Tag Archives: local

Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Baking, Pies & tarts

Fine apples, rotten consumerism

Pie with cream

When we got back from our travels just before Christmas, we travelled back and forth across the south of England on the train visting family. I’ve got a vivid memory of looking out of the window into gardens backing onto the train line, and seeing numerous apple trees, leafless in the winter cold, and surrounded by a carpet of rotting fruit.

When we finally moved back into our own house in Sussex, a similar sight met us with a tree in our garden. Clearly our tenants hadn’t been into apples. Or maybe they had – but like so many people, were inclined to buy plastic bags of New Zealand or South African or French (!!!!*) apples from the supermarket and ignore the free fruit growing just outside their own door.

Britain has been going this way for decades now. And it’s a great tragedy. Britain, especially the south of England, has an ancient history of apple growing. Cider is synonymous with Devon and Somerset, for starters. Yet I’ve got another strong memory of driving through Devon and stopping for a picnic – beside an orchard of mature apple trees, one of them vast like an oak, all of them dropping their fruit into a rotting carpet in the grass.

Rotten to the core
It’s not just the fruit that’s rotten though, it’s the supermarket-dominated system that somehow believes it makes more business sense – which is different to actual sense, common sense, or future-of-the-human-race sense – to waste or neglect or our produce that is.

Or, as Paul Waddington says in Seasonal Food, “… if a kilo of apples has made the flight from New Zealand in March, are they really going to taste as good as the stored British variety?  … are the New Zealand apples really worth the kilo of CO2 they will produce compared to the 50g if the same kilo were sourced locally. Despite the fact that we grow perhaps the best apples in the world, Britain has lost 60 per cent of its apple orchards since 1970,  thanks in part of the bureaucratic madness that paid growers to dig them up.”

The past few years we’ve at least been discussing the waste that goes into supermarkets only selling standardised fruit and veg (apples and tomatoes of ruthlessly controlled sizes and colours, carrots without protrusions and nobbles, bananas with very specific curves,  etc). But is it already too late? Most of us have already forgotten what it’s like to eat seasonally, never mind the brainwashing that arrises from only ever encountering these cosmetically “perfect” supermarket products. We’re so out of touch with food production. I mean, when was the last time Britons en masse grew their own fruit and veg? Probably during the Second World War’s Dig for Victory, with perhaps some efforts in the 1970s inspired by The Good Life.

Apples, Lewes Friday market

World leaders in apples
As with most things in life, all it needs is a little more education, and if people are better informed that can have a bearing on market forces. After all, as Waddington says, “We should be world leaders in apples. With judicious use of varieties and good storage, we can east our own produce almost all year round, with perhaps a brief gap in July.”

Now, it’s January, and the apple harvest here in England, usually August to October, is fading into a distant memory on the far side of Christmas. And yet, my local farmers’ market has one stall, Greenway Fruit Farm, that has a wonderful selection of apples. All are priced at £1.50 a kilo – which isn’t bad, as a quick scoot round mysupermarket.co.uk indicates all the UK supermarkets are selling apples at around £1.75 -£1.99 a kilo.

Last year, Britain had a “bumper apple harvest” after a dry summer, so there really is no excuse to not be eating home-grown apples his year. Not all of these apples will necessarily be cosmetically so shiny shiny, but then real apples, grown through traditional means without gallons of toxic sprays and without a wax-job, will never look like those silly massive red things you see in American movies.

Sheer variety
We have 2,300 varieties here (listed in The National Fruit Collection in Kent; there 2,500 grown in the US, for comparison, and 7,500 worldwide) and they vary remarkably in appearance, flavour and use. Some great for eating, some for juicing, some for cider, some for cooking.

Last week, I bought a good selection of Braeburns for eating. This variety is synonymous with NZ, where is was emerged in the 1950s near Motueka (a great place for fruit and hops), a Granny Smith-Lady Hamilton cross. It’s been grown here since the 1990s though, really coming into its own in the 2000s. Its popularity is understandable as it’s a medium-large, green and russet colour fruit with a crisp bite and taste that somehow blends sweet and tart, and can be a dessert apple and a cooking apple.

