Caffé del Parco

Tel: +39 06 360 8211
Address: Viale del Giardino Zoologico, 20
Cuisine Type: Classic Italian
Open: Every day, 09.30 – 17.00 (18.00, 30 March – 26 October)
Tables outside? Yes

If you are looking after the children of a Roman friend for a day – or perhaps you have the good fortune to be in Roma with children of your own – the Roma Zoo (Bioparco di Roma) in the grounds of Villa Borghese can occupy the better part of a day, appealing to both children and adults. It also works year-round: in the summer you are unlikely to see too many of the big cats, and if you do they will be snoozing or at least inert, and in the winter the bears may very well have decided to hibernate – but there are dozens and dozens of other animals to appreciate.

You have to buy a special ticket to see the reptiles, but they are pretty spectacular (including the blue poison dart frog… surreal). The best thing is to arrive around 11.30 and spend a couple of hours before lunch, lunch, and then after lunch spend another hour or so taking in the high points of what you have not yet seen. This recommended time-scale is geared to children, who walk slowly between exhibitions, dwell inordinately at certain places (where, for example, the chimps seem to be playing with the spectators), and begin to complain after a while. An ideal break in the routine is lunch.

The Zoo cafeteria is brilliant, and by the way you don’t have to buy a ticket to the zoo to use it. It’s not cheap (main courses cost €7) but it is very good. For example, the grilled chicken breast is succulent, moist, and sweet; the wafer-thin slices of rare roast beef fill a plate. Starters go up to €6.50 (e.g., prosciutto con melone – as good as in any top restaurant), and puddings range from a generous bowl of fresh fruit in its own juices to a killer custard tart. The pasta options – always one vegetarian – are as good as you get anywhere, thoughtful sauces immaculately presented and described by the encouraging serving ladies.

They rip you off for drink, so beware: €2.40 for a very small beer or a can of coke. If you are planning in advance to eat here you may like to bring your own bottles of water (or coke).

Service is first-rate. Coffee is good. You will pay as much here as you would have done in a cheap but good restaurant, but aside from having to carry your food on a tray, you will receive as good a meal with service as in any trattoria – and a good deal better than in some.