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Mike Yardley: A Fresh Bite out of Rome

Mike Yardley ,
Publish Date
Sat, 25 May 2024, 1:30pm
Eating My Way Through Rome. Photo / Mike Yardley
Eating My Way Through Rome. Photo / Mike Yardley

Mike Yardley: A Fresh Bite out of Rome

Mike Yardley ,
Publish Date
Sat, 25 May 2024, 1:30pm

One of the greatest ways to sample the heart and soul of a powerhouse city like Rome is to join a food tour with an in-the-know local. Recently, while enjoying a visit to the Italian capital, I staked-out a fabulous food tour offering via the attractions listings on Booking.com. Traditionally, I have principally used the global travel site to lock-in accommodation, but Booking.com has transformed into a one-stop-shop for your travel needs, spanning flights, car rentals and the more recent addition of attractions. The sheer range of bookable attractions on offer is impressive.  

I plumped for the Roman Food Tour which is a 3-4 hour walking tour in the upscale residential neighbourhood of Prati, where grand villas rub shoulders with the walls of the Vatican. Previously the area was open countryside and growing fields, but nowadays it’s one of Rome’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, home to hordes of Italian celebrities and glitterati. Needless to say, discerning tastes and culinary authenticity rules supreme in these parts, far away from the bog-standard tourist restaurants, ever-present in Rome.  

Street scenes around Prati. Photo / Supplied

Our effervescent guide was Giada, who after spending time living in the USA, returned to Rome after becoming “homesick, foodsick and winesick.” Over the course of several hours she whisked us around the leafy streets of Prati on a stomach-stretching foodie pilgrimage, drinking and grazing heartily from a host of venues, beloved by the locals. Giada’s guided hand and her passion for food was infectious. An obligatory cappuccino at La Niccha Café commenced proceedings, where we also enjoyed glasses of prosecco and a plate of bruschetta, topped in Ligurian olive oil, Genovese pesto, Sicilian bell pepper pesto and ricotta with truffle infused honey. Be sure to savour a staple of Roman street food – suppli - a rice ball laced with tomato and stuffed with mozzarella, then breaded and deep-fried. Perfecto! 

A headline stop was Bonci Pizzarium, which has cultivated a fanatical following. One of the huge benefits of visiting Bonci on this tour was we could skip the line – and it was a very long line! This takeaway pizza joint has revolutionised classic Roman pizza by unleashing the most tantalising array of flavours and toppings to its delicious bed of signature dough, made with 200-year-old heirloom wheat flour and left to rise for 72 hours. Crispy on the outside, light and fluffy in the inside – it’s magnificent dough. The celebrated pizza maestro Gabriele Bonci is the brains behind this pizzarium, who was recently featured on the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. Vogue magazine has dubbed him the “Michelangelo of Pizza.” Bonci’s pizza is sold by the slice, or “Pizza al taglio' as the Italians say. But the slices are not triangular, but long and rectangular.  

Bonci Pizza slices. Photo / Supplied

And after you have selected your choice of pizza, you can then decide how small you want your slice cut, because it’s sold based on weight. Go for small cuts, so that you can snack your way through a wide sweep of flavours. Gabriele has created over 1500 pizza recipes, which are hyper-seasonal. Over the course of an average day, Bonci Pizzarium will offer up over 100 different toppings – and many of his playful permutations change by the hour. Freshness and seasonality underpins everything. I munched my way through six cuts of pizza, but my favourite was the potato-topped pizza, with mozzarella cheese, artichokes and truffle-infused butter.  Bonci Pizzarium is a sensation. 

Another eye-opening experience was to trawl through Trionfale market, Rome’s largest food market, also based in Prati. Boasting 275 stalls, this epicurean emporium is not just a sensory treat, but a beautiful way to immerse yourself in Roman food culture.  We noshed our way through baked breads, artisan cheeses, cured meats and most agreeable wine tastings. It’s a great place to gorge on prosciutto, a dry-cured ham from the leg of a pig, typically aged between 12 and 26 months. I tried some lovely prosciutto which had been infused with rosemary. Prosciutto di Parma is the finest prosciutto, produced from Italian pigs raised on a diet of whey, which in turn originates from the production of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It’s great on pizza and bruschetta, along with tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and fresh basil. 

