Camponeschi has to be one of the most romantic restaurants in Rome. Its setting in Piazza Farnese is exquisite, just to the side of Palazzo Farnese – the setting for Act II of Tosca, if you’re an opera lover – and near one of the vast Farnese fountains. OK, so the Palazzo is now The French Embassy and therefore out of bounds (boo) but at night the piano nobile is often lit, allowing one to glimpse the fabulous frescos by Hannibale Carracci…
If that doesn’t do it for you, there’s the food, which is also pretty spectacular. But there have been mixed reports in recent years of over-priced meals with indifferent service, so it was high time I revisited this bastion of high-class Roman cuisine.
A hot evening in June was perfect for a table in the ever-popular outside area, right on the Piazza, but first impressions were not too promising. The service was sketchy, with long waits and reminders for pre-dinner drinks being required. True, it was a busy Saturday evening, but Camponeschi always seems to be busy, so they should be used to it…
With the arrival of nibbles (frivolezze – what a great word) things changed for the better. Tender baby mozzarelle and wonderful olives do lighten a mood, especially when followed by seriously good slices of melanzane and carciofi in a vinegar I would happily have drunk, it was so good. And we hadn’t even ordered…
The menu is large. There is a huge range of starters at around €18, and my spinachgnocchetti with black truffle were superb. My companion’s rombetti pasta with scallops andfunghi were also excellent.
Main courses (€25-€35) are also mouthwatering and mostly comprise Roman classics with a twist. Turbot fillet with apples and pistachios was perfectly cooked, succulent and a brilliant combination of flavours. Lobster salad Catalana was also extraordinarily good, a whole lobster having been sacrificed, shelled and beautifully presented with beans, red onion and perfectly cooked baby potatoes.
We never quite got to the bottom of the pudding menu, because by then the service had gone off again – possibly distracted by the seemingly endless number of tables at which a birthday was being celebrated, necessitating the presentation of Tiramisu complete with sparklers and a round of singing. It didn’t really matter though, because the petits fours andrabarbaro – the equivalent of mints in an Indian restaurant but made of – wait for it – rhubarb – are quite sufficient.
The wine list is, as you would expect, stratospheric in range, a perfectly pleasant but not that special Gavi dei Gavi setting us back €52.
So… the verdict is that if you’re not a rich Roman businessman (bound to get the star treatment) or possibly a very obviously rich American tourist, the experience at Camponeschi is not guaranteed to be perfect, despite the cost of around €100 per head for dinner. Which may not sound a lot by London standards, but it’s very steep for Rome.
The food is fabulous, of that there is no doubt. Just don’t expect much in the way of personal service, though when the waiters remember your existence they are perfectly pleasant. And in some ways that’s better than the unnerving, OTT servility I encountered on my previous visit, when in the company of an honest-to-God Roman.