The lemurs are on a much needed vacation in Italy, kicking off with a weekend in Rome. We've been here 24 hours and so far, my stand out food experience has been cheese. This probably elicits a 'no shit' response from many people but normally I'm not a cheese whore. It's probably the Asian mouth thing – I often find cheese to be a bit much, alarmingly fatty or just unpleasant in texture. I know, it's odd, but anyway, point is, it takes a lot to make me love cheese. And in Rome, the pecorino is transcendent: a generous, excessive, almost pornographic blanketing of sheer happiness on pasta.
We're staying in Trastevere, a neighbourhood that's really pretty and funky in parts, but with a touristed centre that is perhaps best avoided at night. Saying that, the basilica is gorgeous at night and if you give some of the most trafficked streets a body swerve, there are some very cute places to eat. We went to Da Lucia on the recommendation of our Rome expert friend JD (he actually gave us a list of recommended spots we'd need a fortnight here to try all of, but hey, we can come back). Da Lucia is in a super pretty alley and has a mildly scandalous reputation centering on the owner and his, er, endowments. It attracts tourists for sure, and the waitstaff speak English, but it also had plenty of locals and a very Italian atmosphere.
We had more food (including a lovely tender vitello con piselli and a garlicky contorno of chicory) but we're focusing on pecorino here, so let's draw a veil over the rest of the decadence and move swiftly on. Today we started healthy with a walk up Gianicolo to enjoy the park and see the views across the city. We also fitted in trips to several churches, including the chiesa di San Francesco d'Assissi a Ripa, which has an absolutely filthy Bernini statue of a writhing nun with suggestive folds of cloth between her legs. I know it's a cliche to read Bernini's female figures as sexual but seriously, sometimes a cigar is a big old penis. Anyway, after all this cultural excitement we were ready for more cheese, so we met up with Lemur friend LB, who is living in Rome and teaching Italian cinema.
He suggested a place he'd been recommended but had not yet tried, a bit of a walk away. This is generally the sort of plan that goes well, I find, so off we went across the river to Testaccio, a traditionally working-class district that's known for its hearty Roman food. The restaurant was called Agustarello, on an unassuming stretch of street, but with a nice patio that caught some welcome breezes. We began with a selection of antipasti that included a delicious panzanella and the very traditional dish of sausage, beans and cotiche, which, we discovered, is soft-cooked fatty pork skin. Yeah, it was good. We had decided just to have antipasti and pasta as a 'light' alternative to a full meal but when the pastas appeared it became clear that lightness didn't really enter into it. I chose cavatelli with coda alla vaccinara, or oxtail.
I'm not sure I can fully convey the deliciousness of this dish. The pasta was chewy and super fresh, the giant lump o' oxtail placed majestically in the centre of the plate was rich and melty, and the blanket of pecorino elevated the whole thing to the genius category. This was up these with Mario Batali's beef cheek ravioli. I swooned.
Agustarello, via Giovanni Branca 100, Testaccio, Rome