LA PERGOLA & ROME CAVALIERI WALDORF ASTORIA HOTEL
There are few things better in this world than a dinner among friends. That is why it is always such a thrill for me to dine at La Pergola, in Rome. Among the friends I find there are one of mankind’s greatest chefs, a restaurant manager constantly seeking perfection and a sommelier who presides over a cellar of surpassing magnificence. To sit and eat some of the finest food in the world, surrounded by silver-gilt side plates originally made for George IV and with wine being poured into the very best Riedel glasses, is one of my deepest joys. I use the word ‘friends’, and such I am proud to regard the magnificent gentlemen who have made this restaurant a place which everyone who cares about great gastronomic experiences longs to visit and re-visit. I hope that the portraits I bring before you of Chef Heinz Beck and of myself with Restaurant Manager Simoni Pinoli and Sommelier Marco Reitano (who is on the left of the picture) impart some sense of the pleasure which fills my bosom whenever I step into this Temple of Culinary Delight.
And a remarkable temple with three Michelin stars it is. As I went through the calm dining room, I walked past Art Nouveau vases by Gallé and past a table made by Marie Antoinette’s cabinet maker. This is not an establishment which stints on the décor. Then I arrived at my usual table (number 7) by the window. Before me was the View of views: the whole of the Eternal City set out as a twinkling panorama, with the illuminated dome of St Peter’s Basilica on the right. On the table was salmon pink napery (including my napkin, embroidered with my initials). Soon I was being offered my choice of 8 salts and 55 mineral waters.
Two set meals are offered at La Pergola – 7 courses are 195€ and 9 courses are 220€. (When it is the season of the Alba truffle, as it was for my visit, the addition of the divine fungus to a dish incurs an extra charge of 100€.) I ate from the carte. The menu is a wonderful display of the kitchen’s invention and technique. Chef Beck is a man who possesses not only remarkable culinary ability but also a palate of the utmost refinement. His dishes are object lessons in the art of balance – the balance of flavour, the balance of texture and the balance of colour. There is no harshness or aggression in this cuisine. Rather, it aspires to the Sublime. And I am ready to lead three cheers for that.
My feast – for such it was – began with veal sweetbreads (the outsides perfectly caramelized) on cream of roasted peppers, with parsley sauce, capers and olives. The combination of tastes and textures, balanced and harmonious, was thrilling. Next came a most wonderful presentation of white truffle at my table – sliced after slice drifting down in dreamy contentment onto delicate scallop and artichoke. Ravishing. And then it was one of the great dishes: Fagotelli ‘La Pergola’ (pasta parcels of egg and pecorino custard, with flecks of crisp pancetta). If you care about pasta, you must have this. It is breathtakingly wonderful. I have had it on every visit to La Pergola, and I will never tire of having it. My meat course was fillet of beef – the finest fillet of beef, naturally – precisely poached in soya broth and served with garlic dandelion and wasabi purée. I was beginning to fill by this time and could therefore only make an inadequate stab at the cheese trolley, but I recall some delicious pecorino. But I was glad to have kept room for the pudding – a very happy confection of warm raspberries au gratin and almond cream.
The wine list comes in two large volumes – one for Italian wines, and one for non-Italian wines. I usually count the number of entries in wine lists. Here this was a daunting prospect, but I set off on the Italian book and counted 2,014 offerings. This feat exhausted me, so I will have to content myself with telling you that the non-Italian volume has 76 pages, to its companion’s 83. The total offerings must therefore be around 4,000.
As you would expect, these include many great vintages of the finest wines. Prices reflect the quality, going up to 35,000€ for a magnum of 1961 Pétrus. Indeed, should you want to conduct a tasting of the top clarets from this famous year, you will also find Mouton-Rothschild (6,900€), Latour (8,800€), Lafite (9,000€), Haut Brion (7,000€) and Cheval Blanc (6,700€). But your pockets do not have to be so deep, for you will also find a 2010 ruchè from Piemonte for 40€ and an Austrian grüner veltliner for 50€. Other bottles to catch my eye were: 1998 Luce (220€), 1998 Ornellaia (410€), 1997 Masseto (2,000€), 1988 Romanée-Conti (27,000, magnum), 1893 Yquem (2,000€) and 2013 Cervaro della Sala (90€).
