Up until only a year or so ago, the Trastevere was a region of Rome which somewhat alluded me. Set away from the ancient heart of the city, separated, as the name suggests, across the river from the main city sights, it is easy to forget this bustling little cobbled gem. And yet Trastevere, with its streets still strewn with laundry, unplanned crooked little houses and uneven roads is one of the most characterful areas of Rome, and certainly one which, more than any other, hangs on to its authentic, working class past, despite the very obvious charm it now holds for tourists.
Imbued with the kind of gloriously soft glowing light which summer evenings were made for, the Trastevere makes for the perfect location for an early evening perambulation before dinner. However, the result is often coach loads of tourists pumping themselves across the ancient bridges of the Tiber and filling the dear little narrow streets of the Trastevere to near bursting point. Trying to find a free table in these conditions is not fun, and certainly deprives one of the relaxed, authentic charm of the area.
In my view, the better alternative is to do the Trastevere at lunchtime, when the narrow streets are filled with the warm glow of a higher midday sun, and some of that sleepiness which characterises the neighbourhood is retained away from the tourist hoards. This is particularly so in the cooler months of the year, when eating al fresco is a real daytime possibility, and the truly uncomfortable heat is yet to hit.
This is exactly what we did one Sunday this January, when the Trastevere seemed to come alive under the midday sun, despite a relatively quiet time of year in the Roman tourist calendar. Even then, the restaurants peppered along cobbled streets and lanes hung with verdant leafy climbing plants were filling fast, and it was almost on the point of giving up and heading pack over the Ponte Sisto that we stumbled upon the restaurant of the same name – the Osteria Pontesisto on the Via di Ponte.
As though in wait especially for us, we took the last sunny table set outside the restaurant’s burnt orange facade. There, soothed by exquisite rays of winter sunshine, a lunch of freshly chilled chardonnay commenced, and continued with an appetizer of Roman fried artichokes and deliciously fresh wild board sausage. Then came the mains, and with it some of the best pasta I have had the pleasure to enjoy – a taglioni of king prawns and courgette flowers which filled my mouth with sensual delight at every mouthful. The soft but certain bite of the al dente pasta; the sweet succulence of the prawns; the perfumed intensity of the fish stock. Dear god it was good. So much so, I was almost too drunk on deliciousness (and wine) to fully appreciate yet another superb dish which was to follow – a homemade puff pastry millefeuille stuffed with fluffy clouds of cream and drizzled with just melted rich dark chocolate. Just. Too. Good.
The Trastevere is popular for a reason, and sometimes a bit of patience is required before the perfect table reveals itself. But trust me, if that perfect Trastevere lunch is meant to be, that cute little red and white chequered road-side table will be waiting for you. But to be sure, make a reservation at the Osteria Pontesisto. As my lunch told me, you can’t go wrong with that one.
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