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Francesco Mazzei’s guide to Lazio

Francesco Mazzei’s guide to Lazio

by Great Italian Chefs 18 September 2017

The UK’s most acclaimed Italian chef shares his favourite places to visit in Lazio, from the best ice cream in Rome to fantastic fish on the coast.


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You can find amazing things to eat in any of Italy’s seventeen regions, and every province is dotted with Michelin-starred restaurants, family-run trattorias and casual, atmospheric osterias of the highest quality. You could be sampling the finest sheep’s cheese in Sardinia, tasting herbal liqueurs amongst the Dolomite mountains in South Tyrol or working your way through the cured meats of Emilia-Romagna. However, for many visitors to Italy it’s Rome and the surrounding region of Lazio that has the most appeal. For history, culture and cuisine, it’s one of the best places in the world.

Francesco Mazzei might be based in the UK today, but an upbringing in Calabria and many years working in Rome means he knows the culinary map of Italy like the back of his hand. Lazio is the place he knows best, still returning there regularly to see friends and eat at every restaurant he can. Whether you’re visiting the capital or looking for somewhere to visit in the surrounding area, here are the spots he believes are the best in the central region.

Rome

Punto Gelato

Good for: the best ice cream in Rome

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Rome certainly isn’t short of gelato shops, but when you’re in the capital of the country famous for ice cream it’s definitely worth seeking out the best. And for both Francesco and many Roman locals, Punto Gelato is where they’ll recommend. Günther Rohregger is the man behind it, churning the purest microfiltered milk into all sorts of seasonal flavours. All the favourites are there such as pistachio, chocolate and strawberry, but those that really stand out are the more unusual flavours. There’s the Caprese, made with buffalo milk, cherry tomato jam and basil; the walnut and gorgonzola and the Pino Mugo Dolomite, which takes the flavour of mountain pine, famous for being used in the liqueurs of South Tyrol. Whether you want something traditional or something entirely new, this is the place to visit.

Francesco says: ‘The owner is a good friend of mine and I’ve always been the biggest fan of his ice cream. I come from a family of gelato makers, and this guy is great because the ingredients he uses are exactly what I would use myself, right down to the water. He keeps the ice cream as pure as possible – it’s so tasty, light and well-rounded. Whenever I’m there I pop in for a couple of scoops but you end up tasting every single one with a little spoon. The flavours are a combination of traditional and contemporary; he’s got a fantastic chocolate one but then he’s also playing with ingredients like pink peppercorns. For me, it’s the best ice cream in Italy.’

47 Piazza di S. Eustachio, 00186, Rome. gunthergelatoitaliano.com

The Corner Marco Martini

Good for: contemporary Italian cooking

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There are seventy-four Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy’s capital, and the restaurant at The Corner hotel – headed up by chef Marco Martini – is one of the newest, gaining a star in 2016. It’s quickly become one of the most renowned in the city, however, thanks to Marco’s incredible ability to take traditional flavours and present them in contemporary, exciting ways. There’s an à la carte to choose from, but if you’re heading there for a special occasion it’s worth splurging on one of the tasting menus, which really show off just how talented Marco is.

Francesco says: ‘Marco is an amazing chef and I like him because he’s a very funny man. His cooking style is quite refined but the flavour is absolutely fantastic; he follows the traditions but plates the dishes up like a Michelin-starred chef. He lives in the kitchen and knows exactly what he’s doing.’

121 Viale Aventino, 00153, Rome. marcomartinichef.com/en

Pipero

Good for: Michelin-starred classics

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From one Michelin-starred restaurant to another, although Pipero has had a star since 2012. Luciano Monosilio is the young chef manning the pass, but one of the real attractions at this restaurant (based in the Rex hotel) is Alessandro Pipero, the patron who runs front of house. Expect plenty of interesting dishes interspersed with Roman classics – the kitchen’s take on carbonara is fast-becoming one of the capital’s most sought-after dishes.

Francesco says: ‘I’m one of those chefs that’s very much involved with the front of house and I always like to come out and talk to my customers. I used to go to this place because I was in love with the guy, the way he runs the show is absolutely fantastic. He’s been working there for years, and traditionally chefs would forget about the food once it went through the pass. Alessandro was never like that. The food is very classically Roman, with things like fried artichokes and saltimbocca appearing on the menu, but they change with the seasons. It’s the food I like to eat, and Alessandro is just so charismatic.’

