Tag Archives: Open Baladin

Bonci, Baladin and cats

Look for this sign - Pizzarium

The past few weeks we’ve been increasingly scombussolati (“de-compassed”, discombobulated, unsettled). Moving house is always a bit of a whirlwind, and we’re on our third move in less than three years. Moving internationally is even more complicated – especially when we can’t actually move back into our own house in England just yet.

While our clobber went off in 11 hefty boxes last week, yesterday was even worse – we said goodbye to our beloved cats. Now, if you’re not an animal person, look away, as you probably won’t understand.

If you are an animal person, and you’re childless like us, you may well understand how important pets are. They’re not exactly surrogate kids, as it’s not like they’ll ever become stroppy teenagers, threaten to leave, then actually do leave, then come back again with dirty laundry. But you do invest a lot of time, money and affection in them.

We didn’t have an easy transition to living in Rome in August 2011, and it was only when our cats arrived in May 2012 that the apartment we were inhabiting here actually took on some of the qualities of a home.


They went off yesterday, chauffeured by a nice lady called Den and accompanied by three other cats, also making their way from Italy, specifically Naples, to south London, with their owners. It was all very emotional, so we had to get out of the flat, which felt oddly dead without them. To paraphrase something Jean Cocteau reportedly said, cats become the soul of the home, and that soul had just left in a cage in the back of a people carrier.

It seemed like the ideal opportunity to go and indulge ourselves in some of the greatest grain-related goodies available in Rome: specifically Gabriele Bonci’s hole-in-the-wall pizza takeaway Pizzarium, and Rome’s best beer bar, Open Baladin. I’ve been meaning to write more about the latter for ages, as Baladin really is the most important brewery in Italy’s craft beer scene, but I seem to have accidentally deleted most of my photos (ecco: scombussolato) so that’ll have to wait.

Counter at Pizzarium, Rome

Instead: Pizzarium. We heard about this place pretty soon after we arrived in Rome. It’s an institution and Bonci himself is a celebrated pizzaiolo and TV celebrity. When we went there first, I wasn’t entirely convinced, as I was hung up on the thin, crispy, slightly burned Roman pizzas of places like Ai Marmi in Trastevere and Da Remo in Testaccio. I still love those pizzas, but I’m totally a Bonci convert now.

Bonci’s principles were of course more in line with mine – he uses stoneground flours made from older wheat varieties, natural leavens and long fermentation, and tops the pizza with local and seasonal ingredients, along Slow Food lines. But I wasn’t entirely sold on the thick bases and felt the toppings tended towards overload. The latter can still arguably be the case, but they’re delicious nonetheless. I’m tired of the over-quoted Vogue soundbite about him that draws parallels with a certain Renaissance man and is included on his upcoming English book* but he’s certainly a master craftsman of the pizza and great ambassador for real food.

Pizzarium pizza bianca

I have mentioned Bonci before, as we did a pizza-making class with him last year. And he’s a big part of the scene I really enjoy here in Rome. Along with Baladin brewery’s Theo Musso and Leonardo di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo, he’s a co-founder of Open Baladin bar. The same trio is also behind the more recently opened bistro No.Au (another place we need to go before we leave). Bonci baked goods are available at both venues.

Pizzarium pizza

After a half hour walk in the hot October sun, along the Aurelian wall, then around the south and north Vatican walls, we reached Pizzarium, which is in the Trionfale quartiere. We were sold the moment we walked into Pizzarium and asked about one particular pizza. Or at least Fran was sold, as the pizza was cavolini di Bruxelles (Brussels sprouts, the first of the season) e mortadella, two of her favourite things. And seriously, who’d have ever thought of combining these on a pizza? That’s Bonci right there – he’s innovative and got a surprising sense of what will work.

We also had a pizza farcita  (filled pizza), a kind of sandwich with two layers of dough and a layer of primo sale (“first salt”, a young sheep’s milk cheese), rocket and tomato pesto between. It was delicious, with a lovely balance between the slight pepperiness of the rocket, the sharpness of the pesto and the smoothness of the cheese, itself an interesting alternative to mozzarella.

The other we had was the classic potato pizza. People may think, Hey – carb and carb? Really? But it’s delicious and quite possibly my favourite type of pizza, especially when there’s a bit of rosemary in play too. It was surprisingly light, with a good crunch where the dough and potato have caught slightly in the oven, with a pleasing, simple saltiness.

'Nduja suppli at Pizzarium

We also had some suppli – a classic and one made with primo sale and ʼnduja, soft spicy sausage from Calabria. Both delicious, but I’d still say the best suppli I’ve had yet in Rome was at La Gatta Mangiona. Though Bonci’s pizza pips theirs.