For cooking, however, I also stocked up Bramleys. This variety was, perhaps surprisingly, developed from a seed planted only in 1809 by a girl in Nottinghamshire. They were first sold commercially in 1862, soon becoming established as a significant crop. The original tree is still bearing fruit.

These are the quintessential British cooking  variety, accounting for 95% of our cooking apples. Usually I get mine from my folks, who have a very handsome mid-sized tree in their garden that really cranks out bright green, occasionally pumpkin-sized fruit. The ones I bought on the market were a bit different though – the Greenway lady was excited about them as they had an unusual amount of red on their skins. They certainly worked wonderfully for an apple pie.

Pie with ice cream

As English as apple pie
The recipe I used this time was from Andy Bates and his Street Feasts TV shows, which we’ve been enjoying on Freesat since we got home, got settled and got a telly. It features a slightly unusual pastry that eschews the more typical necessity for cold, cubed butter. Instead, butter and sugar are creamed together, egg is added, then self-raising flour – as such it’s more like a cake batter, though drier. The final results are more cakey too, with a more spongy crumbliness than a traditional short crumbliness. It’s rather good.

His recipe also uses a filling that’s not too sweet. In the show, he explained that’s because he’s pairing it with an ice cream made with condensed milk and hokey pokey (aka honeycomb, you know, like the stuff inside a Crunchie bar). I did make the ice cream – it’s easy, with no custards, no churning, but it is insanely sweet, and his quantities are weird, there’s way too much honeycomb. You can find his original recipe here; if you do fancy making the ice cream, I’d recommend halving the quantities of honeycomb.

Here’s the pie recipe:

Pastry
200g butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg
1 yolk
325g self-raising flour

1. Cream together the sugar and butter. The latter can be at room temp, or even warmed a little to make it easier to cream. I tend to nuke cold butter for a  few seconds in the microwave, or if I’m using a metal mixing bowl, put in a low heat on the hob briefly.
2. Beat together the whole egg and egg yolk.
3. Cream the egg into the sugar-butter mixture.
4. Sieve the flour into the creamed mixture, combine and bring it together as a dough.
5. Wrap up the ball of dough in plastic and put it in the fridge to rest, for about an hour.
6. Make the filling.

Filling
1kg Bramley apples (about 5 or 6 medium-large ones)
50g butter
50g dark soft brown sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Peel, core and chop the apples into 2cm-ish cubes.
2. Warm the butter, sugar, cinnamon and juice together in a saucepan.
3. Add the apple pieces to the sugar mix and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly to soften the chunks equally.
4. Cool the apple mixture.

Assembly
Water
Milk
Caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Cut a third of the pastry off the ball.
3. Roll the two-thirds chunk and use it to line a tin – in the show he used a 23cm loose-bottom cake tin, but Fran’s colleague in Rome lost mine (grrrr. Still annoyed about that, can’t find a non-non-stick replacement), so I used a 25cm loose-bottomed flan tin. You could use any sort of tin, around the same size (9-10 inches for you olde fashioned types).
4. This doesn’t need blind baking, so just add the cooled apple mixture.
5. Roll out the remaining pastry and cover, sealing the edge with water. It’s not the easiest pastry to roll, but don’t worry too much, it’s so cakey, it bakes fine even if you bodge the pastry case together in pieces.
6. Crimp the edge.
7. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
8. Bake for about 45 minutes, until nice and golden.
9. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.
10. Serve with his crazy sweet ice cream (seriously, I’ve got a sweet tooth, but that stuff was too much even for me), or some plain vanilla ice cream, or cream, or custard – whatever you fancy.

Most importantly, make it using local apples.

I urge you to track down local apples, support your local economy, support local producers, support your national economy, reduce the pollution of absurd food transportation.

If you don’t have an apple tree, family or friends may have one they don’t harvest. Or you could politely scrump some by asking a neighbour. Even if the fruit looks ugly, it could be very tasty – and great for cooking up. And it’s free.

Alternatively, stock up at a farmers’ market or farm shop. Failing that, ask for British apples in your supermarket. You should at least be able to find Bramleys as they store well and are available all year round.

