Tag Archives: truffles

Firenze – September 2018

It’s been along time between visits to Italy and especially Florence. I think as I have gotten older I appreciate the slower pace of this city more. I love the proximity of the city to where food is grown as well. We contemplated a week staying on a farm in Tuscany, but I think at heart I am a city girl and I need to be able to have access to a cafe in the mornings.

I also just feel … at home … in Italy. I can’t quite explain it, but I feel genuinely happy when I am here. There is warmth from the locals and I even feel less self conscious about my attempts at speaking Italian than say Spain or France.

Florence (and in general Italy) to me, is all about comfort food. Of course there can be refinement – but moreso it’s about a generosity with the bounty of fresh ingredients they have access to.

And having lived now in Singapore for 11 years, where mostly everything is imported, fresh is really a treat.

We stayed at an Airbnb literally just off the Ponte Vecchio across the river from the main part of town. Florence is small – and living on he less touristy side of the city means that you are eating with Florentine locals.

Just down the road from us was Il Santino, a tiny and always busy wine bar serving snacks. Before you even get to order your glass of prosecco you are given small bits of crostini with grilled pecorino cheese and thin slices of Parma ham sitting on top, melting lightly over the hot cheese. It’s a tight squeeze I side and often patrons spilled out on to the roadside but everyone was warm and friendly.

“Coronets” or croissants with a slice of prosciutto

Coffee and breakfast at Ditta Atigianale

It’s tough being a tea drinker in Italy. The coffee in any establishment (we had ones in cafes in piazzas, in the shopping area, even near train stations) is fantastic. Robust and rich, almost creamy – not the horrible dishwashing liquid of Starbucks or in any of the coffee chains in Singapore. Add small bites of food like this simple croissant with Parma ham, and that’s your caffeine-fueled breakfast!

Quickly dipping the crusty roll in to the beef broth before adding the bollito in our panini

Markets are still our favourite go-to’s in any city and the Mercato Centrale has had a bit of a face left since we last visited Florence. Upstairs is now bustling with food stalls, bars and cafes and piped with funky tunes for visitors to enjoy. Downstairs of course there is still old favourites like De Nerbone, which sells panini lampredotto (tripe) or bollito. Cheap cuts of meat that have been slowly cooked over hours gives the most flavoursome and tender meat you can imagine, with a bright salsa verde and a spicy piccante sauce, encased in a crunchy bread roll that has been first dipped briefly in to the beef broth. Always a queue, always worth the short wait.

We of course had to reward ourselves with a truffle sandwich at Procacci – a small wine bar in the middle of town – with a glass of prosecco to wash it down. Indulgent treat!

Kneading our pasta dough

Our tagliatelle

Our simple zucchini and ricotta and mint-filled ravioli tossed in a some sage butter emulsion.

This trip we signed up for a pasta cooking class. Pasta is the one thing that is common across the country. Truffles are from Alba, fresh cheese from Puglia, Parma ham from Parma, but pasta, in all it’s various shapes, is truly just Italian. Again, simply prepared – 100g of plain flour mixed with some semolina flour (for “roughness”, to make sauces stick to the pasta) to one egg. Simple. It takes a lot of effort to knead the dough to get it to that smooth stretchy texture and it was to finally feel the dough get to the right texture. I will admittedly probably make pasta at home in my Thermomix but at least I know what the texture needs to be.

Our stunning view from the Ponte Vecchio

D came down with a 24 hour bug and I took the time to wander around the streets with my headphones and ended up standing by the Duomo and felt myself get quite emotional.

Lunch overlooking the spectacular Antinori vineyard

Weather-wise we had perfect weather. Crystal clear azure skies with an almost Arctic wind which kept the temperatures down. Which was perfect for visiting the Antinori vineyard, where we had a tour of the vineyard that ended with a wine tasting (hic) and lunch overlooking the spectacular vineyard. The place is enormous – Antinori is Italy’s largest wine producer with over 140 labels. It really is a big business – expensive videos screened theatre-style – although still family run. A stark comparison to the small, also family run Zenato vineyard near Verona. Both were thoroughly enjoyable days drinking Italian wines in the Italian countryside.

