RESTAURANT BRUNELLO, REGINA HOTEL BAGLIONI
If you want to re-capture the pleasure of eating fine food in a railway carriage, you should head for the Restaurant Brunello in Rome. Personally, I always used to enjoy eating on the train. I mean, of course, eating in those carriages – staffed by proud gentlemen in short white jackets with epaulettes and furnished with mahogany and uncut moquette of blue and gold – which were once the pride of British Railways. Do you remember them? With their high, fixed seats of outrageous plumpness and their crisp linen of startling whiteness, such dining cars were moving symbols of civilized living. Few were the delights more innocent and more thrilling than the consumption of a plate of roast lamb as one swayed and rattled through the English countryside, the passing scene obscured now and again by the billowing smoke from the mighty steam engine as it thundered along the iron rails. And all these nostalgic musings return to me whenever I visit the splendid Restaurant Brunello in Rome.
I think it must be the dim lighting, the black décor (the marble floor is black, the waiters wear black shirts and black aprons and even the hanging lanterns are black) and the arrangement of the furniture which does it. I feel, for all the world, that I am back again in one of those beloved restaurant cars. Perhaps, though, there is something else, just as important – old-fashioned courtesy. For the Restaurant Brunello has the perfect embodiment of that admirable quality: its Restaurant Manager. I first met Franco Cardinali (pictured, with your correspondent) at the Cala del Porto at Punta Ala, in Tuscany. He still spends the summer months there, but in the winter season he comes to the Eternal City, to be the Restaurant Manager of Brunello.
Brunello is part of the Regina Hotel Baglioni, an elegant structure erected in 1904, which occupies a prominent site on the fashionable and bustling Via Veneto, deep in the panting heart of Rome. Its Chef is Luciano Sarzi Sartori (pictured). He cooks resolutely Italian food, but in a modern and imaginative style which I find very appealing. He describes his food as ‘Mediterranean’, and such it is.
On my most recent visit, I began with Guarcino ham, with Grana Padano cheese pudding and balsamic vinegar. This was ham of the finest quality. Next came pasta which was a treat for the eye as well as for the mouth. For the tortelli, filled with pecorino cheese and pear, sat in a wine reduction of deepest red. The contrast in colours was delightful. My meat course had chestnuts, and I love chestnuts. Glazed, they went so well with the tender duck breast and the stewed radicchio. I finished with the “2012 Revisited Queen’s Tiramisù”, an elegant variation on the well-loved classic. (These four courses were 102€.) This was an enjoyable meal, served to me in a most friendly and efficient manner by my waiter, Luca.
I found it helpful that the wine list – overwhelmingly Italian, of course – includes the names of the grapes from which each wine has been made. Prices run from 50€ for a chardonnay from Lazio to 980€ for the 1996 Dom Pérignon rosé. As I perused its pages, the following bottles caught my eye: 1997 Margaux (703€), 2001 Mouton Rothschild (730€), 2006 Sassicaia (480€), 2006 Solaia (360€) and Gaja’s 2007 Barbaresco (420€). I drank a most interesting red wine from Tuscany, recommended by the excellent Gianluca. ‘12 Uve’ (produced by Il Paradiso di Frassina), as the name proclaims, is made from twelve different grapes, including cabernet sauvignon and brunello di montalcino. Its 2006 vintage (140€) I found to be soft, smooth and full of very ripe black fruit.
You might still be perplexed about why my mind drifts back to those railway meals of former years. In the end, perhaps it is the sheer pleasure created by the food and the service. That is what the Restaurant Brunello gives to me and that is what I think it will give to you: pleasure. And afterwards, what joy! I find that I have arrived in the centre of our beloved Rome.