When a trattoria just won’t do. 15 contemporary dining spots in Rome

When you’ve had your fill of traditional roman style carbonara and oxtail (coda alla vaccinara), head to one of these outstanding contemporary dining establishments. The city really has taken a more cosmopolitan turn over the last 3-4 years and venues boasting stylish contemporary design coupled with innovative, creative and refreshing menus are on the up. Here are my pics for contemporary dining in Rome.

1) Retrobottega

Stylish, creative, sleek and chic. I could go on. Nothing in Rome is as cool as Retrobottega. It’s the concept, the staff, the wine list and oh the food. The menu changes seasonally and I have it on record as saying I had one of the best risottos of my life here. The venue has two dining spaces that are centred around the open kitchen so not only do you get to taste Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi’s creations, you see their artistic preparation unfold right before your eyes. These young and experienced chefs (they count brands and names like Bulgari, Anthony Genovese, Il Pagliaccio and Enrico Crippa between them) are all about refined, seasonal dishes in a convivial, minimalist setting. Do a tasting menu. Thank me later. Website

2) Pianostrada

If I said Retrobottega is my favourite in Rome, it actually comes in at a tie with Pianostrada. It just never disappoints and hasn’t once in all the years I’ve been here whether for lunch, dinner or a drink. The setting is so welcoming with its homely mismatched furnishings and cute outdoor terrace area. But you can’t just drop in here anymore – bookings are a must, as it’s become one of most popular hangouts in the city. Hot tip – don’t miss the house made focaccia, deconstructed zucchini flowers with anchovy and milky mozzarella and leave room for dessert. Oh and you can thank me later! Website

3) Pianoalto

Pianostrada baby sister property is Pianoalto. While the former is “ground floor” in English, this is “top floor” – so you guessed it: the venue is set across two floors and includes a gorgeous plant and flower-filled rooftop terrace with an L-shaped bar offering views across the Aventine and Mount Testaccio. The decor is eclectic and funky with the Pianostrada design stamp. The menu has a wide selection of new and seasonal dishes as well as the signature ones they are famous for including the Bacca Burger (the squid ink bun baccalà – salt cod – burger. They’ve also added outstanding cocktails to the mix, so drop in for an aperitivo. Website

4) Perpetual

In their sub title, Perpetual states that it’s different : ‘ristorazione differente’, and that it is. Their interior design is impressively stunning with evocative mood lighting and the gourmet menu is a spread of on-point contemporary dishes invented by Romanian chef and Italy transplant, Cesare Predescu. On arrival you’re invited straight into the kitchen to meet the team and see the gleaming facilities. Then in one of the dining halls, a hidden pastry kitchen is revealed. If you’d like to leave the meal up to the chefs, go for their eleven course tasting menu at 85 euro with wines to match at an additional 45 euro. Website

5) Spazio by Niko Romito

The current name on everyone’s lips in the fine dining space is Niko Romito. My fellow Abruzzese has 3 Michelin stars in his Reale restaurant in Castel di Sangro (only 9 restaurants in Italy have the coveted title) and now has a host of restaurants in Italy and beyond (even in Beijing), including in Rome’s affluent Parioli. This causal outpost is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the sophisticated yet unpretentious dining matches the sleek interiors. Website.

6) Osteria Fernanda

I celebrated a birthday here in 2012 or 2013 while it was in its previous location. I never looked back. The quickest way to describe this place is: Michelin quality dining that’s affordable. In an unassuming street in the quieter part of Trastevere close to Porta Portese, it really gives the wow factor from the interior (including the floor to curling wine wall) to the food to the impeccable and friendly service. Multiple courses for around €55 euro doesn’t break the bank and leaves you on a complete high. Website

7) Zia

I know this ranking this is starting to get a little repetitive, but Zia has real potential to move into my favourite spot. Young Roman chefs who take a risk with the drive to open their own restaurant in this current Italian economy, must be applauded. And Antonio Ziantoni is one of them. He worked with Anthony Genovese of Rome’s two-Michelin starred Il Pagliaccio and even with England’s Gordon Ramsey. He shows off his stellar curriculum for less than 30 covers in an intimate space and away from the more crowded zones of the quartiere. The menu will attract a crowd looking for quality and innovation on the plate, but the prices are extremely reasonable for Trastevere and for the refined technique you find on the plate. There are 5 entrees, 5 first course and 5 main courses to choose from as well as a 5 course tasting menu (45 euro). If innovative finer dining is what you’re after in Rome but you don’t want to break the bank, Zia certainly won’t disappoint. Website

