Antico Arco has been riffing on Italian food since the 1990s. A lot of Roman eateries have started to play catch up in the past few years but Antico Arco is still well ahead of most of the pack. The two storey restaurant is located on a busy corner, next door to the incredibly popular Bar Gianicalo and across the street from the Porta San Pancrazio (Gate of San Pancrazio), which is in the shape of an arch (arco), from whence cometh the restaurant’s moniker. Yes, it’s in Monteverde. And yes, it’s 10 minutes from my house.
Historical digression #1: Porta San Pancrazio and the surrounding walls were built by Urban VIII in the 1640s because he was afraid his arch enemies, the Farnese, were going to invade Rome. That didn’t happen, but in 1849 the French showed up, sent by Napoleon III, to restore Pope Pius IX to the head of the Papal State. They couldn’t get through the well guarded Porta San Pancrazio but they managed to sneak through a hole in the wall of nearby Villa Sciarra and thus ensued a big battle — starring our old friend Garibaldi — which pretty much destroyed the gate. And Garibaldi lost – eventually. The gate was rebuilt a few years later and now is a very busy and scary roundabout. Last March, a new museum opened in the arch to commemorate the founding of the Roman Republic and Garibaldi’s memory. Note to self: must conquer fears of crossing roundabout and visit museum. Oh, and on the other side of the arch is the Villa Aurelia, where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had their rehearsal dinner some years back.
Historical digression #2: During college, about 100 years ago, I spent a semester studying classical archeology in Rome. My school was just around the corner and we used to hang out at the Bar Gianicolo, which was incredibly popular even back in ye olde times. Turns out, the reason it was so popular was that one of the bartenders was selling drugs. We discovered this when we arrived at the bar one evening to find the shutters all drawn. Disappointed, we started to walk away when we were stopped by a passing pedestrian, whom we knew. He pointed us around to the back of the bar, where there was a secret entrance. Inside, the place was hopping and there were even a couple of cops drinking at the bar. Apparently the bar was raided every couple of months and ordered to close down. And it would, to all, appearances, while continuing to operate on the sly, with the active support of the police. This is a very Roman story, y’all.
OK, back to Antico Arco. I hadn’t been for a few years and had been meaning to go back for ages. So when my friend Eric came into town for work, I jumped at the excuse to take him there for a fine meal. This is the same Eric who sent his wife/my old flatmate Ellen to eat her way through Rome on the occasion of her birthday in October. Now it was his turn. And a fine meal it was. Antico Arco was done up in 2007 and is all stone and dark floors and white tablecloths and silver painted bricks. Very elegant. And one welcome change: the owners are huge Clapton fans and, up until a few years ago, every time I came, ‘I Shot the Sherrif’ or some such would be blasting from the sound system. I am also a huge Clapton fan but the high voltage rock and roll did somewhat detract from the dining experience. Eric’s moved on, replaced by something more discreet and conducive to hearing yourself think. Nevertheless, when I went to the restaurant’s website I was greeted by the song stylings of my beloved and dearly departed Warren Zevon. Rock on Antico Arco, rock on.
To whet our whistles, the very fine and friendly waiter brought us a tiny bowl of chick pea soup with chestnuts and breadcrumbs flavoured with oil. Oh yum. I’m ordering the grownup version of that next time.
Next, he had a risotto with Castelmagno cheese and a sauce made from Nebbiolo grapes. Even though I hadn’t ordered it, they brought me a little bowl of the risotto all the same – I love when they do that.
As you might imagine, this is a bit of a special occasion place. It’s not cheap. But the service is very helpful and attentive, the food is fantastic and they love Eric Clapton and Warren Zevon. They do a tasting menu and wine bar and have just started to serve lunch. You’ll need to book ahead.
Antico Arco, Piazzale Aurelio 7. Tel: 06 581 5274. http://www.anticoarco.it/