A Roman family that loves you

La Taverna dei Quaranta l www.tavernadeiquaranta.com/en/ l Via Claudia, 24, 00184 Roma RM, Italy l +39 06 700 0550 l Visited May 2016

Some of my fondest memories from my younger years are remembering my mum cooking. Big family meals for Christmas and other such events. From Turkeys to Pavlovas; and Lasagnas to stroganoffs. The thing that strikes me most was not the delicious home cooking, as much as the frenetic energy and love with which it was made. My mum would dash side to side in the kitchen, pots balanced on every surface, not unlike a circus act. And then, when we were all at the table, a moment of wondrous calm as she presented the perfect family feast. In the next room, the precarious Jenga of pots and pans carefully hidden behind the door.

And as I walked into La Taverna dei Quaranta, in the shadow of the Coliseum, it’s that sense of urgency to please and serve that hit me again. The owner is twirling through the restaurant distributing menus and chairs in equal measure. He informs us that he had our table ready but currently had no chairs. As rich smells of melted cheese and dough drifted through the room, he continued his ballet of furniture rearranging. Waiters sidestepped him with various plates and carafes of wine. It’s impossible not to smile. The word rustic is thrown around a lot, but this was so much more than that. It felt like you’ve just stepped into someone’s rather large family home.

We were urged to our table and presented with a menu that looked like a who’s who of traditional Italian food. There’s Frito Misto, lasagnas, traditional pastas in Roman sauces, Tiramisu and of course, pizzas. It’s not in La Taverna Dei Quaranta’s innovation that the beauty lays, but rather in their execution.

We started with a selection of Parma ham and mozzarella. Adding Zucchini flowers and a cautiously ordered Bruschetta. I’ve long been wary of selecting what often amounts to little more than a rushed token to the humble tomato. However, these are a success of crusty bread, with fresh, sweet tomatoes bound with just the right amount of oil and salt. If this is what I have been missing, consider me converted. The rest of our starters were mostly a triumph. Even if the batter on the stuffed zucchini flowers was slightly denser than desired. Soft, salty goats cheese centre more than making up for it.

“It’s impossible not to smile, the word rustic is thrown around a lot, but this was so much more than that. It felt like you’ve just stepped into someone’s rather large family home.”

But it is in the pasta that the spectacle really becomes apparent. My al dente rigatoni, unctuously coated in a rich Vaccinara sauce. The traditional oxtail element replaced by a generous chunk of beef short rib, which offered only cursory resistance to my fork. The plate peppered with a snowstorm of salty Parmesan cheese. The Pappardelle with Shepherdess was similarly welcoming with further attention paid to deriving the maximum value out of the day’s tomato delivery. It’s dishes like this that make Italian cooking a culinary institution around the world. The pomp and circumstance are all in the simplicity and perfect crafting of a few core ingredients. La Taverna dei Quaranta’s real talent is found in its crafting.

Both of our appetites suitably satiated there was no need for secondi. Glancing around the room, everything from the pizzas to the meat dishes looked equally appetising and plentiful for those looking for a longer sojourn. Instead, we chose to coddle one final carafe of the light house white wine to finish off a tremendous meal. At €9 per litre it was incredibly reasonable. Leaving the total bill to come to around €45, which places it easily in the ‘affordable’ category for two hungry people. You can double the immensely good value for the amount of pleasure derived from every aspect.

A word of warning, at the weekends La Taverna dei Quaranta can get very busy due to its prime location. If you want to guarantee a seat, a booking is definitely recommended, particularly on the outside terrace. Indeed when we arrived a little after 2pm, a few items had already sold out. A testament to their popularity, but there’s plenty here to ensure you’re left concentrating on what you did have, not what you couldn’t. Pleasingly, once sat, that frenetic energy that greets you is channelled into attentive and friendly service throughout.

La Taverna dei Quaranta was not just a great way to end a first trip to the Italian capital, but rather a sure fire way to leave you grinning ear to ear for the rest of the day.Just moments away from the spectacle of the Colosseum, but still feel like you’re sat in the midst of a family kitchen. With food this good, I’m pretty sure the owner still doesn’t have enough chairs.