In my last trip to Rome I had the pleasure of dining in one of the best restaurants in town, Imago, on the top floor of Hotel Hassler, with fantastic views of the eternal city.
I quote from Times Travel:
“Grace Kelly honeymooned at this turn-of-the-century palace at the top of the Spanish Steps, and it’s still the hotel of choice for many of today’s celebs and stylish tastemakers in search of old-world elegance (Gwyneth, TomKat, and Victoria Beckham are all regulars). Renowned for its personalized service, the Hassler is a family affair — a place where guest relations are taken very seriously. The 95 stately rooms are a checklist of classic good taste, with elaborate moldings, gilded furniture, French silks, 16th-century antiques, Limoges porcelain, playful frescoes, and marble, marble, marble, plus mod cons like flat-screen TV’s. Imàgo, its modern Italian restaurant, has heart-stopping views of St. Peter’s Basilica and Rome’s terracotta-tiled roofs. And the concierges can accommodate just about any request, including mapping out routes through the Villa Borghese gardens, near the hotel.”
I was staying at a nearby hotel and walked the distance, passing through Via Veneto. It is a beautiful part of Rome, and I highly recommend staying in this area.
The view from inside the Imago rooftop is amazing.To the extent than when I saw it, I started having second thoughts about the food, as one of the golden rules of the restaurant business is that when the view is stunning, the food sucks. Thankfully, I was proven wrong.
With determination I moved on and got a table. The clients of the restaurant are varied. You have the visitors who come for the views and the ones who come for the food and the elegant atmosphere. In one of the tables there was a family with two kids, with both grandparents, celebrating the birthday of one of the kids. Wonderful “tableau vivant”, with the grandmother reminding me of one of the powerful female figures in the black and white Fellini movies.
Lets move to the food now, and the gastronomic menu the chef prepared. The menu overall is structured in three stages. Stage I is the “delicate” one, with two appetizer dishes, both of them seafood based. Stage II is the “taste explosion” set of two half-portions of first courses. Both are strong in taste and flavor. Stage III is a combination of two half-portions of main dishes.
The first starter was raw fish of the day. I do not recall the name of the fish, but it was quite tender, moist and tasty. The high point of the dish was the combination of the raw fish with pears infused with grappa. Personally I do not understand the foamy bits, in my eyes they are like aesthetic pollution, but lets ignore them, everyone these days seems to put a little foam here and there!
The next dish was an imaginative preparation of scallops, as they they were stuffed with mozzarella and then fried.The chef added a touch of black truffle to the finished dish, which was extremely subtle in taste and texture, a true delight. The dish is extremely delicate, and the frying must be very quick and swift, otherwise the scallop is destroyed.
The continuation was more intense in flavors and powerful, as the chef prepared pheasant ravioli with cauliflower puree and truffle-flavored honey. Full-bodied, intense flavor, and meaty texture were the characteristics of the dish.
The dish that followed was the star of the menu. Capellini pasta with smoked eel. A divine dish, one that I would include in the Italian Gastronomic All – Time Menu, if there was ever one. A magic of textures and flavors emanates from the dish. The chef came by and had a chat with me after the dinner was over, and he more or less agreed that this dish is his masterpiece. It is quite interesting, that of all the dishes in the restaurant of one of the most expensive hotels in the world, the best is one based on the humble eel of the Lazio region and capellini pasta, which you can find everywhere in Italy. The other golden rule of gastronomy, that is to use the materials of the terroir is yet again proven 100% correct! The chef had at his disposal the most expensive materials in some of the dishes. Yet his signature dish is the one that serves humbly the tradition of the Lazio region. To be correct, I belive that the dish is also traditional fare in the central regions of Italy, like Umbria.
To conclude the excellent dinner, the chef offered a sweet tray, where the pistacchio canolo stole the show!
Chef Francesco Apreda has a bright future ahead of him, all we need to do is follow him as he evolves and grows as a chef. The one Michelin star he has been awarded is fully justified. And there will be more!