62 degree egg

Tagliatelle

Coffee mascarpone

And what is Italy in autumn without the white truffle?? After getting lost before finding out the restaurant was tucked away inside a hotel we found Savini Tartufi where we basically had white truffles shaved over all three courses. First was a 62 degree cooked egg, second was over a simple tagliatelle and finally dessert was over an airy mascarpone cream which was divine.

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Gaia – one the best Italian in Singapore

Antipasta – stracciatella with vine ripened tomatoes and San Daniele ham

Who can resist the wonderful simplicity and generosity of Italian cuisine ? Luckily there are a few great Italian restaurants in Singapore where you can go for a great meal – Valentinos, No Menu, Bistecca, Il Lido – just to name a few.

We discovered a great new Italian restaurant – Gaia at the Goodwood Park Hotel. It doesn’t have the home-grown family-run charm of Valentinos or No Menu, but this slick restaurant has knocked the crown off those both for me for the best Italian in Singapore.

The menu screams of the freshest and best ingredients and I started with an antipasta plate of proscuitto ham from San Daniele – slightly less salty and more sweet than Parma ham, stracciatella – cheese made of torn pieces of mozzarella and cream and used as stuffing for burrata and the most amazing vine-ripened tomatoes. Ham, cheese and tomato. Perfect combination and elevated to the next level using three simple ingredients to which the response to each mouthful was “oh. my. god.”

Mushroom consommé palate cleanser

After they cleared our starters, we were served a palate cleanser. I was thinking sorbet, fruit, a shot of calvados, and they pour us a small cup of what I thought was tea, but ended up being a mushroom consommé. Odd, yet a perfect palate cleanser – clean and refreshing that tasted amazing in your mouth and no aftertaste.

It sure worked for me to prepare myself for the next dish, especially as I had ordered off the special truffle menu – handmade pasta with shaved black truffles. I mean, how can anyone go past that ?

Handmade pasta with black truffles

The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente – a little thicker than normal but clearly made without the use of a pasta machine, with just the right amount of thinly shaved black truffles draped over the warm pasta, filling the air around me with that wonderful, heady aroma of truffles.

Dessert was the flan di cioccolato – described as an “oven baked chocolate cake with a liquid heart”. The fondant had that gooey runny chocolate centre, with the richness of the chocolate balanced with a light vanilla sauce and fresh berries.

Seriously good stuff. Any other suggestions for great Italian in Singapore ?

Gaia Ristorante and Bar
Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scotts Road, Singapore
Tel: 6735 9937

Open:
Lunch – 12pm – 2.30pm (Sun – Fri)
Dinner – 6.30pm – 11pm (Mon – Sun)


Casa Tartufo

Tajarin – Piedmont-style thin egg noodles with fresh winter black truffles

Any restaurant that features truffles is a winner in my eyes, and we had a chance to sample some of Casa Tartufo’s signature dishes during Restaurant Week. As you walk into the restaurant, you are enveloped by the scent of truffles – always a good thing.

We started with their burrata with a truffle heart, imported from Puglia. Burrata is becoming increasingly popular in Singapore. And to be honest, all the burrata I’ve had tastes incredible whether it is imported or made on-premise (for example at Osteria Mozza). But this is the first I have had with a truffle heart. So when you cut open the burrata, what oozes out the centre is a thick cream of buffalo mozarella and flecks of black truffle. Impossibly good, but a large starter, so I’d recommend it to share, just so you have enough space to fit in more of the food on offer.

Main course was a tajarin – Piedmont style thin Egg-noodles with truffles. Fresh pasta with truffles is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite dishes. If the pasta is done right (which this one was), it acts as a wonderful canvas that can be vividly coloured with the simple addition of truffles. In this case, slices of fresh winter black truffles. This dish differs from the usual pasta with parmesan cheese and truffles in that it came in a broth base. Very different, but universally loved at our table.

Truffle ice-cream with hazelnuts and chocolate

To end the meal we were served truffle ice-cream. Vanilla ice-cream infused with truffles (trust me, it works) on a bed of hazelnuts and chocolate, dusted with crushed cookies. Delightful way to end the evening and tantalising enough for us to want to try to the rest of the menu soon.

