Walking in the Pope’s footsteps: photos from the Vatican gardens

Ever wondered where the Pope takes his daily meditative stroll? Well, yesterday Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP) officially inaugurated the Vatican gardens bus tour. The yellow methane and electric-driven minibuses will be running hour-long guided tours for the public around the Vatican gardens. You also get to see St Peter’s from behind.

The introduction to the tour saw a line-up of cardinals and priests give their views on why the gardens are important. One cited the symbolism of the garden in the Bible – the garden of Eden of course, as well as the garden where Judas kissed Jesus, betraying him. There were also a joke in Latin (something about Martial writing “if you want to drink vinegar, drink the wine made at the Vatican”), which the cardinals had a good chuckle about – before translating for the assembled crowd of journalists and bloggers, who duly tittered once they’d got it.

I’m just wondering – when Martial was around (the second half of the first century AD), what was going on at Vatican hill? Well I guess St Peter was crucified there… in around 64AD, and Nero’s stadium was there. I didn’t know the land was used for a vineyard too.

It’s not the first time the public has been allowed into the gardens – access was previously possible for groups of pilgrims. Now the bus tours give access to whoever is interested and costs 12 euros for the trip (plus 3 euros for a reservation… if you turn up at their office at 9, piazza Pio XII you might not need to reserve).

My only reservation is that when you’re on a bus, no matter how open-air that bus is, you don’t really get to experience many of the most wonderful things about a garden. You can see, but you don’t get that chance to get close to the green lawns, to touch leaves, to choose your own pathways and to stop under the bough of a pine for shade, if you fancy it. Smelling scents, hearing water trickling and maybe stealing a chance to be alone for a minute. That is what a garden is all about.

For more information see www.operaromanapellegrinaggi.org, email usp@orpnet.org or call +39 06 88 81 618

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Why Italian bureaucrats make me seethe

Post-traumatic stress disorder: that well known syndrome often experienced after visiting an Italian post office.

I’m not kidding, on the occasions when I pop down to the local post office, and take my number from the ticket-dispenser, I frequently succumb to severe anxiety, usually in the form of pure and simple rage.

I’ve got no quibble with the system: queueing up to buy postage for a parcel, for example, seems quite logical.

It’s just that the people who work in our local post office are so unfathomably and unforgivably rude. They chat and joke to themselves in the back room while the public waits patiently. They walk around aimlessly carrying bits of paper between thumb and forefinger, they rummage in boxes, dust off shelves and lurk just out of sight – they will do just about anything to avoid sitting down behind the desk and selling you a god-damn stamp.

Last time I went, I came out seething like a very angry Hulk in a bath of scalding water. I had the great fortune to have no one in front of me – my number was already up as soon as I walked in. Great, but there was no one at the desk to weigh my parcel. I waited for 10 minutes, watching three female post office staff chatting and joking at another counter. Occasionally they looked over at me, saw I was waiting, and then carried on cackling.

Eventually one reluctantly brakes away and comes to serve me. She tucks into a packet of Pringles as she takes my parcel. “Urgh-mwhahhh-ahh!” she mutters, spraying both me and the parcel with crumbs of oven-baked dehydrated potato gunge: you see, unfathomable and unforgivable. She holds up two fingers and a thumb. “Ah, three euros is it?” I say. I give her five, she tosses two back, and I leave as quickly as I can. Of course I don’t complain – but maintain my British upper lip and seethe quietly to myself.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered unfettered rudeness in that particular post office. But then again, it’s not the only public institution in town that offers unfettered rudeness as an inclusive part of the service. I’ve had a few encounters at the train station too – although they have been more amusing than rage-inducing.

I recently rocked up at the station as you do, all ready, bag in hand and eager to get on the train. The small screen (it’s a distant relation of the Commodore 64, possibly a predecessor) tells me there’s a delay. I skip over to the ticket counter to ask when the next train for Rome is due.

