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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