Artisan meats and cheeses at Trionfale Market. Photo / Mike Yardley

Romans are besotted by bufala mozzarella - mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk, It is a tangier, richer cheese than regular mozzarella. The plate of bufala mozzarella balls we chomped on, drizzled in olive oil and accompanied with cherry tomatoes, were produced from the milk of highly pampered southern Italian buffaloes, who are serenaded with classical music when they are milked. We also got to sample 100-year aged balsamic vinegar, drizzled on parmesan cheese, from the gourmet producer, Gusti. A bottle of this good stuff costs 1000Euro!     

Our food tour culminated at Il Segreto, a swanky new restaurant in Prati, which has swiftly fostered a red-hot reputation for its authentic Roman and iconic Italian cuisine, paired with a dizzying wine list, superb ambience and faultless service. Il Segreto translates in English as “secret”, but the word is out! If you’re a pasta fan, you’ll adore their irresistible Rigatoni carbonara (pork, eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper.) Another top option is their Tonnarelli cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper.) Be sure to leave room for Dolce, because their melt-in-your-mouth Tiramisu would have to be the best I’ve ever devoured. After gorging on so many goodies, I could have easily slipped under the table into a deep food coma. Such a prospect is best averted with a pick-me-u espresso. It worked a trick on me! The average Italian knocks back seven to eight espressos a day. 

In such an undulating city, jam-packed with historic landmarks, elevate yourself above the heaving crowds by taking advantage of some in-the-know rooftop bars. Overlooking the Trevi Fountain, Hotel Fontana Rooftop serves up great libations and dreamy views. Similarly at the Colosseum, The Court is a gorgeous venue on Via Labicana, overlooking the epic structure. It’s a primp spot for sundowners, when the slumping sun electrifies the Colosseum’s marble curves in a lustrous golden glow. That’s eternal Rome in one glorious snapshot.  

Crowds at the Trevi Fountain. Photo / Mike Yardley

If it’s your first-time in Rome and you’re intending ticking-off the city’s signatures, from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona to the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican Museums, City Sightseeing’s Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour stitches all the key stops together. The distinctive red open-top, double-decker buses, with on-board commentary operate on a high frequency schedule, every 15 minutes, with the largest fleet of sightseeing buses in Rome. You can explore the Eternal City on a 24, 48, or 72 hour ticket, hopping-on and off as many times as you like. Definitely do the full circuit of all eight stops for starters, to get a great overview of all the points of interest and neighbourhoods you may want to explore. There’s also a great Night Tour, when Rome lights up.  Onboard WiFi is also available with this top-rated operator. www.city-sightseeing.it/rome 

Where to stay? Sticking with the salubrious neighbourhood of Prati, I locked in my accommodation with Booking.com at Maison Risorgimento. You’ll feel like you’re savouring the real Rome in Prati and the property’s rooms are beautifully furnished with contemporary patterned wallpaper and playful pops of colour. All the mod-cons are there including air conditioning, flat-screen TV with cable channels, a microwave, tea/coffee and ensuite bathroom. For more trip inspiration on wherever you’re planning to go, check out the just launched the AI Trip Planner on the Booking.com Mobile App. New Zealand and Australia are the first markets in Asia Pacific that Booking.com has launched its AI Trip Planner in. www.booking.com  

AI Travel Planner. Photo / booking.com 

Multiple-award-winning airline, Qatar Airways flies daily non-stop between Doha and Auckland, one of the world’s heroic ultra-long haul routes. QSuite delivers first-class luxury to the Business Class cabin, including double lie-flat beds, private sliding doors and exceptional cuisine. It’s a deserving winner of the Skytrax award for world’s best Business Class. Beyond Doha, Qatar Airways flies to over 170 destinations worldwide including Rome. www.qatarairways.com  

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings. 

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