This review of a Rome restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Update 19/2/15 – clarified language detail regarding Quandoo
Love them or loath them, online restaurant reservation services such as OpenTable are now an integral part of London’s restaurant culture. This makes eating out in Rome seem all the more quixotic as far fewer restaurants in the Italian capital use online booking. This will be a minor inconvenience for some, but it will be very annoying if you like to plan ahead as I do. Securing a reservation at All’oro, no relation to the similarly named London restaurant, is especially irritating and repetitive. Even if you book online via Quandoo, the closest Italian equivalent to Opentable (and unsurprisingly available only in Italian), you still have to confirm via email and again via phone on the day of your meal. All this palaver might reduce the number of no-shows, which can otherwise financially cripple a restaurant, but is a pain in the arse for a holidaying visitor with limited internet and phone access.
Located on the ground floor of the First Hotel near the back, All’oro has a glossy white decor interspersed with a bizarre selection of Warhol-esque celebrity portraits. The juxtaposition of the Obama and Mussolini portraits is especially odd – I’m not sure if it’s a political statement or just really bad taste. The English-speaking staff are welcoming, polite and efficient.
Although you can opt to order a la carte, dining at All’oro is really all about the tasting menu which changes often. The amuse bouche was a mixed bag, with the marshmallow and the mortadella in a miniature sesame seed bun leaving me cold. Far more tantalising were the tangy and salty squid ink macaron, an unidentifiable blob that was nutty, creamy and tangy and another cryptid that was salty, squishy and tangy.
The selection of breads was varied and of a generally high standard, with the crisp cumin-flavoured bread sticks my personal favourite. Even if you prefer a less interesting soft roll, the rich, grassy olive oil served on the side will pep it up no end.
Carbonara is a Roman classic and the version here is an evocative reduction of the original. Presented in an topped egg shell, the thin sauce was still richly eggy and tasted strongly of parmesan with a hint of earthiness and a chewy, meaty bit of pork.
A salt cod tiramisu sounds like an accidental jumbling of words, but ‘tiramisu’ merely refers to the appearance and layered nature of this savoury starter. The upper layer of potato gave way to a smooth and wispy layer of salty fish and an under layer of meaty bacon. Think of it as a yummy fish pie with a quirky look. If that helps you.
The scallops were cooked just so, giving them a quivering, delicate texture that was simply delightful. The accompanying bacon cream was far too muted though, while the layers of thinly sliced potato served on the side were far too hot and needed more resting time.
[sorry folks, no photo of this one]
A ball of ox meat arrived coated in pine nuts and served with a dusting of cocoa and dots of celery sauce. Although its bizarre looks were intriguing, this dish just didn’t come together. Although very meaty, the ox flesh was also far too hot and needed more resting time. The cocoa added a curiously bitter richness, but it was very transient and there wasn’t enough of the celery sauce to leave much of an impression. The pine nuts were probably supposed to provide a counterpoint to the ox meat in terms of both taste and texture, but failed to do so.
The ravioli was similarly disappointing. The rich tomato sauce and woody parmesan were both very pleasurable, but the skins and duck ragout filling were forgettable. At best, the ragout filling had a hint of peppery meatiness but this passed very quickly.
Far better was the quail served with, in a touch of dark humour, a quail’s egg. The delicate yet gamey meat was made all the better by the rich, sticky sauce. The quail egg proved to be a worthy second act. Although the white had been trimmed away, the addition of a salty tang to the yolk enhanced its richness.
The crazy-looking digestif was actually the first of the three desserts (or just two desserts if you exclude the petit fours). The white cream on top was wispy yet had a rich cocoa taste that wasn’t matched by the thin and limp strawberry jelly underneath.
The re-imagined tiramisu took the form of a thin candy-like meringue shell filled with a very moist sponge as well as a thin and light custard, while a chocolate shard rests on top. Although I like meringues, custards, tiramisus and inventive takes on old classics, this overwrought abstraction was just bland and unsatisfying.
It was left to the petit fours to salvage what was left of the sweet courses. The light marshmallow was forgotten as soon it was eaten, but the well-executed strawberry and grape mini tarts were a delight as was the small slice of zesty lemon cake.
The service at All’oro can’t be faulted, but the uneven nature of the cooking and irritating reservations process make it the least memorable of the fine dining experiences I had in Rome. It’s not a bad choice, but it’s hardly an exceptional one.
Address: Via del Vantaggio, 14 – 00186 Rome
Phone: 0039 06 97 99 69 07
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 12.30-14.30 and 19.00-22.45. Closed Sundays.
Reservations: highly recommended
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: €120 approx.