Eat here: Flavio Al Velavevodetto, Rome

Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome
http://www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it/en/home

In Rome’s Testaccio district, the ex-garbage dump of the ancient Romans (literally, there’s a hill around the corner from here that we found while walking around to kill time before lunch that was made from broken Roman terracotta), where the tourists rarely venture, is a bowl of pasta that is the stuff of legends.

It’s a dish that’s just now gaining momentum and becoming trendy (god help us), and it’s so simple it sounds downright boring, made with only three ingredients: pasta, cheese and pepper. Seriously – that’s it. Well, it’s not, there’s a real art to it, and Elizabeth will explain it to you better than I can if you want to take a quick detour to her blog.

I knew we were eating cacio e pepe when we visited Rome, and there’s only one person I trusted to recommend the right place to eat it – and Elizabeth Minchilli didn’t let me down. Having seen a ridiculous number of bowls of this dish on her Instagram account in the year leading up to our trip, all from the same restaurant, it was decided we’d make the trip out to Testaccio to visit Flavio’s.

The restaurant itself is one of those you’d-miss-it-if-you-weren’t-looking-for-it kind of places. No big flashy signs out the front, no neon lights in the shape of pasta bowls, just a little gated courtyard with the name clearly printed above it.

We rolled in right on opening time, because we heard it got busy fast – it did. The place is surprisingly big inside, with several dining areas seperated by walls and corridors. The tables were laid with crisp white linen, and the staff gave the immediate impression of being a very well-oiled machine, to the point of being almost mechanical – I’m guessing the Roman regulars have a bit of a warmer welcome, though.

I knew what I wanted to try well before I saw the menu – cacio e pepe, obviously. A deep fried artichoke. And pasta carbonara. Oh, and a bottle of wine, because, when in Rome…

I’m used to my family’s artichokes, which are marinated in oil and herbs (and are very good), so a deep fried one was very different – and so, so good. The petals were like salty little artichoke chips, and the heart was still soft and sweet underneath all that crunchiness. Perfect starter, clearly, because every other table in the room had one, too.

Then came the pasta – the tonnarelli (like fat spaghetti) cacio e pepe did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente pasta smothered in cheese and pepper is a thing of beauty. Husband said it was the best bowl of pasta he’s ever eaten. Again, a clear winner, because every table seemed to have at least one bowl of this.

The other bowl of pasta I chose was rigatoni carbonara. This is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t order it at home, because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. Contrary to popular belief, carbonara is not made with cream; it’s made with eggs. So when restaurants make it with cream and call it “authentic Italian,” it makes my blood boil. But here, they make it right, with eggs. And guanciale (cured pork jowl, one of my favourite meaty things). And more cheese. And let me tell you, even though it may not look like much, that was the best bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Nonna).

We washed it all down with what was left of the bottle of wine, used the contents of the complimentary bread basket to mop up what was left of the sauces, rolled out the front door and continued to talk about lunch for the next three days. If you’re only going to eat pasta at once place in Rome, make sure it’s at Flavio’s. And that’s coming from an Italian.

Ladies who eat & blog: SCARF Community dinner @ Green Park

Hands up who’s heard of SCARF?! Not many, I’m guessing? That sucks… hopefully this will help spread the word about an awesome group who do some seriously good work for the community and also make some delicious food in the process!

So, my last attendance to a Scarf dinner was when I was in a past blogging life at Multicultural Melbourne, way back in 2011, and I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t been back since! You can read all about the amazing work Scarf do on their website, but the Readers Digest version is basically they’re an amazingly dedicated organisation taking disadvantaged youth and mentoring/training them up in all facets of the hospitality industry. Once a week, they take over a restaurant kind enough to donate their space for a few hours and run a full service. Told you they’re amazing! They are currently taking up residence at Green Park in Carlton North, where $40 gets you a two course set menu and the opportunity support a pretty great organisation that’s making a big difference. Everyone wins!

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but I simultaneously thought that I really wanted to head back for a long overdue Scarf dinner and organise a little catch up for some fellow lady bloggers. It really frustrates me to see how competitive women can be these days; at a time where we seem to be hearing about more and more women being attacked, bullied, hurt and victimised, when maybe more than ever we need to support each other and have each others backs (isn’t there already enough pressure on us without being mean and bitchy to each other, too?!), more and more women seem to be getting more and more competitive and judgmental towards each other instead. On the flip side, I’ve been lucky enough to have met some really incredible and inspiring women through blogging and would love to get to know some of them a little better! In the spirit of Scarf and doing good deeds, I thought it might be nice to get a group of women who’s work I really admire together for a great night  : )

IMG_8413So, allow me to introduce to you the lovely ladies who joined me for dinner this week:

Cass from Hungrycookie – Cass’s blog is about “all things fashion, food and travel” who brings you the latest in both food and fashion, both very important to Melbournians!

Terri from Little Wanderings – Terri is a bit of a blogging soul sister to me with so much in common – another Melbourne girl who loves her city, her food, and travelling the big wide world 🙂

Monique from Mon’s Adventure – Mon’s a foodie and a beautiful story teller, who always seems to be on and between fabulous adventures!

Sheena from Chasing A Plate – Sheena collaborates with Thomas for a beautifully photographed and written food journal, based on the belief that life is too short for bad food (amen!).

