Julianna Tolan takes us on a foodie's tour of Rome with her guide to the best things to eat in the Italian capital and her recommendations for where to try them at their best.
“Bread and Circuses” were once enough to appease the appetites of ancient Rome; but these days the foodie scene in the Eternal City is rather more discerning. Visitors will discover that quite apart from its vast history and cultural appeal, the Italian capital is an irresistible melting pot of traditional Italian gastronomy and innovative nouvelle cuisine, second only to Bologna in the regard of Italian food lovers.
1. Gluttony and Greed in Campo de’ Fiori
Located just behind the B&B, the bustling Campo de’ Fiori street market offers some of Italy’s best loved exports; from novelty limoncello bottles to the finest locally sourced fruit and veg. It's easily navigable on your own if you’re looking to try your hand at cooking some local dishes whilst in Rome, but if you're interested in learning more about the market's place in the city's history, take a tour that combines a market walk with the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere.
But if self-catering all sounds a bit too virtuous, escape down Via del Pellegrino to the devilishly good Cantina Lucifero. This intimate nook lives up to its name, with a menu full of wickedly indulgent dishes that include black and white truffles, rich beef bourguignon and a cholesterol raising fondue. Expect to leave several pounds heavier.
2. Posh Nosh in Piazza del Popolo
Photo credit: Rocco Forte Hotels
Hoping to rub shoulders with Rome’s high society? Then look no further: La Jardin Russie is an impossibly pretty restaurant tucked away in a secret garden oasis. Situated moments from the Piazza del Popolo, this fine dining experience draws the rich and famous from around the globe - it's the perfect romantic hotspot or celebrating a special occasion.
Its most popular dishes include Wagyu beef straight from the restaurant’s Himalayan pink salt grill and an alluring dessert trio of orange pancakes, crème brûlée and pumpkin parfait with Amaretto crunch.
While best suited to special occasions and deep pockets, the budget conscious can still enjoy a relatively affordable €40 buffet lunch (including drinks) on weekdays. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
3. Perfect Pizza near Piazza Venezia
A trip to Italy isn’t complete without sampling the country’s favourite snack. A short stroll from Piazza Venezia is top of the class Pizza Florida. Join the locals who form an orderly queue along Via Florida from morning to night for pizza served by the slice.
It’s easy to see why this small fast food outlet is so popular. The dough is fresh and light with a perfectly balanced crispy, soft base. Toppings are also plentiful; our favourites were the Buffalo Mozzarella & Tomato and Mushroom & Prosciutto combinations. This place won’t break the bank either; you pay by weight for your pizza, with each slice working out at just over one Euro.
If you still haven't had your fill of molten cheese goodness after a visit to Pizza Florida, return to Piazza Venezia for a three-hour pizza walking tour of the city led by a food-expert guide.
4. Sugar Highs at the Spanish Steps
The Piazza di Spagna encircling the Spanish Steps is a shopper’s paradise. Before attempting to ascend this famous landmark with all those heavy bags, you’ll need a serious sugar hit. Fortunately, the unashamedly decadent Quetzalcoatl Chocolatier is situated conveniently opposite the legendary steps.
This temple of indulgence to all things yummy offers every sweet extravagance your heart could desire, from gold-leaf adorned chocolate eclairs to a rainbow of perfectly spherical macaroons. Experimental eaters will love the variety of chocolate flavourings on offer from banana to wine and many items are gluten free, making it a great place to pick up a gift for those missing out at home.
5. Tasty Pasta in Trastavere
Trastavere is the beating heart of Rome’s nightlife. As the sun goes down, its streets fill with revellers, spilling out from the surrounding bars and pubs. The neighbourhood is ideal for a spot of people watching.
Tonnarello on Via Della Paglia has a perfect outdoor vantage point from which to observe the bustling social scene. More importantly, a traditional Italian menu at this trattoria is to die for. Purists will go wild with lust for the mouth-watering rich tomato meatballs and spaghetti. If you prefer death by cheese, the creamy carbonara with a heavy dusting of punchy Parmigiano-Reggiano will send you into a gloopy haze.
6. Cooling off by the Trevi Fountain
When it’s time to escape the selfie stick swarm at the Trevi Fountain, cool off at Gelateria Valentino on Via del Lavatore. The café is widely acknowledged as one of the best ice cream vendors in the capital and offers a range of sorbets too, with dairy and gluten free options. All flavours are represented in this dessert utopia, from passion fruit to Oreo cookie. Sample a few freebies before making the impossible decision of choosing just one (or two, or three…).
As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", so while you're here, you can even learn how to make true Italian artisan gelato with a professional gelato maker and return from holidays with more than just an extended waistline.
7. Sushi in San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo is Rome’s edgy student neighbourhood with a vibrant and diverse ethnic population. Providing a benign distraction from the carb heavy local food, one can sample a variety of authentic foreign cuisines here.
Within just a few streets, visitors will pass restaurants with culinary offerings from Africa, Europe, Asia and the USA. However, the real standout is KIKO Sushi Bar on Piazzale del Verano. Dishes are prepared by a team of Japanese chefs and the restaurant has developed an unsurprising reputation for its freshly made sushi. Tasting menus are available starting at a rather steep €45, although this includes miso soup, salmon teriyaki, mixed tempura, a sample of popular sushi pieces and dessert.
8. Divine Dining at the Vatican
Visit the Vatican in the morning before it gets intolerably busy and avail of tour with a skip-the-line pass. The restaurant scene around the Vatican at lunchtime is broadly comparable to Dante’s Inferno - avoid the tasteless tourist traps that immediately surround St Peter’s Square, and instead head a few streets back to the heavenly Panino Divino.
Situated on Via dei Gracchi, this tiny outfit creates sandwiches that dreams are made of. All manner of delectable cheeses, meats, salad and pasta are on display for you to carefully construct the lunch you’ve always wanted but daren’t ever hoped for.
Be warned, once you’ve tried their warm ciabatta loaf filled with fresh salami, plump cherry tomatoes and salty pecorino cheese, you’ll never savour a regular sarnie again. Oh, and wash it all down with a bottle of the velvety Italian red wine on display. Because it’s totally acceptable to drink at midday here. In fact, its encouraged.