Why do restaurants only use their space for lunch or dinner other than to give the owners and their staff time to rest? Is there a more efficient way to utilise a space by offering more than just lunch or dinner?
That’s what Niko Romito set out to test with Spazio Niko Romito Roma. His vision was that of creating a space that could serve as a restaurant, a cafeteria, a bakery and a place where Romans could convene in the evenings for an aperitivo or a glass of wine. You can say that vision has materialised.
Located in a square in the Parioli district of Rome just two and a half kilometres away from Piazza Di Spagna and the Fontana Di Trevi you can find this space (spazio) which reflects Niko Romito’s vision to offer a space for the young students of his cooking school Niko Romito Formazione to gain experience in a real life restaurant.
Today, the restaurant is welcoming Italians and tourists alike to this elegant residential area that became popular in Rome during the Fascist regime when it was the residence of many-high ranking party and state functionaries.
On a recent visit to Rome, I decided to revisit the restaurant that I had seen last December when it was still under construction. On a week night, the Spazio Pane Caffe was buzzing with activity while the restaurant (connected by a corridor to the cafeteria) was quietly filling up (after all this is Rome and while a booking at 8.30pm might sound late in the North Europe, that’s pretty early in this part of Euorpe) on a pleasant autumn evening in the Italian capital.
The cooking philosophy of the restaurant is very similar to Niko Romito’s flagship restaurant Reale where he has acquired three Michelin stars, made it to the top part of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and is the highest ranking restaurant in Italy.
A lot of dishes are similar though of course more approachable. There is also the famous bread which alone is worth the trip to this part of Rome (or Abruzzo).
The focus is on the quality of the ingredients and on getting the best out of each component. Using the less is more approach, most of the dishes are minimalistic but with an explosion of flavours. It is a technique that has made Niko Romito famous and it is what’s on offer at Spazio.
Today, there are three Spazio restaurants in Milan, Rome and Rivisondoli (where Niko started cooking) but it is Niko’s plan to open this concept in other cities around the world.
A cursory glance at the menu makes it very difficult to choose from a number of interesting antipasti, starters and main courses.
The Spazio Milan and Spazio Roma restaurants have won critical acclaim for their quality price ratio with Romito creating more approachable and simpler dishes together with head chef Gaia Giordano who like Romito started her cooking career after studying law because her father, who used to work with Renzo Piano, opened a restaurant in Chianti. After a first experience serving guests since her passion was wine, she started working in the kitchen and never moved out.
In Rome, I tried the pork with an olive pesto, capers and almonds that was served as an antipasto is exceptional. The almonds have been turned into a cream and they blend perfectly with the pork, the olive pesto and capers.
The choice of pasta dishes for first course was also challenging. From linguine with smoked sardines and broccoli which looked incredibly tempting to pappardelle with a ragu of three different types of meat or the carbonara, I was lost and asked for a recommendation. It was for tortilla with cod, onion and white wine. The filling was perfect, the sauce light but exceptional.
For main course, again the choice was difficult. I’ve tried the chicken alla cacciatora before so I opted for lamb with thyme and turnip tops.
I’ve eaten too much so for dessert, they recommended I have the passion fruit with liquorice caramel and balsamic vinegar. It is the perfect finish to the dinner. Light, fresh, sweet but at the same time zingy, it had all the flavours you need.
Niko Romito boils everything down to the essence. That’s what makes a visit to his three star restaurant Reale a must. But that intentional minimalism also works in his other concepts like Spazio making it a place worth visiting.