Everyone is, of course, familiar with the saying When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It is an oft-repeated phrase because, deep down, we know that the Italians have got so many things right. Forget the bureaucratic nightmares, political turbulence and soccer scandals. Think of their fashion, style, joie de vivre, sense-indulgent lifestyle their food.
If you want to experience a generous slice of Italian life as well as superb Tuscan cuisine then Girarrosto dal Toscano is the place to go. Here you can amply appease your palate while admiring the picturesque movimento of the impeccably-dressed local customers who greet each other with affectionate familiarity.
These scenes, performed on the restaurants leafy terrace on a sunny summer day, are also observed with amused curiosity by a colourful blend of weary-limbed Germans, Americans and Spaniards, back from a pilgrimage to the neighbouring St Peters basilica or to the tempting shops on the ever-bustling Via Ottaviano nearby.
Of course, there are many foreigners who go there by recommendation as this restaurant is among Romes finest.
It is well-known among the Romans that this was Federico Fellinis favourite restaurant, where he always sat at the same table, sketching his latest inspirations on the tablecloth and tucking into Girarrostos delicious polpette (meatballs).
It was frequented by legendary film stars Anna Magnani and Marcello Mastroianni and continues to be a favourite with Italian and international VIPs alike, from Cecchi Gori, Monsignor Mattei (Pope John Paul IIs speech writer) and Roberto Benigni to Harvey Keitel and Leonardo di Caprio.
For nearly a century people have been turning out in droves to worship at the altar of its legendary bistecca alla fiorentina, cooked to perfection inside its wood-fire grill.
Be warned this impressive piece of meat ranges from about three to five centimetres in height and portions are generous enough to satisfy the appetite of a pride of lions.
Surprisingly, not many restaurants in Rome make the fiorentina in the traditional style or half as good. Bistecca is cut from Chianana beef, derived from a rare breed of unusually large cow raised in Tuscanys Val di Chiana. It is considered one of the best-quality and tastiest meats around and needs to be at least two centimetres thick and composed of T-bone, tenderloin and fillet to deserve its name. After the bisteccas bleak period as an outlaw following the mad cow disease epidemic, which lasted four years and nine months, the Florentine-style steak is back on our tables and enjoys the same popularity as ever.
The history of the bistecca alla fiorentina is about as long as the city that its named after. During the 10 August celebrations for the feast of S. Lorenzo (the Medici familys favourite festivity) huge pieces of meat were cooked over an open fire and distributed for all, rich and poor, to enjoy amid riotous fun. Tradition has it that it was on this occasion in 1565 that, in their eagerness to obtain this juicy prize, a couple of British knights cried out Beef steak! The expression instantly caught on, was italianicised and that is why the Italians call it bistecca to this very day.
Girarrosto dal Toscano has been owned and run by three generations of the Bruni family since 1918. It all started when a man from Siena arrived in Rome and turned his dream of opening his own, successful restaurant into reality. Paola and Carla, his daughters, worked alongside their father, profiting from his skills and experience and inheriting his passion for food. They in turn have passed on their skill to their own children who now help with the running of the restaurant.
The Girarrosto has a welcoming atmosphere and simple but stylish decor, vaulted ceilings and plain wooden furniture. It is divided into two halls, separated from the kitchen by a glass partition where you can watch the chefs in action, among them Carla, who keeps her fathers treasured recipes alive.
You cant go wrong with any choice from its extensive menu.
Try the antipasto toscano (mixed selection of cold meats), hand-cut prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, bruschetta, fagioli al fiasco, the superb selection of fritti, such as the stuffed, deep-fried olives and zucchini flowers. The pizzette (morsel-sized margheritas), roasted porcini mushrooms and potatoes (sliced thinly and fried to a crunchy, golden perfection) are also a must.
Among the primi piatti, the pappardelle alla toscana (served with a ragu sauce or with zucchine), pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar) and ribollita (a hearty vegetable soup) are firm favourites.
Meat-lovers can indulge in the straccetti with an accompaniment of rocket salad, saltimbocca (rolled veal with ham and sage) or involtini alla romana (roulades of beef). As an alternative, order the abbacchio scottadito (grilled suckling lamb) or pollo fritto.
The staff is quick, efficient and accommodating. Keep an eye out for Gaetano, a simpatico napoletano with tight curls, black-framed glasses and an animated, gesticulating manner that gives him the air of an actor who has just stepped down from an Eduardo de Filippo theatre production. He has an astonishing ability for carrying an infinite number of plates and for remembering what his VIP clients would rather forget.
Be sure to leave some space for the artistic selection of home-made desserts on display, all lovingly made by Paola: jam tarts of all types, apple souffl, sponge cake drowned in hot chocolate and rice frittelle (pancakes).
For the quality and quantity you get, prices are really quite reasonable: most starters and pasta dishes are under 10, while the carni cost from 9 upwards.
This restaurant is ideal for entertaining business clients and for large group gatherings. It is not so ideal for people on a diet. I had to inelegantly zip down my skirt to reach across and help myself to my companions dessert after scoffing down my own. Im afraid that after discovering this restaurant my clothes will never fit me again. It is all the Brunis fault, really. Surely its wrong to have such a sinful restaurant at a stones throw from the Vatican.
Girarrosto dal Toscano, Via Germanico 58/60 (Piazza Risorgimento side, just off Via Ottaviano). Open Tues-Sun, 12.30-15.00, 20.00-23.00. Booking is strongly recommended. Tel. 0639725717 or see the website www.ristorantedaltoscano.it