September 27 2010
Several months ago, in my professional capacity as author of How To Spend It’s Travelista column, I was sent notice of the total refurbishment of an old-school Roman hotel in a totally new-school way. (Full disclosure: I have a lovely little bolthole of a place I like to stay in the Eternal City, which I’ll never reveal in public. Hey, everyone’s entitled to a secret or two.) Palazzo Manfredi, as it has been rechristened and which I visited last time I was in town to see the Caravaggio retrospective at Le Scuderie, looked promising enough at several levels, from the petrolhead-pleasing Lamborghini parked out front (available on demand for a spin up around the Villa Farnese, or wherever you want, really) to the utterly unbeatable location, directly facing the Colosseum (every room in the hotel has that postcard view).
What I wasn’t aware of until I arrived, however, was aRoma, the hotel’s terrace restaurant. This turned out to be the Manfredi’s unexpected but totally delightful pièce de résistance, a crown jewel sitting atop its five stories and overlooking all of Rome. Behind the terrace, very sexily draped and tented in white muslin, there’s a tiny permanent dining room with just a handful of tables, where large arched windows give on to views in three directions.
Now in principle, I’m allergic to the idea of fine dining in this city (why on earth would you – well; would I – spend the money and dress up when casually chic, out-for-under-€20 osterie and wine bars bloom on every corner?); but aRoma put the lie to my delusion. The menu is sparse – each night showcases just half a dozen starters, and as many mains.
The dishes I chose were clean, thoughtful reinventions of traditional Italian standards, from Piemonte to Puglia (elsewhere on the menu saw the occasional Asian flourish thrown in, but I abstained). A zucchini-flower and barley soup was of an almost palate-cleansing purity; a simple pasta married caciocavallo cheese and succulent, tiny cherry tomatoes in perfect union. The chianina beef – which I didn’t order but did quite indiscreetly ogle as it passed my table – looked and smelled to be pitch-perfection. (I asked our waiter why; the vegetables are braised in the same Sangiovese sauce as the meat itself.)
Both terrace and dining room are unquestionably glamorous and fairly formal (“casual chic” is at the bottom end of the dress-code barometer here). And by and large I’m still probably more inclined to fare alla romana at a corner wine bar. But I’d send anyone to aRoma without a shred of concern that they’d be anything but impressed by the food. And that view: a postcard can’t really compare.