And when I ask the ticket counter man – a perfectly respectable-looking gentleman, probably in his late 50s – do you know what he says? “C’è lo sciopero” (which means ‘there’s a strike’). But it’s not really so much what he says that takes me by surprise – it’s the way he says it.

Now, you know when you were a kid and you wanted to show off, for example that you had got to the top of the climbing frame before your classmates? Or that you had a bike and they didn’t. Or maybe you had bought the last two ounces of fizzy cola bottles in the sweet shop, denying the other kids their favourite tooth-rot? The noise you might have made, if you had been an obnoxious kid, might have been that ‘ner-ner ne ner-neeeer’ sung in an annoying sing-song voice. A triumphant little ‘I’ve got something you haven’t got!’ theme tune.

That is how the guy at the ticket counter imparted the information regarding the train strike – by singing ‘C’è lo sciperoooo!’ at me in a taunting playground manner, as if I were completely idiotic for not having been aware of the strike. I loved it, and now every time there’s a train strike, I have to sing ‘C’è lo scioperooooo! Ner-ner ne ner-neeeer’ to myself.

More recently there was another train strike. This time I didn’t dare ask why the train wasn’t on time – I already knew the answer. I simply asked the man behind the counter (a different gentleman, but still someone who looked pretty respectable, late fifties, I would guess he may have worked for the Italian railways for quite a few years in fact) when the next train might be…

Oh silly me, I thought that he, working there in the station, selling tickets and with a little 1980s-style computer at his disposal, might have some inside knowledge of the train timetable. “Me, me I don’t know anything about trains!” he replied, shrugging his shoulders and looking mystified and irritated, as if I had just asked him what time the next space shuttle is taking off from Cape Canaveral.

Such is the state of customer service in public institutions in Italy.

I have one last example of heinous public customer service. It occurred earlier this week, when I went to the local registry office (called the ‘anagrafe’, where a lot of bureaucracy gets done) to try to register as a resident.

Since I have a British passport and am therefore a European citizen, it shouldn’t be too hard to register, I thought.

First of all a pleasant lady at a desk by the entrance tells me that Britain isn’t part of the European community, which poses a dilemma for her, as she thinks I can’t fill out the form she was about to give me. I assure her that Britain is definitely in Europe and has been part of the European Union since 1973. She looks doubtful, but in grand old Italian style, shrugs her shoulders as if these minor details don’t really matter anyway, gives me one of those ‘on your head be it!’ kind of looks, and allows me to fill in the form.

She sends me to counter 8, where a spotty, bored youth stops fiddling with his mobile phone and takes my form so he can register me for ‘urban waste collection’. With a tone of confusion, he reads out my boyfriend’s name, which I have given as the owner of the house I live in. ‘Who is he?’ asks the spotty youth. It’s my turn to look confused – do I explain that he’s my boyfriend, we live together, he’s a graphic designer, lives opposite Bar Sport, quite tall.. ah, no he just wants to know if he is the owner of the house…

It all reminds me of this classic Lillo and Greg sketch where an officious Italian bureaucrat asks for James Bond’s details, destroying the undercover agent’s will to live in the process. It goes something like this:
JB: The name’s Bond, James Bond
OIB: Surname?
JB: … Bond!
OIB: So full name is Bond James Bon Bon…
it’s funny, watch it!

Before I left the anagrafe, two more officials tell me that Britain isn’t in the European community, that my printed bank statements and UK tax returns are not valid and that I would not be granted resident status here, unless I fulfilled other far-flung criteria that haven’t been mentioned on any of the websites where I’ve read up about getting residency… are they just making up reasons why I can’t be an official resident?

It’s enough to make you cry with rage, and I haven’t even got started on the spectacled man behind counter two, who preferred barking in some kind of dialect rather than asking normal questions in correct Italian.

