Rome is a busy city; a city of old and new with Vespas whizzing around, buses rambling by and people vying for space on the narrow, cobblestoned streets. Sometimes in this beautiful city, it’s hard to find a sanctuary, a place where one can simply go, ‘ahhhh.’ While in Rome, I was lucky enough to escape to the Aldrovandi Villa Borghese, a 19th century villa that sits within the sanctuary of the Borghese gardens. It is a former convent (0h the stories those walls could tell!) and within there is a spa, gardens and the beautiful Assaje Restaurant.
Which leads me back to food! Italians are a passionate people and one thing they are particularly passionate about is food. Food is everything in Italian culture and if you aren’t eating (and eating well), something is very wrong. Italian food is exciting – it’s full of flavour and is diverse – it varies from region to region and I’ve found discovering it an absolute joy!
The food at the Assaje restaurant at the Aldrovandi Villa Borghese is wholly Italian and the ingredients are Italian as well, sourced within the country. Eating here is like travelling through Italy and discovering each region’s speciality – but from the comfort of the table! I chose the ultimate food adventure – the 7 course lunch menu, created by the Executive Chef Andrea Migliaccio (2 Michelin stars). Once I was set with a glass of Italian prosecco (my favourite) I was ready to start this journey through Italian’s best food regions.
First off nothing fires up the palette like soup. The starter was a delicious tomato soup with mozzarella cheese and pesto added for good measure. I love mozzarella – it’s one of my favourite cheeses. I love the creamy texture of it and this one was fresh and delicious.
The first course after the soup was a seared scallop with violet potato, asparagus and beetroot. The food at Assaje is not only a joy to the taste buds but also a joy to the eyes. Each dish is so thoughtfully prepared and arrives like a perfect presentation of art to the table. The service is also impeccable – in fact the most professional service I have ever received. The setting is elegant and quiet and it’s perfect for escaping the madness of everyday life.
The next course was the diced Fassone beef. Fassone is an Italian beef and this dish is essentially beef tartare, topped with asparagus, black truffle and egg sauce. I was thrilled to be able to try black truffle – such a rare and exquisite ingredient. Black truffle is one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world. You only live once remember so you must try it!
White wine is perfect for midday and I chose a Sauvignon Blanc to accompany this meal. Wine, beautiful surroundings and gorgeous food? What more could you ask for?!
Next up was the spaghettoni pasta with sea urchins. I love sea urchins because I lived in Japan for four years where they are extremely popular. They are very rich, salty and taste of the sea – what you would expect, really! But as a big fan of anything that comes out the sea – this was a very interesting combination which I truly enjoyed. Another interesting thing about Italian pasta is that it is always served al dente – never overcooked. I have made a mental note to myself that the next time I make spaghetti I must make the noodles al dente if I want to do it the proper way!
In Italy, my mind was focused only on pasta so I was happy that the next dish that was served was a beef tail filled tortellini with bitter Neopolitan chicory pear and Castelmagno cheese fondue. Castelmagno cheese is from the Piedmont area of north west Italy and it is a kind of cheese that has been made for many centuries, the 13th century to be exact. This is a kind of blue cheese and one that is quite hard to find as production of this particular cheese is small.
Again, I am happy with anything that comes from the sea so it was a joy to taste the next course, the salted cod medallion in a bread crust with a salad of tomatoes, olives and celery accompanied by a yellow tomato sauce. This was both crunchy and soft, an oxymoron of a taste that fluctuated back and forth. Five stars!
Another star of the meal was the crunchy pork belly with Cicerchie peas (high in protein and virtually no fat), prickly lettuce and traditional balsamic vinegar aged 25 years. I don’t eat pork very often but when I do make sure it is pork belly – the best part. The portion size of each plate I may add was perfect – it was never too much or not enough – just perfect enough to really enjoy each taste but not ruin the appetite for the next course.
For dessert my favourite was what was literally an ice cream sandwich with almond and chocolate sauce. The perfect way to end the perfect meal. I can never fully finish a meal without something sweet. It really signifies to my brain that the meal is finished and I am satisfied!
The highlight of the meal was meeting Chef Claudio Mengoni (below) with our amazing server (the best!).
If you are looking for a sanctuary in the heart of Rome and want to get away for a few hours during your stay, I can think of nowhere I would recommend than the Aldrovandi Villa Borghese. I definitely intend to go back – I’m imagining being poolside in the summer sun with a prosecco in hand!