Il Caminetto

Michelle Pellegrino

Il Caminetto opened in 1959 and it is the restaurant equivalent of a Chanel suit it never goes out of style.

Frequented by ragazzi alla moda, elegant elderly couples and well-known Italian personages, the restaurant is located in the heart of the Parioli district, perhaps the most elegant and trendy certainly one of the most expensive areas of Rome.

Il Caminetto is on the wide, breezy, tree-lined avenue called Viale Parioli where one can find a respite from the oppressive heat in summer and warm oneself in the cosy, yellow-painted interior during winter.

The 81-year-old restaurant owner Italo Santucci has been dipped in the restaurant trade like a rosetta in a tomato salsa: his father and grandfather before him were restauranteurs too. Santucci owned a restaurant in the historic centres Piazza di Pietra before opening Il Caminetto, which he runs with his son Fabrizio.

The restaurants changing menu, written in English and Italian, offers a wide selection of pasta, meat and fish and it has surprisingly for this area an excellent price to quality ratio.

Starters include bresaola (dried salted beef) with rocket salad and flakes of parmesan (8.80), oven-baked smoked scamorza cheese with black truffles (10.00), turkey slices with salad and melon cubes (5.20) and smoked salmon (13). It is hard to resist the oven-baked sfizi * such as melanzane alla parmigiana, potato croquettes with grated veal and spinach, focaccette with four cheeses (all at 5.80 each) and the fried olives, zucchine, chicken and anchovies (3.80-6.60).

Primi to recommend are spaghetti e vongole (9.20), orecchiette with cherry tomatoes and basil (9) and taglioline cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper, 9).

Meat dishes include a tender veal beef julienne with balsamic vinegar and chicory salad (13.20), lamb sweetbread with champignon mushrooms and peas in a wine sauce (10.80) and veal medallions with curry and pilaf rice (9.30).

Fish also features on the menu; worthy of note are the mazzancolle (large tiger prawns) with potatoes and cherry tomatoes (15.20) and oven-baked turbot (for two people, 49)

Dessert highlights include the delicate rose-shaped millefoglie with hot cream (6), sour cherry crostata with ice cream, tiramis, cheesecake in cranberry sauce (6 each) as well as a selection of hand-made ice creams.

Il Caminetto has a comprehensive selection of red and white wines (10.50-40.50) or you can opt for a carafe of wine 8,00).

One of the most accommodating features of this restaurant is the fact that it remains open seven days a week, 365 days a year. All those who dont want to slave over their stove this Christmas, take note.

Il Caminetto, Viale Parioli 89, tel. 068083946. Mon-Sun 12.30-15.00 and 20.15-23.40. Credit cards accepted. Around 35 per person.

*sfizio: an Italian expression that roughly translates to something that satisfies a whim or a fancy.

Al Ponte della Ranocchia

Fiona Winward

Just a short walk from Ponte Lungo metro station and once famous for its signature dish of a wheel of fried fettuccine with sultanas, pine nuts and goose, Al Ponte della Ranocchia has long been attracting locals and adventurous tourists. But while the stickers of international acclaim still cover its doors, the restaurant has been under new management since May and its signature dish is no more.

Al Ponte is now fitted out with cheery yellow and orange dcor giving it a funky, friendly atmosphere despite its high ceilings, and an open kitchen where you can watch the floppy-hatted chef at work. The emphasis is still very much on fine dining, and food is served on ultra-hip square plates in glass and white china.

A welcome dish of panzanella (a quenelle of bread, tomatoes, pesto and oil) is a nice spin on the usual bruschetta ingredients and sets the tone for a menu dotted with interesting twists. Among these is the pasta di mais con crema di peperoni delicate (sweetcorn pasta with a delicate pepper sauce, 11.50), crunchy, very sweet and barely recognisable as a distant relative of the average stodgy Roman primo. The tortino di gorgonzola al miele balsamico (gorgonzola tart with balsamic honey, 8) is equally impressive three slices of warm, cloud-like souffl, beautifully presented with tiny cat pawprints of pesto stalking across the plate.

Brought out ceremoniously by the floppy-hatted chef, some of the main courses are rather disappointingly ordinary in comparison, especially the lifeless arista di maiale con coulis di cipolline al vino rosso (pork with onion and red wine coulis, 14.00). But a contorno of patate in buccia al rosmarino (potato skins in rosemary, 4.00) marks a return to form (despite being served, inexplicably, without any rosemary), with the unlikely addition of delicate breadcrumbs making the difference.

A sour and sickly triangolo di cioccolata con stracciatella di yogurt e fondente (chocolate triangle with yoghurt and dark truffle filling, 7) served in toffee sauce tastes a little like a three-day-old Magnum left in the sun, but highlights the discreet but attentive service if youre struggling to break the industrial-strength chocolate triangle a waiter will arm himself with forks to help you out.

Al Ponte tries hard and succeeds in providing a very different dining experience to the usual neighbourhood osteria. There is a good if selective wine list, although you can also order chilled Frascati by the glass (3.50). Perhaps the most serious criticism should be reserved for the restaurants bulky designer forks, discovered during the pasta course to be quite simply too heavy to twirl.

Al Ponte della Ranocchia, Circonvallazione Appia 29 (Ponte Lungo), tel. 067856712, Mon-Sat 20.30-23.30, Sun closed. Credit cards accepted. Around 35 per person.