Casa Tartufo
Forum Shopping Mall, #01-17
583 Orchard Rd, Singapore 23884
Tel: +65 68364647

Open every day
Lunch: 11.30am to 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.00pm to 10.00pm


the Disgruntled Chef

Signature crispy lamb short ribs

Tucked away in Dempsey Hill near PS Cafe lies the Disgruntled Chef, where Daniel Sia (formerly of the White Rabbit) has designed a menu that is meant for sharing. Small appetisers, tapas-style, followed by a few main course dishes. Absolutely perfect for D and I who want to try everything on offer.

The friendly staff go through the menu with you, highlighting the signature dishes of the house, of which we picked the crispy lamb short ribs, the crab cakes and the serrano ham, and then D spied the “snack menu” which had thick cut truffle fries and brioche with cheese and truffles. It sounded so much like the truffle sandwich from Procacci in Florence we simply had to try them as well.

The lamb short ribs are pretty awesome – they must be slow-braised so they are tender and then fried till crispy, and come served with a generous dusting of crushed chilli, cumin and coriander seeds, served on dollops of yoghurt. I don’t eat lamb (my family didn’t eat it so I never grew up with it and I don’t like the strong smell and taste it has) but even I had to try some.  The chef really nailed this dish – a true balance of textures and flavours and not “too lamby” at all (although for those who like lamb, that might be a downside).

Warm brioche with cheese and truffles

And the humble brioche with cheese and truffles ? Turned out to be my favourite dish of the evening. The brioche is not too sweet and comes as a flat bun filled in the middle with cheese and truffles, which is then warmed to release the aroma of those truffles. Absolutely delicious.

Crackling suckling pig with crudites and clove and honey dip

For mains D and I tried the crackling suckling pig. I think having the word “crackling” in the description really does set very high expectations, and I think had they not done this, the dish would have been perfectly acceptable. Lovely tender meat with crispy skin that comes with a clove and honey dressing which had some acidity that helped to cut through the richness of the meat.

Would I rush back there again in a hurry ? I’m not really sure. There are just so many new casual dining restaurants springing up in Singapore that you really need to knock my socks off to lure me back again, but if you’ve not been, then make sure you try the lamb and the brioche.

The Disgruntled Chef
26B Dempsey Road
Singapore 247693
Tel: +65 6476 5305
E: BOOKINGS@DISGRUNTLEDCHEF.COM

Open
Tues – Thurs – lunch 12pm – 2.30pm /dinner 6pm – 10.30pm
Friday & Saturday – lunch 12pm – 2.30pm/dinner 6pm – 11.30pm
Sunday brunch – 12pm – 4.30pm/dinner 6pm – 10.30pm
(closed Mondays)


Ristorante Pietro Valentini

Fried egg and asparagus with fresh black truffles

My last holiday post ! It has been so so so wonderful being able to extend the memory of the trip by reliving each of the amazing places where we were lucky enough to eat. And it’s been such a journey. I am hungry and full and happy and sad at the same time.

Our last stop in Italy was Rome – just for one night as that was where we were flying out from. It was intentional, we had half a day to visit our favourite monuments (the awesome Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain) and to eat at the restaurant that we chanced upon two years ago, Ristorant Pietro Valentini.

Our palate has grown increasingly hungry for truffles since we last visited, and I do recall then ordering only one dish with truffles, instead filling precious tummy space with fritto misto (lightly battered and deep fried seafood) and stuffed zucchini flowers.

Fresh tagliolini with white truffles

This time we ordered with laser focus (although we couldn’t resist some of their fresh homemade walnut bread). Fried eggs and asparagus to start – a slightly strange dish for dinner but who wants to stick to tradition when it comes liberally covered in shaved black truffles ? The asparagus spears were thick and green and cooked to perfection, the egg cooked through but with a runny yolk, and that’s all you get served with. What ? Oh, wait, here comes Simone, the daughter in-law of the owner and cook, with a tray of black truffles, selects one nonchalantly and grates it with a microplane over the dish. The warmth of the egg seems to enhance the smell of truffles even more.

