Antico Arco

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When in Rome… Naomi Coleman and her innamorato celebrate a special anniversary in style

Happy coincidence took us to Rome slap bang on our wedding anniversary. What better excuse to ditch the family and head off to Antico Arco on the Gianicolo hill above Rome’s centre? And that’s just it. The journey is as good as the arrival. Leave plenty of time (30 minutes at least) to cross the Ponte Sisto foot bridge and wallow in the silky strums of a resident busker or two. It’s a heady start to the evening on a balmy April night in this most seductive of cities.

Once on the West Bank of the Tiber, the young, hip, throng of Trastevere takes you deep into the cavernous bar-filled streets. A twist and a turn later, Google maps spits you out into a dimly lit alleyway and at the foot of a steep-(ish) staircase up and out of the city. Winding up the hill, you’ll catch great glimpses of the dome-speckled city. A final climb past a wisteria-steeped palazzo brings you to the ancient town gate – the ‘Old Arch’ that gives the restaurant its name. Founded by a husband and wife team 20 years ago, they renovated a 19th century building in this small piazza turning it into a firm local favourite – if my Roman friend is to be believed. It’s a quieter, more sedate side of Rome where few tourists venture, and the hike is well worth the effort.

Visitors are greeted in a small lobby area and ushered to starched linen clad tables in chic, minimal interiors – not stark or too modern, but somehow warm and inviting. The small L-shaped dining room reflects the atmosphere of the place – dimly lit with an iridescent glow radiating from pearly brickwork on the walls (don’t you just love how Italians make design work against all odds?) This is a local restaurant with a whiff of private members’ club (main courses start at €28) – a far cry from the city’s bustling trattorias below. Our fellow diners of couples and small family cliques come here for intimacy and quietly celebrate milestones.

With hearty appetites after our vigorous climb, we had no qualms filling up on fresh bread sticks – crispy long fingers pocketed with herbs, olives and grainy parmesan – served by our attentive young waitress.  The menu is a modern take on traditional Roman food. With glasses of Prosecco firmly in hand, a chef’s treat swiftly arrived – a foamy chickpea cream served with viney tomato bread. The snap of the market fresh tomatoes didn’t disappoint.

The antipasti course produced pea soup, seared squid and dried tomatoes for Andrew. The bite-sized squid was delicate and creamy, yet the fresh kick of the pureed peas proved the hero of the evening.  In view of my herbivore status, I chose buffalo mozzarella wrapped in filo pastry. Crackling-thin pastry cradled a slightly harder cheese than expected and didn’t quite match its pea contender.

Time to select a bottle of vino. If discovering unusual Italian wines is your thing, this is the place to explore. Our reckless picking paid off. The red Cesanese del Piglio grape grown in local Lazio, though mildly acidic, bore deep undercurrents of pomegranate, cranberry and wild plums.

For our main course, I took no time settling on grilled vegetables served with piedmonts’ toma cheese. An earthy bundle of peppery chicory, sweet courgettes and red peppers shot with an intensely saline flavour from this Northern Italian cow’s cheese. Andrew’s beef tenderloin with pizzaiola sauce and friggitelli came medium rare and succulent.

Friggitelli? Could it be a local pasta dish or type of bean perhaps? Friggitelli, it turns out, are sweet Italian chilli peppers, and on the plate resembled a tiny green curly head of hair canopying the beef. For the creative award this dish came top. Broad brush strokes of smooth mixed peppers and garlic puree added a splash of theatrical colour to the plate. Time to clean the palette with dessert. Andrew’s ginger gelato sprinkled with chocolaty dust and dobs of minty gel ‘was a bit of an odd experiment’, but my molten chocolate soufflé draped around the tongue effortlessly.

For a special occasion do as the Romans do. For fresh, creative cooking faithful to Roman staples, there’s few other places in this city that come up to scratch in this price bracket. The wine list is lengthy and unusual – worth the adventure if you’re up for discovering new grapes. The journey is part of the whole experience too – and I would strongly recommend factoring into your evening an urban trek to this secret corner of Rome.



Photography by Andrew Rayner

Antico Arco, Piazzale Aurelio, 7, 00152 Roma, Italy,

Dinner for two, including aperitif, dinner, wine and service € 160

Food **** Ambience **** Service ****