Marco Reitano guided me towards some excellent drinking. The Dom Pérignon 2006 was how I like my champagne: full-bodied and biscuity. The white from the Amalfi Coast, made by a lady, was minerally and well-balanced (Marisa Cuomo Fiorduva, 2013). The barolo was typically full-bodied, powerful, packed with black fruit and still youthful (Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne, 1999), and the sweet wine was bright, refreshing and impressively low in alcohol (La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti, 2014).
La Pergola occupies the top floor of the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria Hotel. It is in an affluent suburb of Rome, on top of one of the hills, and it is a fine place in which to lodge. So that is what I did.
Externally, the building is modern in appearance, although its straight lines are softened by a covering of vines. Inside, the sense is of great space and of good taste – for the hotel is packed with impressive pieces of art. If you like fine oil paintings and antique furniture (and which civilised person does not?), you will love it here. My own billet was on the 8th floor. Coming out of the lift, I found the doublet in which Rudolf Nureyev danced the part of Romeo – framed upon the wall. In the stair well was an 18th century Goebelin tapestry. (You see what I mean about good taste?)
Room 817 was an ‘Imperial Rome View’. (You will need to check on the hotel website for the rates for specific dates, but you should think around 1,200€, plus or minus, a night for two.) This was basically a large rectangle, but its clever decoration – with lemon walls, light wood, marble, blue carpeting, table lamps, numerous spotlights, screens and cornicing – made it seem not only spacious but also visually interesting. Its air conditioning was efficient, there were two easy chairs and it was equipped with all those little items – like a clothes brush and a shoe horn – which indicate that real care has been taken to ensure the occupants’ comfort. For my shirts there was an impressive antique marble-topped chest of drawers. In the white marble bathroom were toiletries by Salvatore Ferragamo, plenty of white marble, one wash basin, a bidet, a decent tub and lots more spotlights.
A useful feature I have not encountered elsewhere was a very heavy ‘extra door’ near the entrance to the hotel corridor, which could be used to cut out even the slightest penetration of sound from outside. At the other end of the apartment a sliding door of plate glass led to my private balcony, on which cleverly placed mirrors created a feeling of openness. The view was spectacular: over the pine trees to the city of Rome. I spent many happy moments sitting on this balcony, watching the sun sink over the distant rooftops.
By paying for such an Imperial Room, one has access to the Imperial Club on the 7th floor. This is a wonderful facility. Apart from its comfort and its elegance, this handsome lounge offers complimentary refreshments throughout the day. I took full advantage of these immaculately prepared offerings, quaffing glasses of chianti in the evenings, Earl Grey tea in the afternoons (with raspberry tartlets and smoked salmon sandwiches) and breakfast in the mornings. For the last I found the comestibles laid out on the buffet – bacon, scrambled eggs, pineapple, strawberries and various types of brioche – of high quality. I therefore began my days in as relaxed and pleasant a manner as I could have wished, sustained by silver pots of coffee, dishes of ice cubes and cups of cappuccino, brought to me by the young lady members of staff.
There are few things in the world better than a dinner among friends. When that dinner is at La Pergola and the lodging is at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria, the result is pure, unadulterated bliss.
ROME CAVALIERI WALDORF ASTORIA HOTEL
Via Alberto Cadiolo 101, Rome 00136, Italy.
Telephone +39 06 35091
Fax +39 06 3509 2241
Check on hotel website for room prices for specific dates
Ask about special offers
RISTORANTE LA PERGOLA
Telephone +39 06 35092 152
Fax +39 06 35092 165
Open for dinner only – Tuesday to Saturday
Closed: several weeks in January and August
Book well in advance