When I voice my frustration and amusement at these incidents with friends, a recurring explanation that people come up with is that (at least in the past) a lot of public sector jobs have been filled by unfair means – in other words, nepotism, small-scale political favours and what are generally, in Italian, called ‘impicci’ (a word that means shady dealings). The result is that people who aren’t qualified or aren’t suitable end up in jobs they aren’t interested in doing. And, boy, does it show!

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Ladispoli’s ‘sagra’ is no choking matter

The annual artichoke festival of Ladispoli: a chaotic, noisy, messy weekend dedicated – despite the funfair atmosphere and market stalls – to the serious adulation and veneration of that leafy green globe.

Prize-winning 'chokes

It all began in 1950, when the comune of Ladispoli – then a small town with less than half today’s population and impoverished in post-war Italy – wanted to attract trade and business. Local legend has it that the idea for the ‘Sagra del Carciofo Romanesco’ was hatched by a group of young friends over a late-night dinner in La Tripolina, Ladispoli’s historic restaurant in piazza Rossellini. Corrado Melone, who went on to become a prominent local author, was discussing the forlorn state of his beloved town with friends and, as they picked over a plate of delicious fried artichokes, they struck on the idea of promoting their strongest asset.

Sixty-one years later, the rest, as they say, is history.

But these days many Ladispolani make a point of escaping – and who can blame them? More than 100 market stallholders set up their wares all the way down the main streets – viale Italia, via Odescalchi and via Ancona – while thousands of day trippers descend on the small seaside town.

The inspiration, be-all and end-all of the 'sagra del carciofo romanesco': the unique and wonderful fried artichoke (in a thin flour-and-egg batter)

Over the attractions of the stalls selling everything from plastic tat to vacuum cleaners (the legendary Folletto, no Italian household is without one), the town council is fighting to keep the focus firmly on Ladispoli’s ‘king of crops’. They are served up in many guises: fried artichokes in batter are a favourite but other forms include deep-fried ‘Jewish’ artichokes, artichoke pizza (on sale at Il Fornaio on viale Italia during the festival) and artichokes ‘alla romana’ (cooked in olive oil with garlic and ‘mentuccia’).

Local restaurants offer special artichoke menus for the three days of the sagra – I was particularly tempted by ‘choke-related offerings at Obbligo di Scarpetta but we finally sat down for lunch at Fronte Mare on Saturday. The menu started well for Dan with a ‘tris’ of artichoke antipasti – including an artichoke ‘frittata’ – while I opted for an artichoke soufflé, which was seriously tasty and light. Next for Dan was orecchiette with artichokes and octopus. His verdict: ‘Hmm, where’s the octopus? And, come to think of it, where are the artichokes?’

They were obviously having a very busy day, so we were quite understanding and kept the faith since our friends had eaten very well there a few days earlier. My artichoke-filled ravioli in pecorino sauce were good. Dan’s set meal concluded with scorpionfish (‘scorfano’) with artichokes and potatoes… good apart from the under-cooked potatoes.

We may have been a little disappointed by the food (we will give them a second chance another time when there aren’t 20,000 extra people in town) but having a lazy lunch with white wine on a hot spring day, watching people walk by and the sea twinkling in the sun – well, the food would have to have been a lot worse to spoil the enjoyment.

One of the prize-winning artichoke sculptures - this one is 'Garibaldi' on an artichoke horse.

On the Sunday morning of the sagra, there is one of the most bizarre artichoke-inspired spectacles you could ever wish to behold. Local producers fuse their finest ‘chokes with their wildest imaginations to produce…. artichoke sculptures. They are peculiar child-like forms representing animals (this year there was a patriotic horse… the scarecrow-like Garibaldi on the horse’s back was pretty scary, but in the past I’ve been particularly impressed by an artichoke peacock and a crocodile), vehicles (ferrari and ducati are popular) and household objects such as clocks, cakes and umbrellas. Each year I live in hope that someone will have the balls to create an artichoke Berlusconi. So far I’ve been disappointed. I swear I will do it myself next year, spelling out the words ‘Bunga Bunga’ underneath with artichokes.

