The dessert spoon has already been placed on the table at Retro Bottega in Rome. I’ve been chatting to one of the two chefs Giuseppe Lo Iudice who owns this place in the centre of Rome together with another chef Alessandro Miocchi.
He leaves and soon after returns to replace the spoon with a fork and knife. “We’ve changed plans he tells me. We want you to try another dish before dessert,” he tells me.
The dish that follows is pigeon cooked in a Peking Duck style. “My business partner and chef Alessandro Miocchi was in China and he got inspired by this dish which you can find everywhere. We love to work with pigeon and thought we could use the method to prepare pigeon this way,” he said.
It is cooked to perfection. The pigeon is perfectly seasoned, crisp on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside and is served with spinach and savory.
In the space of a year I’ve eaten the best pigeon dishes I’ve ever eaten at Reale in Castel di Sangro and Le Chalet de La Forêt in Brussels. One is a three Michelin star restaurant and one of the top restaurants in the world, the other an established two Michelin star restaurant in Brussels doing great things. This dish at Retro Bottega came close, extremely close to those exceptional dishes.
How long has it been on the menu I ask. This will be served till November because the menu at this restaurant changes ever two months.
The restaurant, which opened three years ago is a partnership between Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi who have worked in some of the top kitchens in Italy including Il Pagliacio in Rome and Enrico Crippa’s Piazza Duomo.
The restaurant came highly recommended. When Andrea Petrini, food writer and the man behind GELINAZ! apart from being the chair of the Judging Panel of the new World Restaurant Awards recommends you head straight there when in Rome, you know you are on to a winner.
Retro Bottega is a very modern restaurant in the heart of Rome. There, close to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, food is served on two large communal tables. Food is prepared inside the kitchen but everything is plated in the front of house just in front of the communal tables. The two chefs actually let their staff steal the show as they plate in front of the communal tables while they work inside the kitchen and that’s also the reason why they chose the name of the restaurant Retro Bottega because they consider a chef to be a craftsman who works in the background without being conspicuous.
The restaurant is open 7 days a week and the kitchen runs on a 12 hour day from 12 noon till midnight meaning that you can normally find space even without a booking if you avoid peak times and that is certainly a plus in a day and age where it sometimes takes months to secure a booking in a restaurant.
Giuseppe and Alessandro, the owners of Retrobottega say the reason they are two is that they want the restaurant to be less of a chef oriented cuisine but rather one that focuses more on the act of cooking, on the simplicity of the taste with less emphasis on the chef. That is very evident from their cooking with a focus on exceptional ingredients.
The menu has a range of antipasti, first courses and main dishes and you could either go a la carte or else select a five course menu (with your selection) or an eight course menu which is chosen by the chefs.
Before the antipasti they serve me a beetroot tartare that combines perfectly with a Parmesan cream and seeds. This is followed by hen, pulled by hand and served with corn, puffed corn and paprika.
Then comes sweetbreads with fig and a cream of goat milk. It is clinical but perfect. There were many first course pasta dishes that tickled my fancy from fusilli with anchovies, wheat and broccoli leaves, a spaghetti with absinthe and pecorino and cappelletti with roasted carrots and smoked herring but I’ve left the choice in their hands and they opt to serve tortellini stuffed with duck and served with marinated turnips prepared two ways. The pasta is perfectly al dente, the sauce minimal but intense in flavour. This is modern Italian cuisine.
For main course they serve me a pork dish with prunes and broccoli. The pork is perfectly cooked, the broccoli a perfect match. There were two intriguing vegetable main dishes on the menu which were also interesting including kale with onions and mint and a roasted turnip with wild herbs and tuna mayonnaise.
But for me, the piece de resistance was the pigeon (photo above). It had been cooked in water and then left in the refrigerator for 1 week to rest and was brushed with raison syrup. It was then cooked at very high heat before being served.
To finish off, a goat milk yogurt of different shapes and textures was served with liquorice. I’m not necessarily a big fan of liquorice but this worked perfectly and was the best way to end the meal.
Many tell you there are too many tourist traps in Rome, that it is not easy to find places which are modern and which could work in cities like Paris, London or New York. But Giuseppe and Alessandro prove otherwise. If you are looking for creative cooking in a casual and modern environment where the emphasis is not the ego of the chefs but rather the quality of the ingredients including the wild herbs they forage this is your place.
This is a place that is in constant evolution. The decor has changed earlier this year to make it more modern to reflect their style though the concept has remained the same. Moreover, the two chefs are set to open a six person table at the back of the restaurant. The entrance will be separate and the experience completely different.
This is one of those places that you will want to return to not only to savour new dishes but also to see how it will evolves. Giuseppe and Alessandro have kept prices very reasonable. They are still at the start of their journey but if they stay on track, they will go far, very far.
Retro Bottega: Via della Stelletta, 4, Rome. The restaurant is open on Monday from 18:30 to 23.30 and from Tuesday to Sunday from 12:00 to 23:30.