By Franz Scheurer and Roberta Muir
We arrived in Rome on Christmas Eve. As we arrived at our hotel, The Inn at The Spanish Steps, gospel singers were setting up under the giant blue Christmas tree half way up the steps - welcome to Christmas in Rome!
The Inn at the Spanish Steps is on Via dei Condotti, Romeís most fashionable shopping street, just a few doors from Piazza di Spagna, one of Romeís most beautiful squares.
We never tired of the view from our penthouse perch overlooking the scene at the Piazza di Spagna - it changed with every hour of the day and looked so different wet and dry at sunrise and sunset. †If you have to or want to stay in Rome, then the Inn at the Spanish Steps is a terrific hotel with courteous, helpful staff, superb facility and itís affordable. We highly recommend it.
The Inn at the Spanish Steps
Via Condotti 85
Tel.: +39 (0)6 69925657
On Christmas Eve, our concierge, Franco, sent us to Gaetano Costa, the eponymous, recently-opened first restaurant of an up-and-coming chef.
Itís bright, almost minimalist, with lots of glass, steel, bold splashes of colour and a glassed-in pastry kitchen where Gaetano assembles desserts and finishes dishes. Service is smart and helpful and we settled in with a Val díAosta Blanc de Morgex and a Basilicatan Aglianico de Manfredi from the extensive all-Italian wine list. Roberta loved the crisped artichokes with bread stuffing, pecorino crostata and fonduta sauce and Franz adored his just-seared foie gras (fresh, of course). His chicken and prawn with wilted spinach was the dish of the night, while Roberta found the saffron-tinted paccheri (large rigatoni) stuffed with razor clams, pretty, but a little too firm (though no doubt Ďcorrectí). Desserts, chefís specialty, were excellent; thin, caramelised apple slices on great puff with excellent vanilla ice cream and a refreshing, intense mandarin foam sorbet. Euro 190.
Gaetano Costa might not feature in the Michelin guide as yet but I have no doubt it will. This is a fabulous place!
Via Sicilia 45
Tel.: +39 (0)6 42016822
Christmas dinner at Antica Pesa in the bohemian Trastevere district was fun with warm service. A warren of rooms that in the 1600s was a Vatican customs house and simple osteria, the walls of the main dome-shaped room are now covered with bright murals, the lights are suspended from twisted copper grape vines and the ancient cellar is extensive.
This was the set menu:
Deep-fried Jewish-style artichokes
Hamburger of San Biagio salsiccia with primo sale
Spaghetti cacio e pepe
Cappelletti of braised beef in capon brodo
Roasted lamb shank with herbs and potatoes
Pistachio & caramel semifreddo
Panettone & coffee
The food was excellent and the service swift without giving you the feeling they were trying to rush you. Roberta again adored the deep-fried artichokes and I thought the cappelletti was the best dish; beautiful pasta, lovely filling and a superb broth. A bottle of 1998 Est Est Est dei Gelsi from Umbria worked a treat will all the dishes and didnít turn metallic with the artichokes either.
Via Garribaldi 18
Tel.: +39 (0)6 5809236
OSTERIA LA GENSOLA
But our favourite find in Rome was Osteria La Gensola, a simple family-run osteria on the cobbled Piazza della Gensola in Trastavere. Franco sent us here on our 3rd night and we werenít convinced at first by the seafood-heavy menu or the waiter who seemed to want to tell us what to eat and drink. But as it filled with locals, who all seemed to know each other and the staff, we felt at home and loved it so much we went back on our last night.
The menu is a mix of Sicilian and Roman cuisine, as the restaurant was Sicilian when the current owners bought it; the seafood arrives daily, mostly from the south coast, they have a weekly market menu and the pastries, including an authentic cassata (which was too sweet and cakey for us) come from Sicily twice a week.
On the first night, Roberta overdosed on her favourite deep-fried artichokes (they were huge) and she also decided she just didnít like carbonara. Franz was in his element with a rigatoni of oxtail and a tripe dish - both very Roman - and finished with an excellent piece of simple pan-fried John Dory. We drank a delicious savagnin and an expensive Aldegheri Amarone della Valpolicella and shared a yummy soft apple crumble with a very cinnamon-heavy ice cream for dessert.
On our final night we asked Simone (the waiter, by now our best friend) to just bring us food ... but not too much (how quickly attitudes can change). He poured a pleasant local white wine and brought out little deep-fried squares of chickpea flour (pettole, a Christmas specialty), ceviche of sea bass (spicy with white pepper), excellent tiny tuna meatballs in a tomato and smoked provola sauce, and superb flash-fried tiny squid (the size of a finger nail). Then Franz had spaghetti ricci di mare (pungent with sea urchin) and I had paccheri Norma (tomato, eggplant and ricotta salata).
We rolled out happy!
Osteria La Gensola is a gem! Itís hidden away and you wonít find it by accident. If youíre in Rome make sure you have at least one meal there.
Osteria Della Gensola
Piazza della Gensola 15
Tel.: +39 (0)6 58332758