All in all, the Sagra del Carciofo Romanesco is a bit of a disappointment: many locals don’t buy the artichokes on sale because they believe that farmers give them too many chemical fertilizers to make them big and beautiful (Dan’s aunt never tires of telling us about the toad the size of a football found in a field of carciofi, it had evidently eaten a fertilizer pellet). What with the odd (and somewhat tame) artichoke sculptures, the commercial and tacky market stalls and the uncertain food offerings, there is some way to go before the festival can build its reputation on organic, nutritious local farmers’ produce and culinary excellence.

Raw artichoke salad with parmesan is one of the highlights of the artichoke-fest

Perhaps the only person who has really understood the spirit of the artichoke festival is our neighbour Marina – she also happens to be a professional chef. Each year she invites friends and family over for an artichoke-inspired lunch, using organic ingredients from her father’s farm. The menu this year included artichoke lasagne, raw artichoke salad with parmeggiano, ‘Jewish’ artichokes (deep-fried) and battered artichokes (tons of them). It was quality food, from a small local organic farm, cooked by someone who really knows what she’s doing – surely that is the spirit of a local food festival?

I hope Marina’s philosophy will catch on soon. Until it does, I will content myself with figuring out how to get a create a likeness of Berlusconi for next year.

Viale Italia, Ladispoli's main thoroughfare, lit up with market stalls for the 'sagra del carciofo'. Photo by Daniele Latini

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Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi gets a makeover at the Quirinale

A restored monochrome depiction of two goats from Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi

The Hall of Alexander VII Chigi: a 75m-long triumph of art and architecture inside the Quirinal Palace in Rome, official residence of the president of the Italian Republic. This September (2011) it will be opening to the public following a restoration project that has lasted more than 10 years and has so far cost €2 million.

Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), the baroque artist mostly famous for frescoes in Palazzo Pitti (Florence), Palazzo Barberini (Rome) and Palazzo Pamphilij (piazza Navona, Rome), was the grand designer of the interior of the hall in 1656-1657. The Black Death may have been raging outside, but inside the Quirinal Palace, da Cortona created colourful Biblical scenes and monochrome trompe d’oeil scenery of columns, 17th century cityscapes, statues and nature.

A delicate mosaic - detail from Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi

A century and a half went by – and then came Napoleon Bonaparte. He never got as far as Rome himself, but in 1808 his guards entered the Quirinal Palace and the Pope in residence was eventually ejected. By 1811 Napoleon ordered the redecoration of the palace as his own residence. The Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi (named after Pope Alexander VII) was redesigned (under the guidance of architect Raphael Stern) as the quarters of Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise of Austria.

So what was once an imposing hall, 75m long and decorated by one of the masters of 17th century baroque fresco, was transformed into three consecutive chambers, one painted almost entirely egg-yolk yellow, much of the original frescoes painted over and most of the elegant windows overlooking the courtyard boarded up. Napoleon had, in a word, ruined one of the most splendid official halls in Rome.

Pietro da Cortona's columns with foliage in the background - detail from Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi

His crimes against art included painting over Pietro da Cortona’s elegant monochrome scenes, leaving many of da Cortona’s columns crudely truncated, dividing up a wonderful space into three smaller chambers thus removing the Biblical frescoes from their sequence and – perhaps worst of all – shutting out much of the natural light.

Almost 200 years go by before another all-conquering invader comes along to leave its mark on the Quirinal Palace. This time the invader is no human, but electricity – new safety standards at the end of the 20th century mean that Galleria Alessandro VII needs to be renovated and rewired.

Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi - in its restored glory

So in 2000 the work began, financed by the Soprintendenza Speciale for Rome’s museums and heritage (the second phase of work in 2011 is being funded to the tune of €500,000 by the Bracco Foundation). Art historian Rossella Vodret, together with Louis Godart, artistic heritage conservation adviser to the President of the Republic, set out to restore the hall to its 17th century glory.