250 Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 00186, Rome. piperoroma.it

Outskirts of Rome

L'Angoletto Vino e Cucina, Genzano

Good for: impeccable cooking in a casual atmosphere

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Away from the hustle and bustle of central Rome lies Genzano, a town just thirty kilometres from the capital next to Lake Nemi. Amongst the ancient ruins and historic villas lies L’Angoletto Vino e Cucina, a family-run osteria that specialises in traditional Roman cooking. The presentation might not be as contemporary and artful as the more stylish restaurants in the capital, but if you’re after the best examples of Lazio’s famous cuisine, look no further.

Francesco says: ‘Genzano is the place where my general manager Rico comes from, and when I’m over there I always go to this place because it has such a great family atmosphere. It’s like walking into my own kitchen and having mama cooking for me. It’s got all the classic dishes, so go there for the carbonara, the amatriciana or the abbaccio (lamb). It’s very casual but the food is a beautiful example of Roman cuisine.’

6 Piazza Vittorio Buttaroni, 00045, Genzano di Roma. facebook.com/angolettovinoecucina

Al Molo-Bastianelli, Fiumicino

Good for: the best fish in Lazio

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One of the most famous restaurants on the Roman coastline, Al Molo (The Pier) is in the town of Fiumicino, home to one of Rome’s two airports. While most visitors will hop straight onto the train into central Rome, those in the know stay a while so they can eat lunch at the historic Al Molo. Specialising in fish and seafood landed literally metres away, chef Dario Tornatore lets the ingredients do the talking. Fish of this quality simply cannot be found in the capital.

Francesco says: ‘Every time I fly to Rome I make sure I land in Fiumicino so I can go here. The way these guys cook fish is absolutely fantastic. I still remember the last time I went there and had a dish of spaghettini, cod and pomodoro sauce – just three ingredients. I probably shouldn’t say this but I tried to replicate it myself and it just wasn’t as good, although I’m blaming the quality of the fish! If you’re ever visiting Rome, make sure you get a flight early in the morning or late at night so you can stop off here for lunch. It’s a very famous, beautiful restaurant right on the seaside, and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with it.’

312 Via della Torre Clementina, 00054, Fiumicino. almolo312.com

Elsewhere in Lazio

Il Granchio, Terracina

Good for: a wide variety of fish and seafood

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Il Granchio (‘The Crab’) is run by Daniela and Luca Ciamberlano in the coastal city of Terracina, roughly fifty kilometres from Rome. The pair have put the city on the gastronomic map, thanks to their inventive approach to cooking fish and seafood. Ravioli coloured with squid ink contains cod, cauliflower, pistachio and bottarga, while the red prawns come in a green tuna sauce. While there are plenty of luxurious dishes using things like lobster on the menu, the real gems are the courses made with more unusual species.

Francesco says: ‘This is where you’ll find the best fish on the Lazio coast, along with Al Molo-Bastianelli. They serve fish you wouldn’t normally see at the markets, such as ricciola (amberjack) and red mullet. The way Luca and his wife cook and serve it all is absolutely fantastic, as is the whole experience of eating there.’

80 Via S. Francesco Nuovo, 04019, Terracina. ristoranteilgranchio.it

Castel Gandolfo

Good for: affordable food in beautiful surroundings

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Regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in all of Italy, Castel Gandolfo overlooks Lake Albano and is home to some truly stunning architecture. But foodies visit for a completely different reason – the stalls dotted around the town’s streets. Here it’s common to pick up various little bits from these kiosks, then sit down in one of the local canteens, pay a cover charge and dig in. Castel Gandolfo might only be twenty-five kilometres from Rome, but it has become known in its own right for its incredible food scene.

Francesco says: ‘This beautiful area near Lake Albano is home to the Pope’s summer residence. When I used to work in Rome and had a spare long weekend, I would always come here, especially in the spring or late summer when it was twenty-six degrees outside. There are lots of lovely restaurants in the area, but what you really should do is visit all the different stalls selling food. Stock up on porchetta, pecorino and pickles, then head to one of the canteens, pay five euros for half a litre of white wine and some bread and enjoy it. It’s great value for money.’

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