Il Pagliaccio provided two surprises before we started on the surprise eight course tasting menu. Firstly, when we made the reservation they required not a credit card to secure the table, but a €100 deposit, payable upfront through PayPal.
And, secondly, perhaps even more surprising, they are quaint enough to provide two menus – one with prices starting “Dear Sir” and another without prices for my wife. I havnt heard of that in many a long year, let alone seen it. And it was surprising, not least, as she was the one with the credit card that was paying for the meal.
As mentioned, we decided to take the eight course menu (there’s other options at ten and twelve courses, as well as a carta). Confirmation received that we’d no allergies, major dislikes, etc, it was on to one of the best meals we’ve had in the last 12 months (on a par with Sat Bains in Nottingham and In De Wulf in Dranouter). It’s not an Italian meal, as such, rather a meal with some Italian culinary influences.
In ordinary circumstances, the first food out would be an amuse but I suppose it’s just an unadvertised “extra” course here – a few fried whitebait with a ricotta cream and cucumber sauce to dip them in.
Beef that had started out as carpaccio was slightly cooked through in a broth, along with some soba noodles and calamari, returning to a link with the beef by way of a topping of iced horseradish. Clever. Very clever.
Then a soup – mozzarella and oyster, soft and luxurious, topped with the sharp contrast of a Granny Smith and camomile granite.
Now, something distinctly Italian. Cannelloni stuffed with artichoke mousse, topped with smoked sardine. If I recall the whole meal correctly, this was the only dish which nodded towards fashionable foams with an unlikely, but entirely successful, liquorice one.
Now, some technical skill. A small potato had been turned to a perfect cylinder and then hollowed out to make an extremely thin tube. This had been deep fried to perfect crispness and then stuffed with crab. Alongside, a quenelle of mango. In itself, this absolutely delicious but it was accompanied by something frankly odd – a coconut milk and rice soup. Again, in itself, lovely. But did the two elements work well together? The question divided us.
No dissent on the next dish. One of the meal’s megastars. Three tortellini sat on the plate arranged like a work of minimalist art. Underneath each one, a blob of spicy tomato sauce. Inside a rich meat mix of suckling pig.
Small fillets of red mullet – plainly cooked and tasting exactly of themselves and garnished simply with a quenelle of mixed spring vegetables.
I suppose if there was one, the next plate was the main course. Pigeon breast, served whole and perfectly rare and perfectly delicious. A little wilted spinach and a couple of cubes of a beetroot jelly, adding an earthy sweetness. A single blackberry scattered with sesame seeds marked what seemed another nod towards influences of cuisines much further to the east of Italy.
We thought that had finished the savoury courses but next up was the meat from the pigeon leg – long braised and served with black rice and thin slices of daikon. Another nod to the east.
There seems to be a new trend in tasting menus to have a course that deliberately links the savoury and the sweet. Here it was a blue cheese mousse, surrounded by chocolate. The mousse not overpoweringly cheesy, the chocolate thin enough to be in the background. There was a little baked pear and a few arty dabs of yoghurt. These link dishes can be difficult – the chef got this bang-on.
The first dessert was a palate cleansing lemon and ginger granite, topped with a twirl of lime flavoured biscuit. Absolutely excellent. And, finally, a white chocolate tart with superb crisp pastry, chocolate ice cream and, recommended to drink last, a hot rosehip syrup, served in a shot glass.
Coffee was a right bleeding performance. Firstly, there was a coffee menu. Of course, none are cheap, so you can’t use price as a basis for selection. Then the foil sachet is presented to you, much as would a wine bottle. Then it’s opened and presented again for you each to sniff. At that point, it was emptied into the coffee machine “bowl”, tamped down and taken away. In due course, it came back in a cup. And damn fine it was too. As were the excellent petit fours – testament to the skill of the pastry chef.
Needless to say, at Michelin 2* level, you have every expectation that service will be faultless. And so it was. There is a skill and craft to cooking and presenting food of this quality. And it has to be paid for. Il Pagliaccio is not cheap. In fact, Il Pagliaccio is bloody expensive – and not just by Rome standards where every meal seem to cost more than you hope it would. The meal for the two of us cost more than my annual salary when I started work in 1966 and now was a week’s pension. Back in the day, restaurant meals were, perhaps, steak and chips on a birthday. And, today, this is the third Michelin starred meal so far this year. It was worth every penny.
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 130, Roma 00186, IT