This review of a Rome restaurant is a break from The Picky Glutton’s usual London-based coverage
Seafood isn’t the first thing most people associate with Italian cuisine, if only because it doesn’t fit the stereotypes of Italian food deeply embedded in our collective consciousness – pizza, pasta and tiramisu. Seafood features prominently in many of Italy’s regional cuisines though and while it doesn’t seem to specialise in particular regional specialities, Il Sanlorenzo is reputed to be one of the best seafood restaurants in Rome.
Although you can order a la carte at Il Sanlorenzo, I placed my faith in the tasting menu. Il Sanlorenzo may be a seafood restaurant, but it can whip up one hell of a bread basket. Olive oil rolls, ginger scones and fruity rolls were among my personal favourites. Somewhat strangely there was also a buttery, flaky and lightly crisp croissant that was easily good enough to make any Frenchman proud.
Fresh sardines only occasionally make an appearance on British tables and that’s a real shame. The grilled sardines here were meaty, smoky and not too oily. Oddly, it was served alongside a creamy breaded cheese ball which felt very random and unnecessary.
Raw fish may be more commonly associated with Japan, but it’s apparently a long standing part of Italian cuisine too. The meatiness of the tuna was emphasised by a dash of salt and herbs, while a similar preparation had been applied to the tender, light and zesty cod which had an almost prawn-like texture and taste to it. The prawn carpaccio was gooier than I anticipated, but its unexpected fruitiness more than made up for it.
In lesser hands squid is often little more than rubber, or at best a tender but neutral conveyor for other flavours. The squid here was a revelation – buttery and tender, it was more than good enough on its own. The kitchen nonetheless insisted on matching it with some meagre bottarga and a bed of ginger-flavoured artichokes which both seemed out of place.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to eating plain ol’ regular prawns after sampling red prawns. Apparently fished from the Tyrrhenian Sea, these tender and zesty crustaceans soaked up the herbiness of rosemary branches to delicious effect. It was even better when taken with the salad of nutty, earthy porcini slices and gently bitter leaves. I finished every last drop.
Although anchovies had been promised with the spelt spaghetti, the flavoursome little blighters were entirely missing from the dish when it was placed in front of me. At the least the dense and firm spaghetti, garnished with crunchy breadcrumbs and sweet, tender red peppers, was a joy.
Tender, meaty medallions of tuna were cooked rare and matched well with an umami tomato sauce. The accompaniment of sweet, tender and smoky onions were very good in their own right but didn’t really compliment the already exceptional tuna.
Coffee, sambuca and cigarettes sounds like a post-coital digestif, but it was actually the first dessert. The ‘cigarette’ was a soft and malty sponge finger balanced on top of a sambuca foam. The latter unsurprisingly tasted strongly of aniseed, which you’ll either love or hate. Underneath the sambuca foam was a gooey coffee base. I’m not a gastronomic infant who insists that all desserts be sickly sweet, but this bitter, astringent, wispy construction just wasn’t satisfying. It’s as if the dessert was moulded to fit the name rather than the other way around.
Despite my aversion to alcohol, I do use small amounts of booze to liven up my own home made cakes and other desserts. It’s easy to overdo though – I have on occasion ended up with desserts so boozy that I can’t eat them. That was almost the case here with the rum baba – the fluffy sponge was almost too tipsy for me to keep down. The delightfully soft and custardish cream made it all worthwhile though.
The quality petit fours made up for the disappointing coffee, sambuca and cigarettes. The fruity egg tart, the crisp meringue and the pleasingly bittersweet miniature chocolate cake were my personal favourites.
If I were judging Il Sanlorenzo purely on the quality of its food, then it would easily snag a Four or Five Star rating – the selection and preparation of the seafood was simply exceptional. The service, however, changes things.
Most of the tasting menu experiences I had in Rome were surprisingly speedy affairs lasting around an hour and a half. At Il Sanlorenzo, it took three hours and 15 minutes. The staff were friendly and efficient at first, but as the restaurant filled up the quality of the service fell off a steep cliff and never recovered. The last one hour and 45 minutes were devoted to waiting for the desserts and coffee and for settling the bill – an astonishingly long wait that left me so bored, I had time to watch an episode of The Wire on my phone and understand what everyone was saying. Being ignored to such an extent is unacceptable and utterly confounding.
Name: Il Sanlorenzo
Address: Via dei Chiavari, 4/5 – 00186 Rome
Phone: 0039 06 68 65 097
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Friday 12.45-14.45 and 19.30-23.45. Saturday and Monday 19.30-23.45.
Reservations: highly recommended
Total cost for one person including soft drinks and coffee: €92 approx.