China already produces 40% of the world’s apples. Britons, I ask you: in ten years, wouldn’t you rather the apples available to you in your local shop or market were actually from our own once great apple-growing nation than from the country whose incredible industrial drive and growth is rapidly taking over pretty much everything?**

* I’m using the !!!! to indicate a “For flipping flip’s sake” moment as this country is not only just across a thin stretch of water from us, it’s in the same hemisphere with the same flipping seasons.

** Don’t get me started on pine nuts – I can’t find any pine nuts in Britain that are grow in Europe. Or even the US. They’re all from China. It’s boggles me, yet most people don’t even seem to notice.

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Filed under Misc, Other food, Pies & tarts, Puddings & desserts

Italian breakfast, and why a cornetto isn’t a croissant

Cornetto, saccottino and cappucino at Baylon Cafe, Trastevere, Rome

Let the Games Begin (Che la festa cominci) is the latest novel by Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti. He’s probably best known for Io non ho paura (I’m Not Scared), the 2001 novel that became a film in 2003.

A pretty broad satire of contemporary Roman society, Let the Games Begin is passingly entertaining, but it suffers from less-than-perfect translation and editing. As well as some fairly rudimentary editorial errors, the idiomatic translation doesn’t feel quite right. It’s also quite haphazard with its translation of Italian food names. While it’s content to refer to supplì as supplì, it seems to determinedly translate cornetto as croissant.

A cornetto (“little horn”) is not a croissant (French for “crescent”). Nor is it an ice-cream. It’s an Italian relative of the croissant, likely with the same origins, but today a distinct product. Sure they look similar, but they’re slightly different. Read on.

No one is in agreement about the origins of the crescent-shaped pastry, but one abiding story (or myth) is that it was invented in Austria to commemorate the defeat of the Ottomans, who besieged the city in 1683. Wikipedia gives more background. Whatever the origins of the pastry (other variables include chiffel and kipfel), since its birth the regional and national versions have diverged.

Breakfast pastries
Both the croissant and the cornetto are breakfast pastries. The quintessential breakfast I witness being consumed day-in day-out in Rome is a coffee – either a simple caffè (espresso) or cappucino (often just called cappuccio in Rome) – with a cornetto, normally just a cornetto semplice (“simple”, ie plain).

Many cafés offer a large selection of different breakfast pastries, or lieviti (literally “yeasteds” or “risens”, meaning pastries made with a yeasted dough) and if possible I get a saccottino al cioccolato. In Italian, a sacco is a sack, so this literally is a “little sack with chocolate”. And yes, it closely resembles another French – or Viennese – pastry: the pain au chocolat, known by many ignoramuses as a “chocolate croissant” . Guys, it’s not a crescent-shape, so how can it be a croissant?

The cornetto semplice is also apparently also known as the cornetto vuoto (“empty”), to contrast it with various types of cornetti ripieni (“filled”). These include cornetto alla crema (with custard), alla marmellata (with jam, marmalade or other conserve), al miele (with honey; this is often made with an integrale, wholewheat, dough), and cornetto al cioccolato. The latter is an actual cornetto that is usually filled with that vile brown vegetable-oil product beloved of Italians, Nutella.

Choice of pastries at Baylon Cafe, Trastevere, Rome

The (subtle) difference
The French really don’t go in for all these filled variables, beyond ones with almond paste, but the biggest difference between cornetti and croissant is the lamination.

A proper croissant must be made with butter, and must be repeatedly folded and rolled, to achieve a lamination wherein the rolled dough contains several thin layers of the fat. When the croissant is baked, water in the dough is turned to steam, but this is trapped by the fat, causing pressure and rising between the layers. The resulting pastry, when done right, should be crisp and flaky, with a taste of butter but no greasiness.

A cornetto on the other hand isn’t so assiduously laminated, and can even be made with lard, not butter. The dough also contains more sugar. The result is a pastry that is just a lot sweeter than a proper French croissant, and can have a more enriched bread or cake-like texture, more like a French brioche. Some cornetti are very flaky and like croissants, but many others are more cakey; there’s a lot of variation.

Indeed, cornetti are sometimes called brioche in some northern parts of Italy, though in Naples, Sicily and parts of south with a historical French influence, the name brioche is used for a pastry more like the Gallic version. But that’s another story.

