Event: Dinner at restaurant La Pergola, Rome
When: Tuesday, June 12th 2012 19:30
Michelin stars: 3
Type of cuisine: Haute Italian
Addr: Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101 00136 Rome
Phone: +39 06 3509 1
Food rating: Exceptional (10), Excellent (9), Very good (8), Good (7)
Overall Food rating: 8/10 At quick glance, many would have found it to be a flawless food performance. At 3 star Michelin level, in my view, this was indeed a very good meal but not an excellent (9/10) nor a standard-bearing one (10/10). I am no god and MY assessment of MY meal is certainly just that, my assessment (which means a personal appreciation/thus purely subjective/far from being perfect), but there’s one major element I ‘need to detect’ at such level, and it’s that …….firm/authoritative/personal cooking imprint. La Pergola has a high class cooking brigade, make no mistake about that, and it truly deserves its 3 stars (I’d say a very good 3 star, which is great indeed, just not a standard-bearing/strong 3 star in my opinion), but the firm/authoritative/personal cooking imprint is what I was missing in the course of this meal (which my meals, couple of days later at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio as well as A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia, have all proven that what I was looking for is realistic at haute and casual dining levels).
Service/Dining experience: 10/10 Fabulous service. I’ll take this example of when they told me that taking photos of my meal is prohibited (I know…some were able to do so, but I insist on experiencing my meal as any normal diner would, therefore I was fine with this rule of them since it applied to their normal patrons): this was handed with such a great tact that we (both the staff and I) even gently joked over this. Examples of this sort of coolness abounded all along my meal there.
I was in the mood of reviewing the meal, since I was alone and this was not a romantic meal, therefore I asked the restaurant staff if I was allowed to take photos of my dishes. They said, no. so no pics of the food (though, I believe you can still make arrangements with them, since I saw web blogs with pics of meals at La Pergola; again, I did not insist since my intent is to experience things the way a normal diner would). Which is fine to me, since I could appreciate what I was eating without any distraction. I took no note of my food neither, so I’ll go with general memory / impression of the overall meal and dining experience.
One quick day in Rome ( People look at you with big big eyes when you do that, Lol. Indeed, Rome deserves a longer stay) before pursuing my journey of 7 days in Italy. I secured a reservation at the Rome Cavalieri’s hotel (an No..I didn’t lodge there, I do not have that kind of money Lol..) main restaurant and only 3 star Michelin in Rome (this sounds odd to me, I always thought Rome would have much more Michelin 3 stars): La Pergola.
Upon entering the hotel itself, most won’t fail to be seduced by the overall luxury and sense of wealth of this location. I think it is smart on their part to open their 3 star Michelin restaurant only at night and not on lunch, since the view over Rome, at night, is really nice here. The restaurant is situated at more than 3 miles away from downtown Rome . La Pergola offers Italian Haute dining and its executive Chef is a German who has spent the last two decades in Italy, Chef Heinz Beck; his success led him to also open Apsleys, a two Star Michelin Italian haute table in London.
FOOD REPORT: I did not partake in their tasting menus (they have a 6 or 9 courses menu) on this dinner, since I had to catch a train around midnight (Yep, a crazy thing to do, I know), so I went with a choice of four food items on their à la carte menu.
Started with an item of sweetbreads (8/10), cooked to ideal consistency. As you might expect at this level, not one single technical slip is noticed, and the accompanied onion purée (9/10) and fig sauce (this had remarkable deep fruity taste) offering logic balance to the meat. It is tough for me to get excited over this dish since I have sampled more impressive sweetbreads at bistrots that will never see the shadow of one single Michelin star in their entire existence, but in total fairness, this was a very good food item in which a lot of attention to details was invested and it would be inaccurate to diminish the value of such dish (47 eur) simply because I had memorable ones at lesser $$$, elsewhere: we all should know better that once you open the doors of a haute dining venture, you are paying for the stunning service, the luxury, the efforts that is put in the dining experience.
Then cheese and pepper spaghetti followed. A classic Roman fare, served in its chic version. This dish is simple but this is where a skilled kitchen gets to show that a lot can be extracted from very little. Which, they did: flavors were good, the pasta cooked with the precision you would expect from a good Italian kitchen 8.5/10
Concluded the savouries with turbot served along asparagus, ham and spinach (8/10), which turned out to be more creative that what I anticipated (lots of thoughts in both the presentation and work of the flavors). The ingredients were of top quality, the fish in particular was an example of great seafood sourcing . At a non star Michelin restaurant, I would perhaps be tempted to give this dish a 9/10, but with regards to 3 Michelin star standards, the 8 over 10 score seems accurate to me.
I skipped the cheese and desserts since it was, soon, time to hop on my train. I still got to enjoy all their petit fours, which were expectedly well done without being as outstanding as some sampled at most haute dining ventures in Paris, for eg(8/10). No wine (I hate taking a train with wine in my blood), but they have one large wine selection of superb bottles covering most parts of the world, worth some intense perusing, with of course a vast list of Italian wines as well.
Pros: If I had to offer a special top-class dinner to a beloved one, La Pergola would be a top choice. It is not, on a personal level, a top favourite, for the simple reason that I am more into personal/authoritative cooking (Dal Pescatore fits in what I am trying to point out), but that is subjective, that is just me. The most important, to the most, is that it hits on all the right notes of a great haute dining experience. Which it does. I won’t argue against that. Also: the hotel of this restaurant (restaurant is on 9th floor) seems like a beautiful romantic retreat. I was not staying there and did not wander around neither, but from the few glimpses at the hotel’s interior, it looked very pretty.
Cons: At 3 star Michelin level, I tend to favor a more personal/authoritative cooking imprint, the type of cooking of which I can say ‘ok, ok, I think not many, at its level, can replicate that exact depth of flavor, this specific work of the texture, etc’. Though, in the case of La Pergola, their work of the texture of most of the dishes I was sampling was indeed of top flight level. The beauty with Italian cooking in Italy, is that no one will forgive you for cooking a bad dish since the produce is fabulous, the sense of taste seems collectively high, the competition between eateries is an epic battle, lol. So, they have numerous highly skilled artisan Chefs who know that people are eating their food because there’s something special/personal/authoritative in there, and you’ll find it at any level of their dining spectrum (haute or not). It’s really on that very specific aspect, where I felt that this meal could have been bettered (on the following days, my meals at Aimo e Nadia in Milan, Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio as well as A cantina de Mananan in Corniglia would prove me right – they were not all as sophisticated as La Pergola’s, but I could remember each of the dishes I had at those 3 places…even months after, and in a blind tasting, I could tell exactly who cooked what).