I love food, and I adore travel, so it’s only natural that when I’m on holiday, the principal thing on my mind is scouting out the best local eateries where I can experience authentic cultural flavours and get my munch on with the locals.
One restaurant I was desperate to get to ‘when in Rome’ was the famous family-run restaurant Antica Pesa, which opened its doors in 1922 and now has restaurants in New York and our very own Doha. Now, you might remember how much I love this restaurant from my fine dining in Doha series, so I was super excited when our friend, Chef Marco Calcaterra very kindly set us up for dinner on the very first night of our honeymoon at the very location where this small but growing empire of traditional Italian trattorias all began.
Our night started at an unassuming little door along the winding road of Via Garibaldi in historic Trastevere.
Inside the building, a dark and homely interior welcomed us, along with the huge smile of restaurant manager, Alessia.
She showed us the beautiful paintings and frescoes of the Winter dining room, a space which felt more akin to a notable art gallery than an old Roman Inn.
And then we were led out to the light and airy summer terrace, where we were met by Exective Chef and owner, Simone Panella.
Simone introduced the extensive menu to us, describing the traditional methods, ingredients and passion which went into each of the dishes, and with an amuse bouche and a glass of prosecco in hand to wash it down, our meal began.
Mr Sunshine had selected a gorgeous deep and plummy Brunello Di Montalcino from the veritable tome that had been set before us.
This paired beautifully with the salty Bassiano ham with warm Mozzarella in crispy pastry which Mr S had selected from the menu to start, a dish which he has enjoyed many times more in the restaurant in Doha since our return, with the ham swapped out for bresaola.
I had decided to go for the most mysterious starter on the menu, which was simply described as ‘taking a trip to the Roman country’, and I was delighted when my course arrived at the table in a small wooden box, which was opened to reveal six small portions of traditional Roman fare.
L-R from top left: Pontecorvo vegetables and Caciofiore cheese; Porchetta; Saint Nicola’s Lard on soft, white Pizza; Lentils with Bassiano Ham; Dried pork, or ‘copietta’ with aromatic salad; Smoked Speck with Goats Cheese; Trio of Traditional Cheeses from Lazio.
I relished being able to sample some of Rome’s oldest and most revered recipes in bite-sized form, and made a mental note of which I particularly enjoyed so that I could order them again before we left the city.
I am ashamed to say that we opted for the same dishes for our primi, secondi e per finire, but we weren’t disappointed that we hadn’t sampled more options, for each dish was just as stunning and authentic as our starters had been, and this way we cut out inevitable food envy.
Our primi was traditional Spaghetti Carbonara, made with crisp and thick pancetta and heaps of creamy, eggy sauce.
Then came perfectly-cooked, tender beef with green beans and mash.
And finally, the most perfect créme brûlèe.
Somewhere in between our mains and dessert, there was a power cut on the street, and the twinkling lights in the courtyard disappeared one by one. Rapidly, candles were lit, and the waiters rushed around to check that everyone was OK.
Amidst all of the drama, which meant that many patrons dishes were delayed while they waited for the back-up generator to kick in so that power could be restored to the ovens, our waiter still managed to make time to take us down to the ancient wine cellars so that we could see for ourselves why the restaurant’s wine list is so extensive.
He even pointed out exactly where our own bottle of wine sat amongst the shelves and shelves of beautiful Italian reds!
Back in Doha over an Aperol Spritz, Chef Marco of Antica Pesa Doha provided me with an explanation of why I’d returned from honeymoon with the belief that this small chain of trattorias was my favourite place to eat in the world. “We treat our customers like friends”, he told me, “and the staff here are friends too. We came out to Doha together and we all want to educate you on what great Italian food is. You come here to have a great time, and you can only have that if we are having a great time too”.
“My inspiration for cooking was my Mama. She was cooking for about 25 people every weekend…Most of us Italians from all around the world, we’re serious about food. We like to unite with family, and food makes you realise how important it is to get together and enjoy each other’s company”.
This, in essence is what Antica Pesa is all about; it’s an extended family of relatives and friends whose exuberant passion for traditional Roman food is as contagious as their warm smiles and kind hospitality. It is no wonder that the restaurant has built a huge array of loyal customers, including many big names and celebrities, all of which have contributed to almost a century of success across three continents.
For now, Mr Sunshine and I will continue to enjoy the fact that we are lucky enough to have an Antica Pesa on our doorstep.
Next up on the wishlist, Antica Pesa, Brooklyn NYC.
Do you have a favourite restaurant that you have discovered on your travels? What makes it stand out from all the rest?
I am posting this as part of the monthly Travel Link-Up. This month it’s all about your favourite things. If you would like to join in, head over to Kelly, Rebecca, Emma or Frankie’s blogs and link-up your post!
We were guests of Antica Pesa Rome this time, but as always, I only write honest reviews, regardless.