Parmesan risotto with fresh white truffles

For mains we thought we’d stick to simple dishes – parmesan risotto and fresh tagliolini. Again, both served plain at the table, and then the lovely Simona arrives with a wooden box which she opens to reveal four beautiful white truffles. She then proceeds to thinly shave about two of these over our two dishes. And here we thought the black truffles smelled good. The aroma of the white truffles when they hit the warm rice and pasta filled the small restaurant to the point where all conversation in the place stopped, replaced with oohs and aahs of delight. Guess they were also there for the same thing and it was a taste/smell of things to come 🙂

I don’t really need to say much more than that other than we risked walking across the city amongst strikes and protests and riots (including riot police!) to get to Pietros. And boy was it worth it.

Ristorante Pietro Valentini
Via dei Pianellari
Rome, Italy
Tel: 066868565


Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine

Cold angel hair pasta with oscietra caviar 

We all have favourite restaurants that we’d be happy to go to every week, and others that hold a special place in our hearts (and tastebuds and tummies).

Gunther’s on Purvis Street is one of them for me. And for one dish in particular, and that’s chef Gunther Hubrechsen’s signature dish of cold angel hair pasta with oscietra caviar. It’s a dish that I have not tasted in maybe two years, yet the very mention of it puts a smile on my face.

And so we ended up at Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine last Saturday. I always wonder how accurate my memory of food is and thankfully Gunther’s lived up to all my great expectations.

Japanese tomato with Iberico ham

We were shown the tray of specials for the evening, full of wonderful produce like fresh sea urchin, Maine lobster, French artichokes, wild mushrooms, Grade 9 wagyu beef and Japanese tomatoes.

I had had Japanese tomatoes before, and was blown away by the sweetness and intense flavour of it.  Here it was served (we ordered it as an appetiser) with thinly sliced Iberico ham and a balsamic reduction, and the intense saltiness of the ham seemed to bring out the sweetness of the tomato even more.  Divine pairing.

Then came the angel hair pasta. I don’t even know how to give this dish justice. From the moment it is served to you, the smell of truffles fills your nose. the pasta is served delicately chilled, tossed with chives and truffle jus and with a generous dollop of oscietra caviar on top. Perfectly seasoned, the flavour that hits your palate when you take that first bite is almost indescribable – I wish I had taken a photo of my friends’ faces instead. And I think the firm texture of the oscietra caviar, making them burst like flavour bombs in your mouth, just add the final touch to a truly magical dish.

Baked egg with Iberico ham and mushrooms

We also had what I consider to be posh ham and eggs and mushrooms, but served this way, I would be happy to eat them for breakfast every day !

Roast black pig with compote of apple and crispy potatoes

For mains I ordered black pig with compote of apple and crispy potatoes. It would be so difficult to make such a thin cut of pork not be too dry, yet Gunther nailed it and the meat was roasted to tender and succulent perfection.

Fine apple tart a la dragées with Havana rum raisin ice-cream

I finished the meal with the signature fine apple tart a la dragées with Havana rum raisin ice-cream. Certainly not what I expected, this tart came out literally wafer thin and of wafer texture, so you get a crispy mouthful of sweet apples and nuts. Lovely and light, especially after all that rich food we had consumed. I was excited about tasting the Havana rum raisin ice-cream but I found the flavour sadly lacking the punchy taste of the rum.

Gunther’s is not the sort of place you would go to every week, but this visit will keep me smiling for a few years or at least till the next time we visit.

Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine
36 Purvis Street #01-03
Tel: (65) 6338 8955

Open from Monday to Saturday
Closed on Sunday
Noon – 2.30pm
6:30pm -10:30pm


Why Chef Valentino is a GENIUS

Truffle ice-cream with freshly shaved white truffles

Who else would shave fresh white truffles over truffle/vanilla ice-cream??

In my earlier post on Valentinos, I mentioned that D had loved it so much that he said that Valentinos was where he wanted to have his birthday dinner.  So off we went last night.

Fresh buffalo mozzarella

I had already rang ahead to check if they had any fresh buffalo mozarella that night and was delighted to find out they did.  We had a similar round of starters than we did our first time there – lightly breadcrumbed and deep-fried anchovies, the buffalo mozarella and sweet tomatoes with olive oil and basil, cow’s milk cheese wrapped in proscuitto and pan-fried, and we added a selection of cold meats to make four for the table.

