Latest trip to Rome for me - there will be a return, longer visit in 2 weeks but this experience was so exceptional I thought I should post right away.
In the previous 2 visits I'd been defeated in attempts to go to Sora Lella by not booking. Being very, very honest, I'd have to say that I'd seen enough uneven comment about it that at the time I wasn't that fundamentally bothered either way.
But this time, with a long time between connecting flights in Rome going from Manchester to Alghero, I thought it would be an ideal spot to have a good lunch while waiting. So it proved. Mindful of previous experience, this time I booked.
Atmosphere is cosy, on the formal side overall but not elite-level or luxury. It will be said that it doesn't make the most of an impossibly romantic location on the Isola Tiberina but then again the building layout isn't really their choice. The atmosphere is certainly romantic enough, if that's what you're here for. However in my case having not eaten breakfast, I was really here to eat heavily and be revived.
The staff are expertly professional and very welcoming. Upon arrival I was instantly shown to my table - unlike several Roman restaurants where it can be quite typical to arrive on time only to be asked to wait (in fairness of course any busy restaurant can't precisely know when their customers will leave - so a given table may or may not be free). I must admit also that I respect their willingness to have patience with my Italian which is improving but obviously still needs some work. It can be frustrating when you try to speak Italian in restaurants only to be met with English that isn't any better than your Italian. I suppose it goes both ways - waiters eager to improve their English will want to speak it to English customers, but customers eager to improve their Italian will want the reverse. Still, it's my view that the customer preference should prevail, unless one side or the other clearly has better command of the other's tongue. Staff at Sora Lella didn't have any hesitation about staying with Italian even when my own speech was becoming hesitant. That point aside though the service is exactly as it should be, balancing attentiveness with not hovering and making sure things arrive promptly and as ordered, without any feeling of rush.
I started with a pair of salame: Susianella di Viterbo and Lardo di San Nicola. Both were exellent, although of the two it is the Susianella that really stands out: a really terrific dry salami, the rather thin kind that comes out rather like £2 coins in size. Just the kind of antipasto that you hope for.
It is in the primi, though, that Sora Lella seems to excel. I got (admittedly in not-quite-canonical style - wrong pasta shape) a rigatone all'Amatriciana. Finally I can say that here is a restaurant in Rome that does this definitively. With the lone criticism that yes, they should be using bucatini, it was nonetheless awe-inspiring. MUCH better quality guanciale than what I've had elsewhere, and the pasta was cooked to the ideal point as well. As noted, pasta seems to be their strong suit, for on an adjacent table, an Italian couple had ordered a pair of paste (different ones) and there was an audible, exclamatory "MMM!" from there on the first bite. I felt like leaning over and indicating that yes, I share the sentiment.
For a secondo I was delighted to see something I love yet had not had or seen for a while: Pollo alla Romana. Here perhaps it wasn't quite as accomplished as the pasta, but this must in large part be due to the fact that peppers aren't really in season. Also perhaps due to very fond memories of childhood: my father made this to a definitive level and it was always one of my great favourites. Nonetheless very satisfying here.
Portion size is generous and as a result I contemplated a dessert but didn't get one in the end, settling for coffee. It will be said too that the price for puddings is steep - disproportionately so relative to the other courses. That probably indicates very high quality, so I did regret passing, but really enough was enough. The coffee, meanwhile, was of a good standard - up to the level of a solid Roman bar caffè, although perhaps not at the Sant' Eustachio/Tazza d'Oro level.
As a complete package, Sora Lella is one of those few restaurants that seems generally suitable for all occasions. On the one hand, it provides a dignified place for a formal dinner or business lunch. On the other, it's sufficiently relaxed and reasonable in price to be quite in scope for an informal meal or Sunday family lunch. Location is almost unbeatable and the food really stands up to the stellar location. This is going to go on my list of "usual suspects" - the restaurants in Rome I'll regularly patronise, year after year.