8) Romeo Chef & Baker

Charismatic, cosmopolitan and modern. Just like Cristina Bowerman’s other ventures, Romeo is no different. The complex also includes Giulietta Pizzeria (with gourmet roman and Neapolitan style pizzas) and Frigo gelateria. Expertly mixed cocktails, an ever changing contemporary menu that showcases the finest of ingredients and is sorted by produce and at lunch you’ll find salumi, cheese and baked goods are available all day at the bar counter. Website

9) Trattoria Pennestri

Trattoria by name but the philosophy here is more in line with in line with a wine bar or gourmet bistrot. Dynamic duo Tommaso Pennestri and Valeria Payero run the show here – she has Argentinian heritage and takes charge of the floor, while he Italo-Danish and is in the kitchen. And they’re all about the the fusion of contemporary technique, traditional roman cuisine and high-quality seasonal produce. You might still find classics like carbonara or the innards delight of Romans, coratella (Pam fried heart, liver, spleen etc) and while they won’t disappoint, go for their more creative dishes which are bound to totally impress. Website

10) Acciuga

I first met Federico Delmonte at Rome’s popular seafood restaurant Chinappi. He is from Italy’s Le Marche and I still remember that meal. It was one of the best seafood meals I’d had in a long time and I recall mostly his use of just 2-3 ingredients which let each piece of fish truly shine. Out on his own he went in 2018 and Acciuga is no different. Except here, he isn’t just chef but owner too. Located in Prati, Rome’s area by the Vatican, Acciuga is modern, understated and contemporary seafood dining at its best best. Ps the recipe for pesce in guazzetto is in my book, I Heart Rome is generously by Delmonte. Website

11) Epiro

Creative cooking, craft beer and natural wine. This unassuming restaurant sits quietly in Piazza Epiro in Rome’s working class San Giovanni area. Think 6 courses for about €50 and each one is more impressive than the next. The service is informal and there’s even outdoor dining. Oh and a garden where they grow much of the items that you see on the menu and then your plate. At Epiro, Rome’s local quality produce often mixes with international flavours as chefs Marco Mattana and Matteo Baldi flirt with technique and ingredients in the kitchen. Website

12) Giulia

Along one of Rome’s prettiest streets, Via Giulia, Giulia is all gourmet menu, vintage interiors and competent and friendly staff. Another protege of some of the city’s Michelin star chefs, Pierluigi Gallo has come into his own and devised a contemporary menu that pays homage to both technique and local produce. Choose from one of the degustation tasting menus or from the full menu. Website.

13) Marigold 

I finally dined at Marigold and it was everything I’d hoped for. Opened just weeks ago in Rome’s ostiense neighborhood, Sophie and her husband Domenico aren’t new to the scene. They ran gourmet pop up dinners for years, melding his culinary expertise and her bakery prowess. Marigold is what Rome hasn’t seen before – think brunch (the real deal kind with avocado on toast) and decadent pastries like cinnamon rolls and the like. And lunch and dinner dishes (dinner weekend only) too. Website

14) Seu Pizza Illuminati

From the minute you walk in, you know you’re not in your average roman neighbourhood pizzeria. The neon lights are a dead giveaways, the design interiors are uber modern and the menu here takes gourmet pizza dining to a new level. Pier Daniele Seu’s creations are ever changing and flirt entertainingly with local ingredients and flavour combinations. That goes for the fritti menu too. Seasonal changes mean there’s something different to choose from each time and at the moment you’ll even find a lasagne-inspired one on the menu. Website

15) Jacopa

Located within the Hotel San Francesco in Trastevere, the new Jacopa is the brainchild of Piero Drago and Jacopo Ricci (both formerly of Il Pagliaccio – 2 Michelin starred Roman fine dining institution). Innovative and elegant plates combined with a stellar wine list and impeccable service, this place is small but the experience surpasses its size. For €50 you can enjoy the 5 course tasting menu with some highlights including handmade beef tortellini with a cocoa bean and parmigiano sauce. An expertly mixed cocktail designed by the prominent Emanuele Broccatelli and settle in for a great night. Website

Buon appetito!

Signing off from Trastevere 

Baci Maria

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