We ate all this sitting outside on the one bench, luckily having avoided the lunchtime rush, when we had been busy coercing the poor cats into the back of the people carrier and feeling mighty guilty and sad about it.

Most of the rest of the Pizzarium punters were foreigners, proving how Bonci’s reputation has made this small pizza al taglio hole in the wall a key stop of the tourist schedule for discerning food enthusiasts visiting Rome. I just wish we’d been a few more times, but it’s in a slightly awkward location up behind the Vatican. Well, awkward for us, as it’s not on a handy bus route, we’re not on Metro line A, and we don’t contribute to Rome’s excessive population of polluting cars and scooters.

Flour for sale at Pizzarium, Rome

Afterwards, not wanting to go back to a house that was like Tony Makarios without his daemon, we continued our long head-straightening walk. We headed back into town, and down to Open Baladin, near Campo deʼ Fiori. And drank much-needed restorative ales.

The sharp, firm hoppiness of my Hopbleoem, a special from Extraomnes brewery in Lombardy, with its notes of salty sweat, citrus and tomato plants, provided a good slap in the face though it was still sad going home, via another fight with our mobile phone provider (what does it take to cancel this account? Blood!? Si, certo), to an empty flat.

Open Baladin, Rome

Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43, 00136 Rome.
Metro Line A; station: Cipro



* ‘Pizza – Seasonal Recipes from Rome’s Legendary Pizzarium’, due out this month. It’s a slightly more modest title than that of his Italian book: ‘Il gioco della pizza – Le magnifiche ricette del re della pizza’, ‘The Game of Pizza – The Magnificent Recipes of the King of Pizza’. I’m guessing the former is an English translation of the latter, but I’ve not seen it yet, so can’t be sure.

Oh, and PS, when we did our course, we met a half-English, half-Italian guy called David who talked about opening a place called Pizzarium Sutton, in Sutton, south London. I’m not sure this ever happened. If I find out, I’ll of course post about it.


Filed under Ale, beer, Pizza

Revelation Cat beers at Brasserie 4:20, Rome

Brasserie 4:20 Rome, the bar

Brasserie 4:20 is not in a prepossessing location. Sure it’s located not far from Porta Portese, a 17th century gate in Rome’s 3rd century Aurelian Wall. And sure the actual street, Via Potuense, is historical, constructed in the 1st century AD to connect the city to Portus at the mouth of the Tiber. And sure the section where Brasserie 4:20 is located comes alive on Sundays for the Porta Portese market, a kilometre-plus of stalls selling tat clothes, cheap electricals and bric-a-brac. It’s even the place to go in Rome to buy bikes or scooters of occasionally dubious provenance. (Porta Portese is one of the locations of Antonio’s desperate search in Vittorio De Sica’s unbearably heartwrenching neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves [Ladri di biciclette, 1948]: go to 9:52 here.)

But, frankly, this stretch of Via Portuense is a scruffy rat-run.

At rush hour, it’s an untrammelled racetrack for Rome’s horrendous car population, and not a great place to tackle on foot – there are no pavements, just potholed gutters. One side of the road is given over to semi-derelict buildings, wasteland and one restaurant overlooking the Tiber. The other side, where 4:20 is located, consists of a large, graffitied wall punctuated with arches. Even when 4:20 is open, it doesn’t exactly look inviting – a dark entrance in the wall, a few smokers outside.

So I’ve walked past dozens of times, without even quite making it inside. Shame on me really, as it’s a) not that far from where I live and b) one of Rome’s most significant birrerie (beer bars).

We resolved to finally visit on Saturday, meeting several Italian friends, many of them counfounding stereotypes by enjoying good beer as much as wine.

Fortunately, at 5.45pm on a Saturday the stretch of Via Portuense was quiet, Brasserie 4:20 safe to approach on foot. The bar was quiet too as although the sun is well and truly over the yardarm as far as we (and other Brits) are concerned, 6-ish is a freaky time to have a drink for Italians, as one of our friends commented straight away on their arrival. Still, at least it meant we had our choice of seating.

Some of the beers available at Brasserie 4:20 Rome

Downstairs is an atmospherically gloomy cavern of bare brick walls, a long bar featuring a barricade of taps, and seating that includes a couple of inviting (though tight) horseshoe-shaped booths. We settled into one of these, not realising there was also an upstairs terrace, with awnings. This was handy as we’d just had a massive thunderstorm, which had given way to blazing sunshine. After ordering our first beers, we relocated upstairs to enjoy the space and partake of an aperitivo buffet. It was basic – some couscous, some pasta salad, bread, a few dips – but included in the price of the drinks at that time of the evening.