Cappuccio, spremuta, pastries at Caffe Arabo, Trastevere, Rome

A couple of cafés
Our lifestyle at the moment takes us to two cafes regularly for weekend morning cornetti. I’m not saying these have the best cornetti in Rome – how could I, without sampling cornetti in every single one of the thousands of cafés and pasticcerie in Rome? – but they’re places we enjoy.

The first is Baylon, which we started frequenting because… well, I can’t really remember. They’re so grumpy and resolutely unfriendly that even after we’ve been going there two years only one of the staff actually acknowledges us. The Ricardo Darin-lookalike is a particular sourpuss. Unlike many more traditional Roman cafés, however, it has space to hang out, and Wi-Fi. Plus, unlike many places in the tourist nexus of Trastevere, they don’t charge stupid prices.

So we keep on going back – partly for the space, partly as we can get our Saturday morning weekly English language paper nearby, and partly because they it has great selection of lieviti. Apparently it used to be a local landmark pasticceria (pastry bakery), so at least they have their own kitchens for the baking.

Our Sunday routine, on the other hand, developed as we used to go down to the farmers’ market in Testaccio’s Ex-Mattatoio every week. Although that’s now sadly been shunted further out of town, at least a direct-from-farm shop has opened near Ponte Testaccio, on the Trastevere Station side of the river, where we can get many of the same quality fresh products. There’s also Porta Portese market every Sunday, with its enormous selection of tat, junk and bric-a-brac.

Case of pastries at Caffe Arabo, Trastevere, Rome

On our route down the hill from our house, via the massively grand 19th century, weed-infested, broken-glass strewn, graffitied Ugo Bassi steps, we go to Caffè Arabo on Viale di Trastevere. This is a more traditional Roman café, no Wi-Fi or anything of that poncy nonsense, but it’s still kinda idiosyncratic. Plus, a couple of the staff not only recognise us but are friendly, even amiably laughing at my ordering a (hot) tea on a hot day. “The British drink tea in every season, every weather,” I shrugged.

They don’t have a kitchen, so their cornetti are bought-in, but they’re not bad. And occasionally they even have saccottini al cioccolato to satisfy my chocolate cravings.

Neither places, however, has croissant. A few Roman cafés do apparently do French-style croissant, but I’ve yet to sample them.

Of course, not everyone has a coffee and cornetto for breakfast or elevenses here in Rome. We sat down at Arabo last Sunday, Fran ordered a cappucino and cornetto, I ordered a spremuta d’arancia (freshly sqeezed orange juice) and a saccattino al cioccolato – then two guys sad down beside us and ordered beers. It was 10.30am.

Info
Baylon Café
Via San Francesco A Ripa 151, 00153 Rome
bayloncafe.com

Caffè Arabo
Viale di Trastevere 20, 00152 Rome

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Filed under Cakes (yeasted), Discussion, Other food, Restaurants etc

Birradamare’s Birra Roma at Zoc, Rome

Birradamare's Birra Roma and 'Na Biretta Rossa

Saturday lunchtime we stopped by Zoc trattoria (aka Zoc 22) for some food and ale. Zoc is owned by the same people as the more established Urbana 47 in the Monti neighbourhood of Rome. Urbana 47 is stylish place where the food is produced along sound principles, with an emphasis on season and local (“KM0”), the provenance of ingredients front and centre on the menu.

As it should be.

We eat far too much food where we have no idea of the origins of the ingredients. This is important for all ingredients, but especially so for meat and dairy, where barbaric industrial techniques have cheapened the human relationship with animals, resulting in a form of de-humanised husbandry that emphasises quantity at any cost. Sadly, many people have been duped by the persuasiveness of the meat industry and supermarkets. Your intensively reared beef, pig unit pork, or industrial broiler chickens really aren’t that cheap if you factor in the subsidies and the cost we’ll all have to pay in the long run for the accompanying pollution and disease.

The bar at Zoc, Rome

So yes, bravo Urbana for its principles. These principles are similarly followed at Zoc, where the menu lists not just the ingredients, but the azienda that’s provided them. The trattoria even has photos on the wall of some of their suppliers, including one chap Fran recognised as the guy we’ve bought salumi from at the market in the Testaccio Ex-Mattatoio (currently closed for the summer – go figure).

