Before

Tel: +39 06 6889 1458
Address: Piazza Nicosia, 18
Cuisine Type: International
Closed: Saturday, Sunday lunchtime
Tables outside? Yes
Website: www.menudiroma.com

“Concept” restaurants are still a rarity in Rome, but Before is attempting to fill the niche. The name refers to the period before Christ – from 35,000 years before, that is – and all dishes are based on ingredients and recipes from ancient times, and the very recent notion of fusion cuisine. It’s not always an easy fit.

The atmosphere is striking, however, and actually does manage to be modern and ancient at the same time. Stylised pre-Columbian reliefs, hammered brass fixtures, hieroglyphs and what appears to be the occasional burial tomb line the walls, illuminated by recessed lighting. The tables are glossy black lacquer – no stone tablets or crude wooden benches here – the floor is polished, and the dinnerware is straight off the shelves.

It is dark without being creepy, intimate rather than romantic. Sounds of nature, or more oddly, jazz tunes, play in the background. Voices are hushed. Menus are studied intently, and not without reason, as each dish is described vividly but not always clearly.

The attempt to synthesise ancient and modern across all geographical lines leads to some interesting results, with liberties obviously taken. Sliced smoked salmon with caramelized onions on little rice cakes are exquisite, but none of the techniques employed to create them are particularly prehistoric.

Still, why be picky? The spring rolls are lovely and fresh tasting, if a little sweet, the pasta dishes are well-prepared, and the Vulcano al Cioccolato is heavenly. Generally speaking, the fewer ingredients listed on the menu, the better the dish tends to be.

Tables are set up outside in warm weather, in front of Piazza Nicosia’s pretty but not always functioning fountain. As much as one might like dining al fresco, though, the real attraction of Before is its interior décor.

Prices are reasonable, with lunches averaging €15 and dinner about double that. The wine list is unexceptional, but that’s not why you’re going to Before.