Cherry tomatoes with basil

As before, the mozarella was light and chewy and stringy and milky and all the things buffalo mozarella should be.  Paired with a mouthful of tomatoes and basil and we were transported to our trip to the Amalfi Coast once again.  The cold meats didn’t look like much, but the flavour from the thinly shaved slices of proscuitto, salami and mortadella (something I’ve always wondered about but never tasted) was a perfect way to balance the other dishes on the table.

Porcini ravioli with truffle oil

For seconds we shared two pasta dishes – the porcini ravioli with truffle oil and the house speciality, squid ink pasta in a creamy crab sauce.  The ravioli was just so … mushroomy, for want of a better word.  And the squid ink pasta came in thick ribbons covered with large chunks of fresh crab leg meat, the sauce a mix of cream and tomato and with a hint of heat from chilli.  I couldn’t really taste the squid ink over the flavour of the sauce, so a good thing the sauce was so delicious.

Delicious steak

Mains we again shared two dishes – the veal saltimbocca and a 500g steak, cooked on the bone and medium rare, served thickly sliced over a bed of rocket and tomatoes. Both solidly good.

But I digress.  I am typing all of this as fast as I can just so I can tell you about the special dessert Chef Valentino served D especially for his birthday – truffle ice-cream, with freshly shaved white truffles.  The only time I have seen so many truffles was when we were in Rome at Pietros where they had a tray of fresh black truffles.  Chef Valentino showed us a square bowl full of arborio rice, with the most beautiful smelling truffles dotted on top.  This was how he stored his truffles – in order to further flavour the arborio rice for his truffle risottos.  Another stroke of genius.

White truffles perfuming a bed of arborio rice

He then gave us a martini glass with one scoop of truffle ice-cream – we ate the ice-cream on its own – a rich vanilla ice-cream that actually already tasted of truffles.  Why it works, we didn’t care.  Just trust me when I say it does.  Chef then liberally shaved the fresh white truffles over it and the four of us at our table greedily scooped out spoonfuls of ice-cream with truffles.  There was absolute silence in the room for a few seconds before the exclamations – “mmmmm !”  and “ooooh !” – started of just how good that tasted.

We left happy, full and with a parting shot of Limoncello.  For such an unassuming restaurant, this place rocks.  Apart from the food, the service is just so warm.  Not only is it clearly family run, but clearly the staff are also treated like family, and it really shows.  Add to this the fact that the Chef is an amarone fiend (ask to see his wine cellar!!), means we will definitely be going back again, hopefully very soon !

Ristorante Da Valentino
11 Jalan Bingka
Singapore 588908
Restaurant: 6462 0555

Closed Mondays


Stellar night at Stellar and 1-Altitude

It was a Friday night – what other excuse did we need to go out for something fancy ? Leaving the plans to D, he booked us a table with what has to be one of the best views in Singapore at Stellar, one of the many, many new restaurants opening around the city.

On the 62 floor of the OUB building, the lift doors open to a large, airy, light-filled, buzzy bistro. I was surprised and impressed that they did not seem to want to cramp the restaurant with too many tables – in fact, I think they could have added another in – but we were seated by the window overlooking the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, which looked tiny from our lofty view.

The place could do with slightly better acoustics – it was a full house but the waiters had to stoop down to your seated-head level just to hear your order, but the buzz of the other patrons talking added to the lively ambiance. The music selection was also a bit schizophrenic – from drum and bass to freestyle jazz to Nina Simone. By the end of our meal, the music theme had gone to traditional old-style (and I think restaurant-worthy) smooth jazz.

The menu is wide and varied – not really sure what type of restaurant it’s trying to be. Apparently they specialise in charcuterie, so we ordered the charcuterie plate to share, and for mains I ordered the truffle risotto with Maine lobster and D ordered what I thought would be the winner, suckling pig stuffed with kurubota pork, iberico ham with crackling.  There was also a sushi menu, an oyster bar, a seafood and grill.  There’s no real theme to tie the menu together, but we are lovers of cured meat, so we stuck to what we love!

