La Carbonara

Tel: +39 06 4825 176
Address: Via Panisperna, 214
Cuisine Type: Roman / Roman Jewish
Closed: Sunday
Tables outside? No
Website: www.lacarbonara.it

Not to be confused with the far pricier (and snootier) establishment of the same name in Campo de’ Fiori, this restaurant has been in the family since it opened in 1906. And although the views in Via Panisperna are not quite those of the Campo, the lack of tourists – despite its proximity to the historic centre and Santa Maria Maggiore – is a huge benefit on the Viminal Hill, rapidly becoming one of the new chic areas of Rome.

The current matriarch, cook (and, on the day we visited, waitress) is the tiny Donna Teresa, also known as Zì Terè. And she certainly can cook.

We kicked off with frittura “La Carbonara” (€6), a plate of fresh vegetables dipped in batter and lightly fried. One plate between two is plenty, but they are cooked with such a light hand – and the batter is so delicate – that you might want more, especially as the usual zucchiniand melanzane are supplemented by slices of pumpkin, wonderfully fresh mushrooms and baby artichokes and even some balls of ricotta cheese. Wonderful. There was also an olive ascolane (€3.50) for us to try: the best ever tasted, making it another obvious choice among the antipasti. A range of bruschetta at €1.80 is also tempting.

Fresh pasta, made by Zì Terè of course, gives you the chance to sample some of the wonderful varieties – strozzapreti (“priest stranglers” – there’s an image to conjure with),cavatelli, strangozzi – with the sauce of your choice, from a good list and all very reasonably priced at €6.20 unless you want funghi porcini, when it inches up to €8.

Maltagliati alla Zì Terè was a riot of simple fresh flavours based on tomato and garlic; I thought I was honour bound to taste the signature dish of spaghetti alla Carbonara, and had the sense to ask for a half portion of this often heavy confection. Again, however, Zì Terè’s cooking is so skilled that although the sauce of cheese, egg, and bacon (in this caseguanciale – pig’s cheek) was rich, it slipped down all too easily.

There’s a lot of traditional Roman Jewish cooking on offer here – simply because this cuisine is so bound up with all Roman cooking – including carciofi alla Giudia (€4). These are more succulent than those to be had in the Ghetto. (Andrea, one of Zì Terè’s sons and our friendly host, was very sniffy about the food to be found there now…) For someone rapidly running out of space it made a very good secondo piatto, especially when accompanied by an exquisite dish of puntarelle: extra fresh, and delicately dressed (€5). I was made of sterner stuff however and tried the straccetti all’aceto balsamico, delicious strips of beef from a good list of meat dishes and a selection of classic Roman options (€5 – €13).

Alas, we were incapable of sampling Zì Terè’s dolci (€3 – €5). I bet they’re stunning, though. A return visit is required.

There’s a good and interesting wine list and you can also a very fruity red, dedicated to Zì Terè’s mother, from the family’s own vines – the grape is Tor dè Passere.

La Carbonara looks nothing at all from the outside, but the fact that it soon filled up with Italians tells its own story. The warm welcome, the good honest cooking, the superb value for money make it highly recommended. There’s live music in the evenings, too.