the cramped tables that we experienced at Le Mani in Pasta. The on site bakery is one of oldest bakeries still working and with three generations of experience it was pretty guaranteed the bread was going to be good.
Known for producing the best pizza bianca in town, no jokes, Mr S and I hoovered down this gorgeous and varied selection. And I would agree, most certainly the best bread that we tried whilst in Rome, better than in the Michelin-starred restaurants.
As well as a bakery, the restaurant also houses a deli and a wine bar and sourcing the raw ingredients is of prime importance to the family-owned place.
Red tuna seasoned in olive oil flaked apart beautifully and it was served with Romanian grilled artichokes and onions seasoned in balsamic vinegar. All delicious punchy flavours and you could taste the quality of the ingredients.
Galician spicy sardines served on crispy bread with a good smattering of lemon zest.
Now spaghetti carbonara is something I’d never order at home cos it’s so heavy, but when in Rome….actually the dish originates from the city so we had to order it at least once after sampling it in Le Mani in Pasta. Actually I found the crispy pork cheek that was tossed through the pasta very fatty and it tasted a little burnt, not really a dish for me I’m afraid.

Pardon the pun but the humble artichoke is a vegetable that is close to my heart. Mr S actually introduced them to me on our first holiday to Miami. It’s not that I’d never had them before, I’d just never truly appreciated how great they are! And the Romans agree, ancient Romans actually thought that they were a gift from the Gods! Though they were swimming in oil, the artichoke tasted perfect.

Roman meatballs in a rich tomato sauce garnished with ricotta cheese and served with polenta.

We were obviously too full for dessert but the waitress served us these little biscuits with nutella…who could say no to that?

Rome is a city absolutely choc-a-block with gems, you just need to know where to look. My advice would be ask locals, read blogs, and *maybe* be a little spontaneous too!

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