We landed in a very wet Rome. By the time we’d got through immigration and collected our bags and hopped on an express train (from a pretty terrible train station, I must say) and arrived in Termini, it was dark and drizzling and the harsh lights reflecting from the wet road and the cars speeding towards you made for an unpleasant walk to our hotel. After we checked in and settled ourselves in, we heard a roar from outside and opened the shutters to see heavy rain and hail coming down! We were stuck there for a bit but as soon as it lightened, we went straight out with our umbrellas, in search of a nice place to have dinner.
Somehow we stumbled upon La Matriciana, an old trattoria dating back to 1870, located across from the opera house. It looked promising, being absolutely packed with both locals and tourists (it’s hard to avoid us tourists in central Rome) and so we stepped in from the dampness outside. We struck lucky and were seated immediately at one of the few remaining tables for two. I think we came just midway between the early and the late diners as all the tables around us started turning as we looked at our menus. Tables were packed tightly together, making you privy to your neighbours’ conversations, but we noticed this in every restaurant we ate in. Blai also exclaimed at the level of light in the dining rooms – there was lots, also something we’d encounter over and over again. I like it!
We weren’t looking for all four of the usual Italian courses (antipasto, primo, secondo, dessert) and so left out the meat course. Actually, I learned that most restaurants are very flexible as to the courses you take and sharing was never frowned upon. And so onto our antipasti. One carciofo alla giudia (Jewish style artichoke)…
… and an insalata di puntarelle.
We deliberately ordered particularly Roman specialties. The Jewish style artichoke was flattened and deep fried and shattered under our knives and well…it’s deep fried so it’s hard not to love! The leaves became paper thin artichoke crisps while the heart was still tender and moist. At €6 a pop, they may seem a little steep but when you’ve travelled from the land with no artichokes, you’ll pay almost anything. And this seemed to be the going rate for them at all restaurants. The puntarelle was entirely new to both of us and I had already settled on it when we walked in and I saw a bowl of it soaking in ice water. It’s related to chicory and so as expected, it’s slightly bitter and and it’s cut into thin strips before soaking to make it curl and to keep it crunchy. It was tossed with a deliciously rich garlicky, anchovy dressing and this bitter, savoury mixture was gorgeous. We wiped up all the dressing at the bottom of the bowl with chunks of break. I think we were more drawn to this than the artichoke!
We followed these with some more Roman specialities: bucatini alla matriciana …
… and a rigatoni alla carbonara.
This first experience with a true Italian al dente was a real eye opener for us – I wouldn’t describe it as hard but the pasta did have a good bite to it; we’re now trying to figure out how to replicate that exact same level of doneness at home! My amatriciana was delicious with plenty of tomato sauce (that surprised me) and the bucatini felt like the perfect pasta for it. The carbonara was beautifully yellow (did they only use yolks?) and by far the most creamy and luxurious carbonara we’d ever had. The bacon in both dishes (was it guanciale?) had a good rich porky flavour and was definitely not at all like the cheap pancetta we get at our local supermarket.
Time for dessert. Actually, I almost contemplated not having dessert (gasp!) but then I reminded myself that I’m on my honeymoon and that’s surely excuse enough to indulge at every opportunity? (yeah, please don’t point out the fact that we skipped the meat course…) A pera cotta alla bella Helène, con cioccolato belga for Blai …
… and a tiramisù for me.
The pears were selling very well that night and we saw them being plated behind me before flying to all corners of the rooms. As expected, Blai’s poached pear was tender but not mushy and paired (ha!) well with the chocolate sauce. My tiramisù was in its own little bowl and the mascarpone cream was both light and creamy. There were little bits of chocolate scattered throughout too; I’ve not had this in a tiramisù before but I saw this more than once on menu descriptions in Rome. I think they’re a great addition, giving a good textural contrast to all that cream and soaked biscuits which can feel like baby food after a while.
We left both full and happy. The bill came to about €50 overall without wine, which seemed reasonable considering the quality of food we had. You know, I think we did quite well for our first meal in Rome.
Via del Viminale, 44
00184 Rome, Italy