The Hotel Forum is an impressive 4 star hotel with an amazing location and view overÂ Via dei Fori Imperiali, the thoroughfare that leads from the Colosseum past the Ancient Roman Forum to Piazza Venezia and the Vittoriano, the symbolic heart of the modern city.
The interior of the hotel, where we relaxed for a while (it’d been a half hour walk from our hotel so we wanted to collect ourselves before what we knew was going to be a special dining experience) before takingÂ the lift up to the restaurant on the rooftop, is very comfortable indeed…
…and the refined surroundingsÂ continued as we exited the lift on the 5th floor and were ledÂ to our table.
AÂ cool breeze blew through the open sided room.
“We often get a strong west wind blowing in from the sea,” said our waiter, “even in high summer we tend to stay cool up here.” It was so cool, in fact, that Lamia could’ve done with a blanket later in the evening. So do remember to bring a warm cardigan here if you’re prone to getting cold easily, even if you’re diningÂ in the summer and it’s so warm down on the street that you don’t feel like you’re going to need it.
Our table was decorated with fresh red roses and reassuringly heavy cutlery.Â
The panorama was lovely, I can imagine in the daytime it’ll be even more so as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill would be in full view then.
We took our time with the menu; I’m not very experienced with Italian food although I do know that a realÂ Italian meal, taken in Italy, is different to something experienced in the UK or North America. It’s always got at least four courses, sometimes five or six, and the food is created with that in mind (the portion sizes are smaller and the sauces usually aren’t too creamy or heavy and are just enough to add flavour without swamping). But that’s all I know so we asked for advice regarding our choices (it’s easy to become overwhelmed by such luxurious and romantic surroundings if you’re not used to such things, especially when you know as little about wine and Italian food as we do!) which the restaurant staff, who quickly put us at our ease, where happy to offer.
Regarding the surroundings, I’m not suggesting that the luxury on show put us on our guard or somehow prevented us from relaxing. It’s just that in our regular lives we don’t experience refined diningÂ on the level that the Rooftop Hotel Forum provides – I doubt anybody other than royalty does – so for a while we were a little stunned and blinded by it.
Our sommelier recommended a Bardolino Classico from Lake Garda. A smooth red, it wasÂ as light on the palette as it was clean on the glass. It went excellently with both steak and fish. Generally I try my best to be a vegetarian but it was clear that to get the most out of this menu I was going to have to put that aside for the night. Hypocritical of me, most certainly, but my selfish passion for experiencing other human cultures outweighs my other belief systems, at the moment.
For starters Lamia had shrimp lobster and air dried beef.
It was a picturesque dish with a rocket and lettuce salad under the meat and fish itemsÂ andÂ shreds of pecorinoÂ on top.
“The shrimps’ tender and both it and the lobster areÂ very fresh,” said Lamia. “The beef is moist and very understated in taste, which isn’t what I had in mind. I imagined it’d be drier with a more pungent taste, but I’m enjoying it better this way.”
I had the traditional Italian starter; slices of chorizo Milan salami, buffalo mozzarella, button mushrooms and artichoke hearts and black olives, large sun dried tomatoes and Parma ham on a bed of lettuce.
The buffalo mozzarella was creamy and subtle and therefore a foil to the spicy meat, and the sun dried tomato went some way to alleviate the blandness of the ham. Like Lamia, I was surprised by this subtle taste. I expect it with, say, vegetables and general ingredients in an organic restaurant as everything is geared towards emphasizing natural flavours there but with ham I’ve never known one of it’s aims to be an attempt to achieve subtle-ness. That could be a lost in translation thing though; perhaps it’s normal for Romans to eat some ham this way. Apart from this slight issue though, you could call my dish fine dining but without the small portion size and fussiness that so often accompanied that phrase in the past. The rustic, no nonsense feel and presentation of this dish was certainly it’s strength.
Next Lamia had the stuffed ravioli with vegetable ragout.
“It’s rich and cheesy,” said Lamia. “The ragout is light, creamy yet retains texture and contains a lot of veg; I recognize sundried tomatoes and zucchini the most. I’m really enjoying the warm, melt in your mouth taste. The pockets of ravioli are large and stuffed with cheese, spinach and ricotta and are cooked a little more than al dente, it works well with theÂ soft, cheesy taste.”
I had fettuccini with shrimp zucchini and saffron.
The saffron rendered the pasta a lush, buttery yellow and brought back pleasant memories of a lovely day spent atÂ Christine Ferrari’s saffron farm near Marrakech earlier this year. The zucchini was thinly shredded and woven through the nest of al dente fettuccine and as well as the full shrimp on top there were pieces of shrimp throughout. Everything was veryÂ simple and there was a great range of textures, from the bite ofÂ the pasta to the lesser biteÂ of the shrimp and finally the zucchini. It was a simple, well thought out dish, executed perfectly.
For main Lamia had the grilled sirloin steak.
“The meat is soft to cut yetÂ well done,” Lamia said. “There’s potato and green beans on the side and a massive wedge of lemon to squeeze over the top. The steak is excellently cooked, tasty and well spiced but a third of what is on my plate is fat, which I understand is how it works with some chefsÂ but it’s not how I like things to be with my sirloin.Â But other than that I like the taste of lemon squeezed over the meat, it’s not something I’ve experiencedÂ before.”
I had the swordfish, Sicilian style.Â The fish was topped with cherry tomatoes, black olives and capers and a thin jus with a hint of citrus and herb. It was another very light dish. To give an indication of the swordfish texture, the black olives were firmer than the steak. There was no need to cut the steak, it fell apart under my knife.
Lamia’s dessert was tiramisu.
“I can’t get over how beautiful my tiramisu looks, it almost seems a crime to disturb it all in order to eat. There’s a beautifully delicate combinationÂ of coffee, soft biscuit, cranberries and blackberries, bound together in spongy, textured layers. What a visual treat as well as a tasty one!”
I had the pear tart with chocolate.
There was an overpowering smell of chocolate emanating from the warm pear cake, which was sprinkled with blackberries, icing sugar, raspberries and cranberries. It was gorgeous, rich, fulfilling and a perfect end to the meal.
The only slight dip inÂ the evening was when we tried to findÂ a waiter at the end. They’d all disappeared after bringing dessert, although they did make a swift reappearance when we tired of waiting and rose to leave.
To sum up, the start of our eveningÂ was fantastic – being introduced to the 5th storey restaurant and seeing the lovely panorama from our table – theÂ staff are experienced and intelligent and whilst the food throughout was very good rather than superb (we confess that our tastes might have been affected though, spoilt even, by having too many truly memorable meals during our recent trip to Â Morocco) any slight shortcomingÂ was more than made up for by the surroundings and the sense of romance they created. This is definitely a place to bring your loved one.
We finished the last of our wine as the moon rose over theÂ Palatine Hill and the ruins below began to glow marble-white. The pedestrianizedÂ Via dei Fori Imperiali, just a few steps from the hotel, beckoned; the wide cobbled street wasÂ a perfect place to promenade and walk off what had been a classically Roman dinner.