The charcuterie plate turned up on a afternoon-sandwich tea server. Top of the pile was the iberico ham which always is a winner. Second tier was the proscuitto and serano ham – both delicious and not a lot of difference between them, bottom tier had a game terrine)- fairly bland, a rabbit rillette, which was pretty average, the fat on the top was rock hard which made it a little unappetising, and a foie gras parfait, which will always pale into comparison with chef Andre Chiang’s from his days at Jaan.

Turns out I was so happy with my main (which I could quite happily have had minus the lobster), which was perfectly cooked and just so so truffly, I turned down D’s very kind offer of some of his crackling.

The suckling pig was disappointing. Turned out it was rolled around the stuffing but the stuffing was not “meaty” and ended up leaving D wanting more. It just wasn’t well presented either. Hard to explain, and my picture didn’t turn out.  The truffle fries are fantastic – crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside and D told me that if it weren’t for the mega truffly risotto I had had, I would have noticed the truffle oil on the fries.  The mash was also smooth and creamy and tasted…very potato-y.

I have to give them points for trying hard with the service.  The waitress who served us our charcuterie plate listed everything on the plate, but mixed up the hams, and explained that the terrine had “guinea pig” instead of guinea fowl, the waiter who took my dirty unused knife had to be asked twice for a replacement, but they were friendly and helpful.

We skipped dessert to visit the not-yet-ready 1-Altitude upstairs on the 63 level.  Stunning panoramic views from the highest open air bar in the world (for now) amused us for a while while we tried to figure out where things are from a very different perspective.  The bar was not yet built, and the whole setup for now still feels a bit flimsy, but I’m sure once it’s all done it will be a massive hit with the crowds.

All in all, a lovely way to spend a Friday night.

1-Altitude/Stellar
Level 61 OUB Building
No 1 Raffles Place
6438-0410


Dinner Date at Jaan par André

D surprised me last night by saying he was going to take me to Jaan par André, a restaurant that we’ve wanted to try for ages.  Hearing rumours that chef André Chiang was going to leave to set up his own restaurant, we thought we’d catch him while still there, and are we glad we did !

The restaurant has a cracker view of the harbour and the place was nicely buzzing when we walked in.  The set up is a bit weird, there’s no real greeting area, so we kind of walked straight into the dining room.  There were three maitre d’s who seem to be the only ones to seat guests (we were noticed by a few of the serving staff, which I thought was strange, despite them not doing anything to acknowledge us standing there waiting).

Once seated we were served the most ridiculous “bread sticks” which were about half the thickness of an uncooked strand of angel hair spaghetti and this was served with an eggplant dip.  The sticks were so fragile that there was no hope of picking up any of the dip with them.  I was hungry (and apparently have no manners) so picked up a dollop with the bread knife and found it smooth and creamy.

An amuse bouche was served – raw sweet prawn served on frozen sangria which was very refreshing, but not sure it really worked.

Then we got to the real stuff.

Entrees was a difficult decision between scallops saint jacques or perigord foie gras but once again foie gras won the day.  Served three ways – pan seared, terrine, and the clear winner of the three, a foie gras jelly, which had the consistency of chawanmushi, with fresh truffles.  Absolute heaven in a cup!

For mains, I had the Bresse chicken which was served with scallops and foie gras and morel mushrooms, which I’ve only ever seen on River Cottage on TV.  Light and creamy, I the chicken had a delicate flavour and a texture that was much smoother than I think chicken should be.  But it was moist and tender and didn’t need tons of sauce so you could really taste the chicken.

We didn’t have space for dessert, but were served petit fours – a raspberry sorbet infused with earl grey tea and dipped in white chocolate (which I don’t usually like), a light and crispy macaroon, a madeline and dark chocolate with orange crisps and POP ROCKS.  Took me a while to figure out what the noise was until I realised with glee that the chef had managed to include them in the delicious chocolate.  Really took me back years and ended the evening with a big grin on my face.

With the chef leaving at the end of the month, we’re going back again for more before it all ends…

Jaan par André
Swissotel The Stamford
Singapore
Tel: +65 6837 3322


And on to Rome…

Before I get to Tippling Club, I want to say how damn easy it was for me to move my blog from Blogger to WordPress.  And how much more user-friendly WordPress is !  And also I wanted to include our trip to Rome last September.

APART from the fact that I seem to have lost my entire post on Rome !!