 

With the introductions over with, allow me to introduce the food and the host restaurant…

Green Park
815 Nicholson St, Carlton North, Melbourne
http://greenparkdining.com.au/

The Scarf menu, designed by Green Park’s chefs and executed by Scarf’s trainees, offered two entree and two main options (thank you very very much to Cass sitting next to me who coincidentally ordered the dishes I didn’t and let me try hers!)…

 

ENTREES:
Roast beetroot, feta, walnut and rocket salad (which I ordered, and was a really nice and light starter)…

IMG_8402… and the chicken liver parfait with onion jam and bread (so rich, so good!)

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MAINS:
Braised beef shin with cauliflower, bacon and hazelnuts (I was stoked with my choice – the beef was delicious and sooo tender, the perfectly little pile fell apart at the first poke with my fork! Also, the hazelnuts were the perfect addition!)…

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and the gnocchi with pumpkin, burnt butter and sage (it’s a classic for a reason, and it was done very well!):

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DESSERT:
Just the one option, and being lactose intolerant and quite unwell for the last week or so, I decided to forgo the deconstructed yoghurt cheesecake, but it looked very pretty and the ladies who did order it seemed pretty happy with it!

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The food was amazing, especially considering the fact that these were restaurant quality dishes made by trainees! They did a fantastic job and both the trainees and mentors should be incredibly proud  : )

Green Park on Urbanspoon

 

Everyone did a fantastic job, from the slightly nervous waitress who must have been at least a little daunted by the five loud women talking about everything from Hodor to potatoes, the waiter who wasn’t looking after our table but still more than happily took our photo at the end of the night, the mentors floating around making sure everything was running smoothly. Yeah, the food is great, but it’s about so much more than that.

If you’d like to do more than dine and support Scarf, you can book dinner right here, and someone will get back to you with a confirmation very quickly! And I must make sure I don’t leave it another four years before dining with Scarf again! Thank you for a great night, and we’re all wishing the trainees all the very best for the bright futures they’ll no doubt have in the hospitality industry!

Roman dining – one of the best meals of my life!

 

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I can’t even tell you how much I hate myself for not remembering what this place was called. I can’t believe I didn’t bother to write the name or address down, to take a photo of the little sign out the front, nothing… what an idiot! That said, my husband maintains that if we were to go back to Rome, he’d be able to remember how to get there… we found it on the walk back from the Vatican. It was pouring, and I mean really pouring rain, we were wet and hungry and needed to stop for warmth and food. Just as we were getting desperate, as fate would have it, this place appeared like the proverbial oasis in the dessert. We ambled in, discarding drenched coats, scarves and beanies, and settled in to what felt like the living room of a family member. That could be mostly because I’m Italian, and am accustomed to big family dinners. Whatever. This place was amazing.

The service was really fantastic, very attentive and helpful. Before we’d said a word, a basket of bread arrived, for which we were very grateful. We placed our orders and didn’t wait long at all for our lunch to arrive. First up came the Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, basil and bocconcini cheese. My favourite! The wine was pretty darn good too!

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And next came the pasta. Husband had the pesto linguine you can see at the top of the picture below. I had the pasta at the bottom of the picture, which we both agree is the best pasta either of us have ever had to this day. Rigatoni with ricotta and eggplant. It was rich and creamy, and tasted like no other pasta I’ve ever had before. This was phenomenal. Even more amazing was how much husband loved it – he usually doesn’t like eggplant or ricotta. It was really unexpected for it to have had so much flavour and punch, but it was absolutely perfect. It’s a big call for a wog to name her best ever plate of pasta, but (sorry Nonna!!!) this was hands down “the one” for me.

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If ANYONE recognises this place, please, what is it called?!?!?!? I NEED TO GO BACK!!!!!

Eat here: Birreria Centrale, Florence

Birreria Centrale, Florence, Italy
http://www.birreriacentrale.com

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Without a doubt, one of the best meals I’ve had in Italy. We’d been travelling for a few weeks when we got to Florence last year, and I’d been fairly sick. I needed proper Italian comfort food, and this place hit the spot like no one’s business.

It was another cold, grey, rainy night in Florence, and we’d been walking around the beautiful, cobble-stoned streets for a while. We were getting pretty hungry. We found ourselves in Piazza San Martino and figured the best place to get an authentic feed would be off a side alley where there weren’t as many tourists; we were right.

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It’s beautiful. It’s old, wooden, exposed brick, antique, and just beautiful. And it’s cosy and homely, like turning up to your grandmother or auntie’s house for a family meal. The service was attentive and very helpful (they did speak a little English, although I conversed on Italian), the menu was wonderfully authentic Italian food, and the wine was fantastic!

I don’t need to talk this place up too much – trust me, it’ll prove itself if you ever visit. But here were our meals:

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Fettuccine for husband, lasagne for me, and a surprisingly delicious salad with cheese and walnuts. I’d say I wish I could remember more of the details of the food, but I don’t. I remember the feeling. It was a happy night for us. We’d found a place on the other side of the world, where husband couldn’t communicate because he didn’t speak or understand a word of Italian, but we found a place we felt completely at home. The food was absolutely unreal, that was obviously a huge bonus, but the atmosphere was just as memorable!