The windows overlooking the courtyard are opened and restored. In some cases the original 17th century wooden blinds and baked terracotta floor tiles in yellow and red can still be seen. The recent restorations haven’t attempted to remove the partitions dividing the hall into three – so it remains separated into the Yellow Hall, the Hall of Augustus and the Hall of Ambassadors (where there is still considerable work to be done by September when it will open to the public).

Some of the monochrome paintings are so life-like that experts suspect the hand of Cortona himself

The team of restorers were able to carefully remove the layers of post-17th century paint to reveal the original designs. Pietro da Cortona’s art was then restored with the help of the artist’s original design plans, which are held in the Kunstbibliothek, or Art Library, in Berlin.

According to Rossella Vodret, it is likely that Pietro da Cortona did not paint the room himself. She says: “The project is more likely to have been directed and designed by him. Some of the monochrome paintings are, however, so wonderful, we asked ourselves if Pietro da Cortona might have done them personally.”

Some of the details that have been uncovered and restored include an oval plaque showing a scene of piazza del Popolo including the gate designed by Bernini and the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, home to the Chigi family chapel.

Louis Godart points out a curiosity to some of the journalists assembled at the palace in April: on one of the 17th century wooden window blinds, there is some faint writing. The team noticed it when they were restoring the window. The flamboyant hand-writing says: “Help me, I am a prisoner here.” Was someone once held captive there? Could it be the writing of a Pope? Or of a child? We will probably never know.

The slideshow below shows some before and after shots of Galleria Alessandro VII Chigi:

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Casa Internazionale delle Donne: a haven from harsh realities

Names of women killed by their partner or a close relative in Italy in recent years. There are more than 150 names on the wall in the courtyard at Casa Internazionale delle Donne.

Once every three days, a woman in Italy is killed by her partner or close relative.

Many women don’t admit – not even to themselves – that they are the victims of domestic violence. Some don’t believe they deserve a better life, while some think that they need to stay with their husband or partner in order to save him.

More women are killed by their own husband or close relative than the total number of deaths caused by the mafia in Italy, according to a report from Ansa and EuRes (cited here by SIEDS, the Italian Society of Economic Demography and Statistics).

Meanwhile, there is a desperate lack of social services providing help and refuge for these women.

Casa Internazionale delle Donne (CID), in via della Lungara in Rome, is something of a haven. Between St Peter’s and the busy streets of Trastevere, the CID is a meeting point for women’s help groups, information, services and expression. Professional associations such as Donna e Politiche Familiari, Differenza Donna, Essere Donna and Codice Donna have offices there where women can seek advice on legal issues, divorce, separation, health, psychological problems, maternity and many other issues faced by women of all ages. There is information on yoga, photography, art and writing, as well as courses for young mothers and their infants.

It is an open, welcoming place. It’s also a place where you can sit and relax in the courtyard bar, drink an espresso or even dine in the women-only restaurant.

In a world of such harsh realities, CID is a place where things can seem ok again.

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Why Bikesharing in Rome ain’t much of a passeggiata

The green, green bikes of Rome

The traffic in Rome is obnoxious. We all know this. It obeys no rules known to civilised drivers, goes either too fast along the river or too slow on the Grande Raccordo Anulare in rush hour. I could go on, but this blog isn’t about Rome’s car problem, it’s about the biciclette. The latter are really only for the brave (and here I mean really brave: think jumping into a swollen river to save a cat, or defusing a bomb in the dark with a pair of nail clippers).

Many Romans would love to cycle to work, but they simply can’t. The cycle lanes are badly planned and are about as joined-up as a four-year-old’s first attempt at writing. The sanpietrini make the ride pretty uncomfortable (and slippery if it rains), while the contempt with which Roman drivers seem to hold two-wheeled travellers would make your journey to work probably your last journey to work.

