This review of a Rome restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Restaurants named after their chefs, celebrity or otherwise, is pretty standard but a restaurant named after its sommelier/proprietor is a new one (for me at least). That’s the case at Pipero al Rex, Alessandro Pipero’s restaurant inside Rome’s Hotel Rex. The man himself is welcoming, friendly and bombastically gregarious (check out his bizarre electricity-themed interview) – before he strangely disappeared early on in the evening, it felt as if I’d stumbled into an Alfred Hitchcock biopic with the main role played by a hammy Patton Oswalt. His seamlessly efficient staff were more than capable of taking his place though.
The dining room is a surprisingly snug place with no more than two dozen covers or so. If you’re tempted to change the time of your reservation at Pipero al Rex, then resist it if my experience is anything to go by. After some bargaining, a new time was mutually agreed upon that should’ve suited both my schedule and theirs but I was still forced to wait half an hour upon arrival. At least I had plenty of breadsticks and a helping of thick and fatty ham along with a tangy dollop of balsamic vinegar to amuse myself with.
The amuse bouche proper kicked off with a quirky little dollop of soft olive-flavoured mush shaped into an olive and then placed inside a box. Although the cleverness and effort involved is appreciated, the same effect could have been achieved with some actual olives.
The amuse bouche continued with a trio of of thin, crispy crackers topped with an intriguing selection of creams and liquids. The first cracker was a wheaty thin topped with a trio of creamy and fruity olive oil dollops. Even better was the second cracker gilded with dollops of boldly flavoured miso and decorated with flowers. The third cracker was also florally decorated, but was a meatier affair with a bitter salmon cream and a hearty cream of chicken liver.
Bread is often an overlooked afterthought, but not so here. My particular favourites were the slices of nutty brown walnut loaf and the slices of white tinged with the mild taste of honey.
The umami tomato salad was made even more delectable by the milky and elastic burrata, but there wasn’t nearly enough of the latter with just a sliver present. The cardamom scent sprayed on top was totally unnecessary though – it smelt less like cardamom and more like car air freshener long past its use by date.
Balancing inventiveness and satisfying edibility is always a tricky task for modernist kitchens, but Pipero’s kitchen got the balance totally out of whack with the cuttlefish. Scabs of cuttlefish and mushy peas on a chewy skin embody all the worst stereotypes of modernist cuisine – obtuse, overwrought and far too subtle tasting for its own good.
Marginally more successful was the duck tartare sandwich. The dense, somewhat salty and slightly chewy cubes of raw duck were sandwiched in between a pair of wheaty wafers. The duck played second fiddle though to the muted mustard which in turn accentuated the sharp, crisp sweetness of the candied sweet-like apple cube. There wasn’t quite enough of either the mustard or the apple though, leaving this dish’s promise unfulfilled.
If the duck tartare sandwich was weird, the poached egg was even weirder. The egg was smothered under a smoky potato cream with the strong scent of tea. Weeks later, I’m still not sure what to make of it.
Although the carbonara looked unusual, mainly due to the presence of thin slices of white truffles, it tasted quite traditional. The firm pasta went beautifully with the thin yet rich and buttery sauce. Sadly, the white truffle slices added very little aroma to the dish.
For some reason the pigeon received the decorative floral treatment. The pigeon itself was cooked rare and its tender flesh had a liver-like quality that was accentuated by the nutty sauce. A helping of lightly crisp, sharp and vinegary carrots helped cut through the relative heaviness of the pigeon, adding balance to an accomplished dish. Although perfectly good in its own right, it didn’t feel right as the last savoury dish of a tasting menu lacking the satisfying meaty finality that I wanted and expected.
Like All’oro, Pipero has its own novel take on tiramisu. Squeezed in between a pair of very crisp wafers were a series of creams, each replicating a component of a more traditional tiramisu. The most dominant one was the strongly flavoured coffee cream which drowned out all the others. As a result, it was an unbalanced and unsatisfying dessert, but the bold coffee flavour did at least put many more traditional tiramisus to shame.
Although advertised as a beer milk foam, the bulk of this dessert was actually a soft, chewy, very wheaty cake. Globs of cream added a milky iciness and a tang of beer, while the foam itself was neutral. It’s interesting and clever, if ultimately unsatisfying.
For all the inventiveness displayed throughout my meal, it was only in the petit fours that any sense of fun shone through. The chewy nut brittle and what was essentially a crunchy jammie dodger ended an uneven meal on a high note.
Pipero al Rex is conveniently located and the kitchen clearly has an inventive streak, but the execution of its novel ideas was uneven and unsatisfying. There’s promise here, but at this price diners expect that promise to be fulfilled rather than be left wanting.
Name: Pipero al Rex
Address: Hotel Rex, Via Torino 149 – 00184 Rome
Phone: 0039 064 815 702
Opening Hours: call or email to confirm
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: €100 approx.