OK I will persevere, and I might even put some pretty pictures in, because that reminds me of what a wonderful time we had there.

After Positano we drove to Naples and then we caught a train to Rome.  I want to remember the romantic train ride, but for some reason (which D reckons is “sleep”) I cannot !  Shame.

I do recall arriving at our hotel – which was tucked away in a very small, dark alley.  This kind of freaked me out initially but then I realised that Rome is simply made up of these sorts of alleys, and there is a thriving cafe scene, where locals go – guess the tourists stay in the light.

It was a pretty weird setup – 2 flights of stairs and then what I can only say resembled an apartment, of which they rented out the rooms.  It was so weird.  Clearly it was new, even the safe had not been secured in the cupboard but I’ll say one thing for that room we rented – the bed was a tempur mattress which made it wonderfully comfortable, especially since travelling you always end up sleeping in weird beds that you’re unused to.  I swear all hotels should have them.

But I digest…

Food-wise, Rome is somewhere where I think you have to definitely avoid the touristy places.  We went to a few places on recommendation from D’s colleagues and clients – one which was apparently at the place where Brutus stabbed Caesar, where I had suckling pig that was pretty average.  Mirabelle, which was a lovely location – overlooking the Vatican – tables were very close together and although I recall the food to be lovely, it was pretty forgettable, and I had foie gras and duck – some of my favourite things in the world !  We also went outside of Rome – I can’t remember the area but I keep thinking of Sardinia – obviously we didn’t actually go to Sardinia, but we went to a little taverna which had lovely food but unfortunately the night we went there was a major football game on so we were literally the only ones in the restaurant.  We forgot about that though, when they brought out the grappa.

Ice-cold, syrupy goodness in two flavours – one was the normal one and the other was… I want to say wheat ? Anyway, I do recall walking around the Piazza Navona near our hotel absolutely giggling girties.

I always like to wander streets and get lost when we travel.  You always seem to stumble upon some really great stuff and here we managed two places.  The first was where we spent our last night over dinner.  There was a tiiiny little restaurant near our hotel called Pietro Valentini Ristorante, and the thing which caught our attention was the fact that he boasted to be the King of Truffles.  When we walked into the restaurant, we were almost overwhelmed by the warm hospitality of Pietro and his daughter in-law, Simone, and the wondrous smell of truffles.  There is a tray full of the biggest, fattest looking black truffles and oh. my. gosh. it smelled goooood.  Before we ordered we were served a three cheese bread, cut from a gigantic loaf – this is hearty Italian food and hospitality at its best.  While we were waiting for our entrees, the other good news was the place was full of local Romans – always a good sign.  My entree was mozarella stuffed zuccini flowers, D’s was calamari – both crispy light.  Mains were steak for D and mine was a pasta which has freshly shaved truffles over it – I can’t even remember what sauce it was the truffles were so good ! In fact, it was so good that D committed a crime by ordering pasta after his carne.  Dessert was called Fantasty Ravioli which is a chocolate filled ravioli that is then deep fried, so the chocolate inside becomes smooth and molten….We were pretty drunk but last Christmas we received a Christmas card from the restaurant, so we can’t have made such a bad impression.  This meal really made my visit to Rome amazing.

The other little find was a tiny little supermarket in one of the streets near the Pantheon (I get chills just writing that word down I love that place so much).  Normal supermarket, but keep wandering around and you find a meat deli section where D and I had our first taste of Iberico ham.  I do wish the man behind the magical counter sliced it thinner but I think it just meant that you had to really work and chew at the ham, which seemed to warm and release the flavours even more.  We left with so much cured meat from there it was hilarious – lucky we weren’t flying back to Sydney where we would have had to eat it all at customs.

We had superb weather the entire time we were there – it seemed to cool down significantly in Rome from Amalfi, so we also enjoyed many walks through the Campo Di Fiori – fresh produce markets, where, again, is full of tourists but also locals.  And as we are early risers, we got to wander around in the warm morning sun watching the locals buy their produce to cool for the day – fresh borlotti beans, soup mixes, fresh salad mix.  Just wonderful.

I have always loved Rome and it’s inspired me and D to travel to the other parts of Italy to go on a gastronomic tour of the country !  ps the Vatican, you can keep.