But never mind all that – last weekend I, together with my boyfriend and two friends, decided to give Rome’s bikesharing system a go. The chunky green bikes have been in use since 2010 and can be hired from 25 bike stands around the city – pretty cool eh? Rome’s bike fleet numbers 200 cycles, which sounds ok, until you realise that the Boris Bikes in London have 6,000 bikes available at 400 bike stands. So could Rome’s bikesharing system, run by ATAC, be a little sub-standard? Or, as this blogger calls it, a ‘unique failure’? Another blogger points out that space at Rome’s bikesharing stands is often taken up by mopeds, so it seems there is still some way to go before Rome embraces the bici as a worthwhile and sensible modus viaggiandi.

Still undeterred, we proceeded to start to figure out how to get our butts on those green hire bikes. The first thing to note is that in London, you can hire a Boris Bike either by registering online or by paying at a ticket machine at a bike stand (and paying with a credit or debit card). Easy. And sensible, too.

In Rome, that’s not how they do it.

So, as directed by www.bikesharing.roma.it, off we went to register at one of the 10 designated metro stations (we went to EUR Fermi because our friend Fede lives near there, not that it’s relevant, but it is pretty damn far away from most of the bike stands in the centre).

When we found the right window at EUR Fermi, we had to fill out a form… six or eight pages (I apologise, the frustration made my memory a little weak, but I know I had to sign my name so many times my hand got cramp). I mean, please, have these people never heard of carbon paper? Come to think of it, why not just type information into a computer like the rest of the modern world? But no… it all had to be filled out by hand.

To be fair, the gentleman who processed our forms, a very pleasant chap called Antonio, had an enviable calligraphic style. We watched him for quite some time, lovingly shaping and crossing his perfect capital letters (he must have had a lot of practice, probably with crosswords). So far we’d spent half an hour getting two so-called smartcards and we were €10 down each (€5 buys you the card and you get €5 credit).

So off we went in search of the green bikes (which involved a 3km drive from EUR down to the city centre in Federica’s car – Fede is lovely, she drives and parks like all Romans, so it didn’t take too long). It was probably our own fault for getting there a bit late on the first really sunny Saturday of the year, but it wasn’t that easy finding four bikes. We got to the stand in piazza Venezia, which had five bikes. One had a puncture and two had a red light saying ‘fuori servizio’. Still, we got two bikes, and legged it to another stand to get two more, which we found in Largo di Torre Argentina. A good three hours since we first started to register, we had got on the bikes and were ready to cycle.

And I have to say that after all that, it wasn’t bad. Because it was the weekend, there were fewer cars around (there’s limited access to cars in the centre at weekends and since it was sunny, I guess a lot of Romans had decided to exit the city) so cycling on the roads wasn’t the suicidal act I thought it would be. But cycling in the streets around the Pantheon and via del Corso turned out to be about as exhilarating as discodancing in a public phonebox – you want to go for it, but there’s just no room. The bumpiness of the sanpietrini, as mentioned before, posed a challenge – particularly for me, and I therefore, in all seriousness, urge any ladies to wear a sports bra if you’re going to take up cycling on Rome’s roads.

Cycling in Villa Borghese - it makes the beaurocracy of getting a hire bike just about worth it

Once we made it to Villa Borghese, the ride became very pleasant indeed, sheltered from the heat by those fantastically tall pines. We stopped off for a coffee in the bar in the park (at largo Magnani) and saw a wonderful sunset over Rome’s domes and palazzi. As we whizzed down via Veneto’s taxi lane, the cool air in our hair, we started to feel that, overall, the cycle experience was worth it.

We’ll definitely hire bikes again, although I dread to think what happens when we need to top-up our smartcards (I fear it’ll be back to Antonio for another lesson in calligraphy).

