This review of a Rome restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Londoners love to complain about The Big Smoke’s public transport and traffic congestion, but they haven’t seen anything until they’ve tried getting around Rome. The Eternal City’s minuscule metro and rail networks (minuscule for a major European capital at any rate) means visitors will have to depend on the congestion-prone buses and taxis to get to farther flung locales. Inevitably, this meant I arrived for dinner at Antico Arco both very late and unattractively sweaty, but I was still given a warm welcome by the attentive and efficient staff.
Set inside a nondescript beige building and with an even more nondescript interior, Antico Arco is no looker. It has no trouble pulling in punters though. The tasting menu changes regularly and has some Asian influences, which may explain the large number of Chinese diners on the evening of my meal. This manifested itself most obviously in the amuse bouche, a reasonably firm prawn wrapped in crisp pastry and served with an unremarkable mango mousse. Far more impressive was the firm, zingy scallop neatly complimented by boldly flavoursome carrot and ginger sauces, with a helping of crisp and bitter spinach adding another layer of flavour.
The poached egg may look like a refugee from a fry-up, but the white had actually been replaced with a truffle-flavoured cream. Its bold earthiness went perfectly with the rich, runny yolk – so much so that the asparagus spear felt superfluous to requirements.
Although it looks like an industrial accident, the bean soup was very scoffable. The mildly creamy and starchy soup was dotted with tender beans and equally tender baby squid with a herby hit. The crispy, crunchy breadcrumbs served on the side were far too distracting though and I ended up avoiding them entirely.
The spaghetti amatriciana turned out to be surprisingly traditional. This Roman classic was very satisfying with the mildly sweet tomato sauce draped over the spaghetti and dotted with lightly crisp and meaty bits of pork jowl.
Fruits and sweetness can be used to great effect in otherwise mainly savoury dishes as Antico Arco’s shows here. The veal tenderloin had a medieval character to it with the dense and hearty meat covered in a honey-like sauce. This highly effective combination of sweet and savoury didn’t really need the added sweet richness of the stewed plum on top, but the celeriac puree was welcome. The light and wispy puree was a much needed counterpoint to the relatively heavy veal and had a bold sharpness that cut through the sweetness of the honey-like sauce. A beautifully executed surprise.
After such a boldly flavoured and heavy meat dish, I expected a refreshing palate cleanser. The buffalo mozzarella mouse with caramelised tomatoes didn’t fit this role at all, but it was nonetheless very good. The wispy mousse’s strange salty peatiness was off-putting at first, but these astringent characteristics were balanced out by the powerful sweetness of the tomatoes. The chewy breadcrumbs got in the way and really weren’t needed.
A pre-dessert of chocolate and coffee ice cream wasn’t especially remarkable, but it was competently done and paved the way for another icy treat – the mango semifreddo. Although the mango semifreddo and iced pineapple were the emphasised components on the menu, it was the taste of the slick peach sorbet that dominated this dessert. The semifreddo was loosely packed and not too icy, but the biscuit crumbs added little and it was all over far too quickly.
Antico Arco may be a pain in the arse to get to from most parts of Rome, but it’s a journey well worth taking. Both the traditional and inventive savoury dishes were of a delightfully high standard, a standard that sadly wasn’t met by the desserts which seemed like an afterthought. Even so, if you’re in Rome and can afford the high prices then it’s a must.
Name: Antico Arco
Address: Piazzale le Aurelio, 7 – 00152 Rome
Phone: 0039 06 58 15 274
Opening Hours: call or email to confirm
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: €90 approx.