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Aroma Restaurant at Palazzo Manfredi, Rome

Aroma Restaurant is our favourite evening-time eatery in Rome. It’s not easy to say that either considering how many good places to eat in Rome there are and also, that there are very few vegetarian options on the Aroma menu (and I do try my hardest to be vegetarian). The service and location were beyond excellent, however, as was the food and wine where content most definitely matched style; the presentation was great and the quality lived up to it. A few more vegetarian options and a nod towards vegan and gluten/lactose free would propel the Aroma to the stars (it’s already got a Michelin Star but you know what I mean I think). Although it’s not very often that a restaurant of this style is able, or has the will, to pull off more than one decent vegetarian main course, so perhaps that will never happen. Still, we live in hope!

The Palazzo Manfredi, in which the Aroma is located, was very easy to find (around five minutes walk from the Lancelot Hotel). It’s on the corner opposite east side of the Colosseum and from part of the restaurant there’s a sublime view of the amphitheater, with nothing standing between you and it. Here’s a view of the front door…

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…and here is the restaurant, on top of the building on the left, taken when standing in front of the Colosseum…

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…and here are views from the restaurant itself.

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Our cocktail waitress had a warm smile and was understanding when we wanted to move tables. She’d given us a table with an amazing view of the Colosseum but we wanted to take photos of our meal as we dined and felt it might disturb some of the other guests around us so we asked to be seated indoors, which was far less populated. No problem, she even let us lead the way.

Our head waiter was professional and unshakable. Throughout the evening, no matter the situation, he always had the same calm, friendly and reassuring attitude. He was also more than happy to take photos of us on the terrace at the end, and he did so with enthusiasm even though I’m sure he’s done it thousands of times before. His experience showed; hand holding at a tenth of a second isn’t easy, yet he managed it with ease…

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For cocktails Lamia had the Manfredi Aperitif, made from vodka, zucchero liquido, lime fresco, mirtilli and spruzzo di cranberry juice.

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“It’s got a pleasant kick to it, and a hint of summer thanks to the the fruits and sangria like colour,” said Lamia, “but the vodka brings it back to autumn in Rome. I like it, the fruit overcomes the alcohol, it’s smooth and I love the fruit pulp and hint of lime.”

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I had the Vodka Martini.

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It was excellently mixed and the perfect chilled drink to help me relax after a full day of travel (we’d arrived that afternoon by air from Athens).

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Whilst we looked over the menu we snacked on focaccia, white bread, walnut bread and brown bread with Umbria olive oil.

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The oil was presented in bowls and we were offered a choice of fresh seasoning herbs, each of which, we were happy to hear, were home-grown, organic style, on their own terraces; Lamia chose a sprig of thyme and I rosemary. Each bread was unique; the brown extra crunchy crust and soft inner, the white softer all round, the walnut firmer and the focaccia a little oily but neutral so it allowed the infused olive oil to shine. 

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After we’d ordered our meals the Sommelier asked if he might pair our wines with each course; we were more than happy to take his advice, especially as he stressed that if we weren’t satisfied we could send them back and begin afresh. He started with a Pinot Grigio for us both.

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Northern Italy is known for quality wines and this 14% slightly sweet white had a substantial body. Not the sort I’d usually choose to start a meal with but I’m happy we listened to the Sommelier as it worked nicely with our starter – lobster with burrata and basil.

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The dish used the Italian national colours nicely and was served cool. The lobster oval was firm and overall this starter, with it’s hint of both seaside and earthy flavour, certainly fulfilled in placing itself firmly in Rome, somewhere between ocean, forest and open countryside.

We lingered over our food, enjoying the beautiful presentation, the heavy, hallmarked cutlery and thick, white plates. Service was enthusiastic but real; nobody was racing to push my chair in or diving to catch my napkin every time it fell to the floor (thanks goodness, I do hate that sort of fussy service) but the staff were always looking for an opportunity to smile and glancing in our direction to check if we did require anything. It made us feel relaxed and welcome, and that isn’t something that many fancy restaurants excel at.

The next course for Lamia was roast guild head sea bream with carrot quinelle and chilli sauce.

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“I rarely eat fish outside of my mums kitchen,” Lamia said, “it’s so often like that isn’t it, when your mum masters a certain dish then you can only let eating it elsewhere be a disappointment so many times before you just never eat it outside of home. But tonight I’ve given them a chance and although this looks nothing like mum would create, it tastes good. The skin is crispy, the interior tender but firm, there’s no fishy smell either which is important. The sauce and crispy crackers add extra texture and continuity to the core taste. The chili sauce is subtle, not strong at all. It’s a very well cooked dish.”

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I had the Salmon cooked at low temperature with puréed fennel, sweet and sour red onion.

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The salmon tasted almost like something you’d eat in a raw food restaurant and the fennel was superb, I really love how such a light taste can be such a force in any dish. It was an unusual eating experience though as the dominant texture came from the little crumbs on top, rather than the fish or onions. As a whole it didn’t set my world alight but I didn’t mind. As usual with Italian food I felt that this dining experience was starting slowly. Every taste so far had been understated and the range of textures subtle. The only thing that shouted at us was the presentation, especially the vivid colours of the ingredients, and that, we thought, was delightful. It’s a joy particular to Italian dining (in my limited experience) that when the beginning of the experience is good your heart fills and you can allow your excitement to grow as you know that things are only going to get even better. The usual form is that every component is a considered part of the whole, rather than a stand alone dish, with the starters leading you in slowly, before the mains and desserts blow your taste buds.

