It was with a great deal of excitement that I set out for Rome. I hadn't been there for 20 years, and Sam, my wife, had never been. I wanted to do a bit of research for an Italian restaurant we're doing, Rosetta, as well as some filming for MasterChef.
We stayed at the Westin, right next to the American Embassy, and it's a really good spot because you walk down the hill and you're at the Spanish Steps. Go a bit further down, turn right and walk on and you're in the Piazza del Popolo, or go left and you can walk down to the Forum and the Colosseum. There aren't many places where you go for a walk in the morning and pass 2000- and 3000-year-old ruins in the centre of a modern city.
Besides the food, this is what I really love about Rome: the sheer beauty of all the history and monuments. It's a sensory overload. Around every corner there's another amazing church, a significant fountain, or a mind-blowing piazza with two or three of those amazing monuments. My friend Claudio says there are 1500 churches in Rome, and I suspect we saw a lot of them. We soaked up Rome, and then we did what we came here for: we ate.
We ate not only with our mouths but with our eyes. We visited butchers, fruit stalls and fish shops, watched the Romans buying fresh produce for the evening meal. The big market, Campo dè Fiori, has been operating since the 16th century (it moved to its current location in 1869), and it was awash with spring vegetables - the most beautiful array of artichokes, broad beans, peas and asparagus, as well as wonderful fruits from Sicily. Hanging out at the markets was a chef's paradise, and it was only the allure of eating at Roscioli that got me away.
Roscioli is the most amazing deli. It has a few tables out the back and some against the counter. It's near the Campo dè Fiori, down a little side street, and it's a beautiful produce-led experience. We had fantastic prosciutto, mortadella, anchovies, mozzarella, and little goat's milk ricottas made that day. We drank a San Fereolo 2004 Dolcetto - beautiful fruit but enough maturity to be a gorgeous drink. For 20 euros, it doesn't get any better.
We tested other restaurants serving classic Roman fare and we loved Dal Bolognese on Piazza del Popolo. It's quite a scene and a bit touristy, but the tagliarini noodles had a nice firm bite and the ragù was cooked down to the point where it wasn't saucy but had tiny lumps of braised, tender meat with a bit of the juices. It clung to the pasta, which is exactly the way it's supposed to be.
I also enjoyed the bollito misto - cotechino, veal tongue, veal breast and capon, poached, sliced and served with salsa verde and mustard fruits. It's a chef thing, eating all those bits and pieces. We love that kind of stuff.
Checchino dal 1887, over in the old slaughterhouse quarter, specialises in nose-to-tail eating. I loved the Roman- style tripe here, with tomato, mint and pecorino. Piperno, the famous old restaurant in the Jewish quarter, came highly recommended, and I loved their grilled lamb cutlets, crisp, well done and juicy all at the same time, paired with some braised peas. At Al Moro we enjoyed artichokes, calamari and salt cod braised with tomato and just enough chilli to make me feel at home. It's a classic place a short walk from the Trevi Fountain where thousands of people gather every day. Throw
a coin in and it will bring you back to Rome.
Chef Neil Perry founded the Rockpool group of restaurants.