Deep in the panting heart of Rome there lies a jewel of rare quality. Superbly located, modest of external appearance and full of old-fashioned charm, the Hotel D’Inghilterra is that rarest of hostelries: a true home from home. Indeed, its tiny entrance hall seems like a deliberate defence against those who might not appreciate its antique charms. Those seeking the bold and the brash will never enter here.
I suspect this place has always been used to entertaining persons of taste and refinement. In the 17th century the noble Torlonia family built it to house their guests. In 1845 it became an hotel. Here have stayed Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, Gregory Peck and the Duke of Edinburgh. (And, had history permitted, would they not have made a fine quartet at dinner?) Now there come folk from all over the world – the sort who like their billets to be quiet and discreet and yet who want to be in the centre of the sights and surrounded by the most exclusive shopping.
My taxi pushed its way through the crowds surging up the via Condotti towards the Spanish Steps, turned into the deserted via Bocca di Leone and stopped almost immediately. Is it not strange that a dozen steps can take you from bustle to calm? In through the flag-bedecked classical entrance and I was immediately struck by the welcoming scale of my surroundings – and by the friendliness of the staff at the Reception desk and at the Concierge desk. At the latter I found an old friend, Massimo Mazzola, now the Head Concierge at the Inghilterra. I last saw him when he was working at the famous Hotel Splendido in Portofino (see separate article).
Within moments I was on the 2nd floor at my billet, room 264. This was a ‘double Deluxe’. Its bedroom measured about 15 feet by 10 feet – dimensions which, with its high ceiling, meant it felt spacious enough for my visit. Its window gave onto a side street. In the bathroom I found lots of marble, a bath tub with a shower above, one wash basin, the loo and the bidet. I was happy here, but I know that the hotel has some very attractive Junior Suites and an impressive Penthouse Suite with a huge terrace (the former cost 500-600+€ a night and the latter comes in at around 3,000+€ a night), so it might be that the readers of Bown’s Best will want to consider lodging in these higher categories of accommodation.
The three small, plush and colourful public sitting rooms at the Inghilterra are delightful. They struck me as the ideal setting for afternoon tea. So, each afternoon, have tea I did. As the longcase clock in the hall – a handsome period piece, made by a Mr Douglas of Dumbarton – struck four, I was to be found in a comfortable armchair, sipping my Earl Grey from a porcelain cup. (Incidentally, I really must congratulate the General Manager, Mr Marco Milocco, and his team for making sure that the clock always works and always shows the correct time. In this respect, as in many others, they set a standard which other hotels should follow.)
Such civilised occasions made the Inghilterra a most charming and comfortable base from which to explore the Eternal City. Certainly, I was able – as each of my excursions neared its end – to look forward with real pleasure to returning to my temporary Roman home. And, after a good night’s sleep within bed linen of the highest quality, each morning I was also able to look forward to a jolly good breakfast.
I have never understood those who rush through the breaking of the fast as if, each and every day, they are late for the express train to Moscow. For me, it is a treat to be experienced carefully, slowly and with meticulous attention to detail. I therefore need a table of decent size and an atmosphere of calm. Thanks to a little forward planning and the kindness of the friendly staff at the hotel’s dining room, the Café Romano, I had both. I was therefore able to tuck into plates of bacon and scrambled eggs, dishes of melon and pineapple, slices of apple tart, good brioche (croissants and pain aux raisins) and chunks of crusty bread with marmalade made by Wilkin & Son of Tiptree. All these were washed down with jugs of coffee, lots of ice cubes and – as always – my concluding cappuccini.
The Café Romano changes its atmosphere in the evenings – with fine Spiegelau glasses and flickering candles on the white damask tablecloths. The waiters wear black aprons and grey striped waistcoats. And the maitresse d’ – Angela Pazzaglia – is highly efficient in orchestrating her courteous staff. The seriously good dinner I had one evening certainly demonstrated that in Chef Antonio Vitale, from Naples, the Inghilterra has a cook of real talent. He uses fine ingredients and he respects their integrity. The result is a menu which presents attractive dishes based on traditional technique.
I began with salmon confit with pumpkin cream and sprouts. Prettily presented on a white rectangular plate, this was a combination which worked well. But it was the delicate and delicious salmon which most impressed my palate. My pasta was, as is often the case in Rome, a little too ‘al dente’ for my effete English inclinations, but I could not deny the effectiveness of the ensemble: homemade ravioli with burrata cheese, tomato, pork cheek and porcini mushrooms. My main course was the highlight of the meal. This beef fillet in a herb crust was of superb quality, its tender tastiness caressed by a Valpolicella sauce. I finished with a jolly tarte tatin with caramelised fruits and cinnamon sauce. (A five course set dinner is 65€. These four courses from the carte were 92€.)
The wine list has 115 offerings, all Italian, apart from the champagnes. 13 wines are offered by the glass – including a prosecco for 10€. The list is to be commended for giving, for each wine, not only the grape varieties but also the alcohol level. Prices are quite friendly, and run from 27€ for a 2009 negroamaro from Puglia to 400€ for 1995 Krug. Other bottles to catch my eye were a quartet of super-Tuscans – 2009 Solaia (270€), 2010 Tignanello (135€), 2010 Ornellaia (192€) and 2010 Sassicaia (205€) – and the 2010 vintage of that ever-reliable white from Antinori, Cervara della Sala at 92€. My own drinking was thoroughly enjoyable. The Franciacorta – the famous Cuvée Annamaria Clementi of Cà del Bosco, 2004 – was all yeasty fizziness with intriguing hints of vanilla, and was rather a snip at 90€. And my red was lovely: a primitivo from Puglia (Le Felline, 2011), which was hot, full-bodied, earthy, packed with damson and blackcurrant and only 30€.
This is the sort of drinking I like at home. And that was entirely appropriate, given the homely atmosphere of this charming establishment. Indeed, as I left, I thought again that the Hotel d’Inghilterra was like a private club for those who value traditional good taste, and want to find it deep in the panting heart of Rome. It is a real home from home.
Via Bocca di Leone 14, 00187 Rome, Italy.
Telephone +39 06 699 811
Fax +39 06 679 8601
Double rooms from 300/350+€
Check the hotel website for the rates for specific dates and for special offers