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We’d been asked to order soufflé, if we chose that for dessert, at the same time as we’d ordered everything else. We liked this, it indicated a commitment to freshness (you can’t knock up a souffle in five minutes).

As our next courses appeared we saw that they were continuing with the theme of there being a lot of fun and colour in the presentation; the chefs were clearly enjoying themselves.

Lamia had the chickpea “Crespelline” filled with artichokes and seasoned goats cheese.

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“There’s a very pungent smell of goat/blue cheese as I bite into the shells,” Lamia said, “the taste follows suite, it’s very strong indeed. The pasta itself is soft, cooked a little more than al dente.”

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For wine Lamia was offered a chardonnay from Northern Italy, a white that was much lighter than the previous Pinot Grigio.

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As we ate our head waiter passed us carrying a cake with sparklers in it. We thought it excellent that this very clearly high class restaurant was still happy to take people’s own birthday cakes to them at table.

Next I had the white truffle rice filled “ravioli” on red chicory cream and parsley chlorophyll.

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The air was heavy as the waiter shaved off pieces from a whole truffle onto the dish at the table. Once again the chef had worked to present the colours of Italy within the dish (as they had also done with Lamia’s pasta). There was a rich creaminess to the ravioli that matched perfectly the scent of the white truffle.

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I was offered a sauvignon from Trentino to the north of Venice; it was a fruity white with controlled power.

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Next I had crispy king prawns, scallops, “Risina” beans and stewed broccoli.

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Delightful presentation, as you can see. Don’t forget that we at The Photographers Guide never use special cameras or lighting as we take our photos, we just sit at the table as everybody else does and snap away as we eat, to ensure that what we show you is what you’d get if you dined at the place. The prawn were rich, luxurious, well cooked but still tender. There was a taste of inland because of the sprigs of rosemary but also a salty aftertaste; once again the chef was reminding us where we were, in Rome, between country and sea. Like all of the food we had during our evening at Aroma it almost seems insulting to try and describe it further because everything it was had already been said by the chef; we’ll just say it was magnificent and then if you trust our judgement, all that remains is for you try for yourself.

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For her main Lamia had the entrecôte of Argentinean Kobe beef and “Chianina” beef fillet with a wine jus and “Ratte” potatoes.

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“Wow, what a dish!” Lamia said. “This is superb beef, perfectly cooked in medium grill style. There a little colour yet it’s tender enough to cut into without much trouble. It smells fragrant and tastes so delicious. I actually closed my eyes to savour the second bite as the first bite was spoiled somewhat by not concentrating on my sense of taste and smell. The potato is tender and cuts easily and it’s herby flavour is a delight to have in the same bite as the meat. This is some of the best beef steak I’ve had.”

For wine Lamia had the Brunello di Montalcino organic red from Tuscany.

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It had a pungent woodsmoke aroma that was a markedly different smell from many other red wines.

“You can smell the campfire as you taste it,” Lamia remarked.

For dessert Lamia had the chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream.

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“It’s lightly satisfying,” Lamia said. “The vanilla ice cream is airy and subtle, more like a mousse really, and for me the whole experience is the sign of a brave, confident chef who’s not going for the easy win of the high sugar punch but who isn’t afraid to appeal to a childlike love of familiar flavour. To try to explain the whole picture, there’s similarities between an Oreo biscuit dream and this, the crunchy dark crumbs of a base, the rich ice cream, the warm souffle, excellent.”

Lamia had the L’étoile Banyuls wine from France to accompany the chocolate. At 17% volume it’s a strong wine but it passes over the tongue smoothly and gives a delayed, soft-yet-pleasant caress to the back of the throat.

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I had the Coffee soufflé with liquorice ice cream.

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To accompany it I had a Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez sherry from Jerez in Spain.

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I found it amazing how the sherry paired so well with the coffee soufflé. To finish eating and start drinking was a seamless experience and being 17% volume the wine added an incredibly smooth power to the dessert experience. 

I love Italian desserts and the reason is this. The Italians, when they make dessert, always seem to initially think from the point of view of the child in their heart, rather than the adult in their head (which so often happens with chefs from other nationalities). The Italians seem to think, what do I actually like, rather than, what should I like. They think naturally, there’s no ‘age of reason’ used when the first thoughts of creating a dessert in Italy are laid, and thank goodness for that.

To finish we shared a plate of fruit jelly, strawberry marshmallow and chocolates. It was a pleasant, twangy and ‘bittersweet’ way to end our meal.

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It had been a memorable dining experience, and the staff were in no rush to end it for us. We were encouraged to move tables, if we wanted, and sit with a clear view of the Colosseum. An amazing way to end the evening.

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As we already mentioned, the Aroma Restaurant at Palazzo Manfredi is our favourite place to dine of an evening in Rome. The location, as you can see in the photo above, is surely the sort of location you hope for whilst in Rome, the staff manage to combine being friendly and professional with just the right level of fuss and the food and wine is served in intelligent, tasty combinations that you’re unlikely to forget for a very long time.

 To discover more see their website – www.aromarestaurant.it

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