All you need to have a great meal in Rome are a few tips from the locals and the will to walk on cobblestone streets, up and down the city’s hills, to find the right place to eat. Without that insider knowledge though, visitors can easily fall into tourist traps and miss out on the opportunity to try authentic Roman cuisine.
On my most recent visit, I had lunch with family at Il Giardino on the top floor of Hotel Eden, a five-star Dorchester Collection hotel in an affluent neighbourhood on the Pincian Hill. The new bar and restaurant was unveiled in 2017, following a 17-month renovation of the property, and is a new favourite on Rome’s dining scene.
The restaurant offers all-day dining in a casual yet refined setting: floor-to-ceiling windows, a glass roof, semi-open terrace and contemporary furniture. The hotel also has a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Terrazza, managed by executive chef Fabio Ciervo, but Il Giardino is there to fulfil the everyday needs of Hotel Eden’s guests, at half the price of dinner at La Terrazza – a three-course meal with a glass of wine at Il Giardino comes in at about €90. And when you sit back with a glass of Frascati Superiore Riserva (€14), gazing out at the majestic St Peter’s Basilica, the grand Villa Medici and the surrounding Borghese gardens, it’s easy to feel as if you are at a fine-dining restaurant after all.
The menu is long (nine sections range from cold cuts to pasta, meat and pizza), but it’s the quality of the ingredients that makes Il Giardino stand out. A simple dish of mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto crudo San Daniele IGP (€24) is a celebration of all that is best about Italian food: the sweet cured ham melts in the mouth; the mozzarella is soft on the inside with a firm skin, signifying freshness and quality.
I looked for Roman classics and ordered a delicious starter: fiori di zucca stuffed with ricotta, taleggio, black olives and sun-dried pachino cherry tomatoes (€21). I loved how the chef re-invented one of Rome’s peasant dishes, deep-fried courgette flowers.
For my main course, I tried the cacio e pepe, curcuma (€22) – a quintessential Roman pasta dish with a twist, with turmeric spice added to the pecorino cheese and pepper sauce to give it an intense flavour and deep, warm colour. It was definitely different, but very good and cooked on the raw end of the al dente scale, which is how Romans love it. My parents ordered an equally satisfying dish of paccheri pasta with fish ragù, shellfish and courgette flowers (€26) and turbot fillet (€40), a farmed fish roasted and served with lemon, capers, olives and scarola (Batavian endive), a typically Roman steamed vegetable.
There is a wide choice of desserts, sorbets and gelati, but I recommend trying the tiramisù (€16), with deconstructed layers of mascarpone cream, coffee and sponge biscuit. If tiramisù is the ultimate dish to judge the quality of an Italian restaurant, this one passed the test.
Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London, who is passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with the @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.