L’Orso ’80

Tel: +39 06 686 4904 / 06 686 1710
Address: Via dell’Orso 33
Cuisine Type: Italian
Notes: Closed Monday
Tables outside? No

The narrow, quiet Via dell’Orso is just a stone’s throw from the bustling crowds of Piazza Navona and contains one of Rome’s most famous restaurants, L’Orso ’80. It looks nothing much from the outside – a tiny entrance to what looks like a tiny room, with no menu on display. It doesn’t need one. Those who know it also know that whatever they choose will not only be delicious, but the sort of good food you can eat in seemingly huge quantities without needing a winch to get you out of your chair.

Once inside there are two elegant rooms with pale blue and stucco ceilings, Roman scenes and photographs of visiting celebs on the walls and crisp linen. The waiters are highly efficient but manage to be friendly as well – not always encountered in Rome. A friend lucky enough to live virtually above the restaurant told us that Memmo, the splendidly moustachioed head waiter, comes from Amatrice, a small town northeast of Rome that not only gives its name to the famous pasta dish but also supplies many of the best chefs in the city.

At L’Orso however the antipasto misto della casa is the star. It comes as a seemingly endless array of dishes from which you help yourself, and every one offers a taste sensation. The usual zucchini, melanzane (cooked in two ways, one of which produced the best I have ever tasted), mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto, mushrooms (with whole peppercorns), carciofi… but then extras such as meatballs that melted in the mouth, cauliflower with capers, fennel, fagioli in tomato sauce. Perhaps best of all, there was a spinach frittata, cooked freshly for each table. This extraordinary array is amazing value at €11 (the Italians may complain, probably rightly, that prices have risen with the Euro but even so…) Oysters at €2 each were small but pronounced the best ever tasted outside the USA (and that comment came from someone who regularly eats them fresh from the sea in the UK).

I wish I could tell you what the pasta was like but as you may have guessed, we struggled to eat even one more dish. Our helpful waiter, obviously knowing the form, had wisely advised against us ordering anything to follow the antipasto but to ‘wait and see’. If you can manage it, however, I would advise trying the bucatini all’amatriciana (see above) – it is reputed to be wonderful. Primi piatti range from €6.50 – €8.

If you make it as far as secondi try the abbacchio allo spiedo – lamb on the spit (€13) – which comes highly recommended. If you prefer fish, the rombo alla griglia (turbot, €14.50) was superb – absolutely fresh, perfectly cooked and filleted at the table. There is a small range of dolci including fresh fruit and a sumptuous Torta della Nonna. House red wine is delicious – mostly Sangiovese grape and very smooth.

L’Orso ’80 rapidly moves to the top of my list of favourite restaurants in Rome…