As for the drinks, 4:20 only has beer, whiskey and water. Downstairs, there are apparently 47 taps, including 12 hand pumps, though I didn’t count them. Upstairs, there’s a more limited selection, with six taps, but hey, it’s hardly a long schlep back, down some stairs and past a mound of containers of fry oil. Yes, there’s also food. In this case, that means burgers (mostly), the smell of which was filling the air on the terrace. They use beer a lot in the preparation of the food, though we didn’t sample anything beyond the buffet.

Some more of the beers available at Brasserie 4:20 Rome

Beer-wise, there are menus on blackboards on the wall. We weren’t offered an actual menu, though they may exist, especially as they have a selection of bottled beers. These are the only refrigerated beers, as the tap beers are kept in a cellar and served at ambient temperature – important for the “organoleptic quality” according to their site. What this means is that the precise qualities of a bar are better experienced – by smell, taste etc – at ambient temperature. (Ice cold beer is of course nice on a hot day but that’s another argument.)

The beer comes from a variety of craft breweries, some Italian, but also a lot of Belgian, British etc. Among the Italian breweries, a major presence here is Revelation Cat (English site) – a Rome-based outfit whose products are distributed by Impex, which owns 4:20 as far as I can tell. So Revelation Cat is effectively the house brewery.

When we visited, there were 13 Revelation Cat beers available. Fran chose their Little Lover, a 4.5% ABV stout so chocolaty it could almost have been mistaken for a milkshake in a blind tasting. Okay, not really, but it was very pleasant, in a sweet, mild, creamy kind of way.

I’m still on a quest to find a perfect golden summer ale, so I was torn between Salada from Lariano brewery, in Lombardy – a golden ale al sale, “with salt” – and Magical Mystery Gold from Free Lions, a brewery I talked about over here. I got the latter as it was from a little closer to home, Tuscania, northwest of Rome. I’ve still not found my ultimate golden ale, but Magical Mystery Gold wasn’t bad. I seem to be drinking a lot of citrussy beers at the moment, and this was no exception with an aroma of grapefruit. Taste-wise, it was strongly hopped, dry and crisp.

Brasserie 4:20 Rome, the roof terrace, July 2013

We managed to get in a couple more after this, from the small selection on the terrace. These were California Moonset and Take My Adweisse. We had to order the latter on the strength of the terrible pun alone. Both are from Revelation Cat. These were served in jars. This seems like a strange affectation; I’d rather drink from something that doesn’t have a thread on the lip. The beers were both interesting though.

Take My Adweisse is a 4.5% hoppy American wheat ale. It’s not terribly bitter, but instead is crisp, fairly floral (elder, etc), and refreshing. California Moonset, on the other hand, was fairly odd. It’s nominally a 7% IPA, but I found it pretty challenging, with a pungent odour of, well…. rot? Cat pee? I’d need to drink it again to really nail the description, but I found the smell almost off-putting. Taste-wise it was pretty hoppy, with some serious clashing flavours – resin, citrus, malt. I’m not sure whether it was interesting or unrefined.

Take My Adweisse (left) and California Moonset (right) from Revelation Cat. In jars.

Anyway, after all that we had to go – as we had a birthday to attend at Open Baladin, perhaps Rome’s best known beer bar. This experience of two key beer Roman birrerie in one day was telling. Although we had a good time at 4:20, and I’ll definitely go again, I found our welcome a bit unfriendly there, with three staff just giving us a cool stare when we first arrived. Baladin, on the other hand, I’ve always found more friendly, and the staff ready with advice.

Also, I had my most interesting beer of the evening at Baladin. I asked a friend who works there what she thought was their best beer at the moment, and she recommended a Wallonie saison beer, from Extraomnes, another Lombardy brewery. I’m increasingly getting into saisons as they seem to be challenging without the confusion of a beer like California Moonset. This 6.7% beer was golden-orange in colour, with a serious head and an inviting perfume of herbs and spice. Flavour-wise it balanced a slight peppery piquancy with notable, but not overly bitter, hoppiness and a broad fruitiness, tending finally to crisp and dry. In my notes I wrote “fermenting fruit, bubblegum”. Hm.

All in all, a great evening of socialising and beer sampling. And I’m definitely keen to get back to 4:20, see if I can warm them up a bit asking for recommendations, as it’s certainly a serious beer joint, for fans of real beer.

Brasserie 4:20, Via Portuense 82, 00153 Rome
Impexbeer.com 4:20 site (English)
Open Mon-Sat from 5pm, Sun from 7pm.

Revelation Cat brewery


Filed under Ale, beer, Bars, pubs etc, Breweries