I was also encouraged by the drinks list, which mostly consists of local wines, but also includes four bottled beers from Birradamare. Birradamare has pretty much established itself as the craft brewery for Rome. Although it’s not in the city, but instead is located at Fiumicino, the town at the mouth of the Tiber near the airport of the same name, its products are fairly ubiquitous here. If a Rome venue has just one craft beer brand on offer, chances are it’ll be Birradamare (eg here).

I ordered a Birra Roma, Fran a ʼNa Biretta Rossa. I’ve had the latter before – it’s a decent malty beer, inspired by German bocks, sweet and medium bodied, with 6.4% ABV. Its colour is amber or copper. Surprisingly, the Birra Roma was a similar colour (see pic, above), despite being called a birra oro (golden ale) on Birradamare’s site or even bionda (blonde) on the label. Birradamare’s own site says the Roma is 35EBC, which is about right, but there’s no way the Rossa is 74EBC (a serious porter tone). Surely that’s an error?

Anyway, the Birra Roma (5.5% ABV). Like Baladin’s Nazionale, which I tried a few days ago, the Roma seems to be one of the many experiments going on to create specifically, uniquely Italian style beers. In this case, even a specifically Roman beer. It’s a beer that clearly takes into consideration Italians’ love for fairly straightforward but strong lagers, as it was inspired by Bavarian Märzen lagers. I found it had a slight orange aroma, slightly hoppy. Taste-wise, it’s hoppy but not bitter (35 IBU apparently), crisp, fresh, with very faint smokiness and more body than a lager. Interestingly, Fran said it reminded her of the sea, of seaweed and salt and Breton Atlantic  beaches, the Côte Sauvage, which is far more poetic than I can be about it.

Birra Roma at Zoc Rome

So anyway, we were enjoying the beers, and the ambiance of the place, which is located in a 1950s block on the Centro Storico side of the river near the Ponte Sisto. The dining area is spacious, with high ceilings and some great design features, like an enlarged detail of a nautical map (I love maps). Much of the furniture is for sale, with price tags, so there’s a slightly distracting feeling of eating in a hip secondhand furniture showroom. There’s also a decent sized courtyard at the back, though it was a pretty hot day when we visited, and they seemed to be trying to cool it off with misters – which only succeeded in making everything soggy.

When the food finally arrived, it was pretty tasty. Fran had three chicken legs and a fig, the flavour profile a nice change to much Roman food, with some turmeric, cumin, rosemary. But it really was just three drumsticks and a fig, for €16. Mine, meanwhile, was half an aubergine (/ melanzana / eggplant) and one piece of cheese toast. Like Fran’s, the flavours were a nice change, more north African say, though it was underseasoned. And just plain meagre (for €9). I’m more than happy to pay for quality and provenance, for more ethical food, but there’s got to be some balance – the portions were so small we left feeling hungry, which isn’t what you want when your bill comes to €44. We even had to ask for bread (a dense, white sourdough, somewhat stale), and there we no other contorni (side dishes). Essentially we paid meal prices for a snack.

Blown up nautical charts on the wall of Zoc

This is all something they need to work on, to make for a more satisfying experience. They could also do with working on the service. The staff were amiable enough but just seemed a bit apathetic. When, for example, a fuse tripped, cutting out the fans and lights, the waiter wandered around for a while first before going to click it back on. He wasn’t busy either, there were just a few covers there for Saturday lunch. Perhaps it’s busier in the evening. Although it’s right near two very popular areas – Trastevere and the Centro Storico around Campo de’ Fiori – it’s just off the main drag. Although Urbana 47 suffers from the same small portions/ high-ish prices issue at least it’s got a bit more atmosphere from being busier, as Via Urbana is a more lively street.

So, Zoc: nice spot, good beer, sound principles, iffy value for money. Must try harder (er, as I may have had on my school reports a few times in days of yore).

Info:
Via delle Zoccolette 22, 00186 Rome, Italy
zoc22.it (English site, sort of) / 06 6819 2515 / info@zoc22.it

Birradamare
Birradamare.it (English homepage) / 06 658 2021 / info@birradamare.it

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