According to www.bikesharing.roma.it, you can register for a bikesharing smartcard at these stations (some are central):

1)  Stazione Termini
2)  Lepanto
3)  Piazza di Spagna
4)  Anagnina
5)  Ottaviano
6)  Cornelia
7)  Battistini
8)   Ponte Mammolo
9)   Eur Fermi
10) Laurentina

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Does Danilo’s Carbonara live up to its lofty reputation?

This is one damn fine plate of pasta, but can it fully satisfy a fussy eater?

When a good friend of mine, an advocate of Slow Food Roma and also a writer for Il Sole 24 Ore, recommended Trattoria da Danilo I knew that it would be well worth the trek over to piazza Vittorio, Rome’s China town on the Esquiline Hill. ‘Da Danilo si mangia bene‘, my friend assured me, and she’s not alone in thinking that its renditions of traditional Roman dishes are among the city’s tastiest: the spaghetti alla Carbonara was also mentioned by this food writer last week as among the best in Rome.

So when it came to celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday last night, he demanded the best Carbonara in town, and I duly took him there – a self-effacing act on my part indeed, if you consider that Danilo’s traditional Roman cuisine leaves little space for vegan tendencies. I brushed my principles aside and ordered the most vegan dish on the menu – tagliolini with artichokes, porcini mushrooms and a pecorino-butter sauce. Yeah, not that vegan. It was tasty though and maybe my fast-fading guilt made it more so.

We chose a Sicilian Cottanera syrah to go with the pasta dishes and followed them up with an artichoke alla romana and cicoria ripassata in padella, while Dan – and I do apologise in advance for any confusion between Dan, my boyfriend, and Danilo the establishment – had a fillet steak topped with fried artichokes… the cicoria was nicely tinged with chilli, garlic and olive oil and the carciofo was ok (they could have removed a few chewy outer leaves and seasoned it a little more), while the steak apparently “melted like butter” in his mouth (much to my disapproval, you can imagine how we have a great time eating out, the vegan and the omnivore together).

But had the Carbonara lived up to its lofty reputation? Well, the verdict of one 42-year-old Roman guy with a critical palate and a lifetime of Carbonara appreciation, is that it was ‘non male‘, which is fairly high praise. If the egg and guanciale sauce had been a little more creamy, and if the portion had been a little more generous, then yes, it could have been his best ever Carbonara. Danilo’s Carbonara definitely made it to his top three of all time, just ahead of Dan’s homemade version, but lagging behind a Carbonara he ate in Sicily 20 years ago (he admits he still has wet dreams about that).

All in all, Danilo’s was very good and the Carbonara comes pretty close to the best you’ll ever eat. The other dishes were good too (I’ll get onto the puddings in a minute) while the restaurant’s cosy atmosphere and the professional waiters made it a pleasant evening. There are a few other Roman pasta classics on the menu that might tempt the unvegan – including La Gricia and Cacio e Pepe (brought to the table in a hollowed out pecorino cheese before being served, which I’m not too convinced about frankly – does it make the pasta taste better, or is it just for show?).

To end the meal off, we opted for a crostata filled with ricotta and chocolate – a disappointing stodgy slice of tart with more pastry than filling. We didn’t opt for the tiramisù, which I tried on a previous visit to Danilo’s with my family – I remember it being a pretty poor excuse for Italy’s most famous superlative pudding, with stiff yellow ‘cream’ separated by dry, tasteless sponge layers. So this time we steered clear.

Overall, go to Danilo’s for the pasta dishes and the mains too. But forget about dessert. The best tiramisù in Rome (I am not exaggerating one bit) is just a 20 minute walk away at Bar Pompi (via Albalonga, off piazza Re di Roma) – by the time you get there you’ll have worked up an appetite too.

Trattoria Da Danilo is on via Petrarca 13. Closed Sundays, Monday lunch times and for all of August. Carbonara: €10; bottle of syrah Cottanera: €25; dinner for two: expect to pay around €100.

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