Doku in Pigneto is a self-styled Japanese bar specialising in prestigious sake varieties and Japanese whisky, while the food offering has a focus on Japanese heritage cuisine, setting it apart from many of the more commercial Japanese restaurants in Rome.
Don’t expect sushi and sashimi, or even ramen here: the menu, created by knowledgeable Japanophile Simone Puteo, revolves around carefully sourced meat and fish cooked sous vide, or occasionally served as tartare. Pickled and marinated vegetables and traditional Japanese sweets and desserts complete the offering, in a low key but atmospheric space in hip Pigneto.
Rome’s Pigneto district, east of Termini along the great Prenestina boulevard, laced with railway tracks and tram lines, has become the last bastion of Bohemia in the Eternal City.
The rents are still low enough for young creatives to set up shop, and Doku Japanese Bar is the latest in a series of cute bar and restaurant venues which ensure that Pigneto should definitely go on your Rome bucket list.
It’s an ambling neighbourhood during the day with a few street stalls but a mainly sleepy air, while things come alive at night along the principal pedestrian thoroughfare.
Doku is located on the other side of Via Prenestina from the pedestrian zone, but it’s just a 10 minute walk from Pigneto metro. The outside is suitably anonymous – Simone told me he’s working on his signage – but nevertheless casts a glow onto the pavement, even from afar.
However, as the menu revolves around small plates – there are no real ‘main’ courses – this is also good as an informal evening for smaller appetites.
We started with a lovely combination of nibbles from the antipasti menu: moyashi sarada, bean sprout salad with Japanese dressing (€3), and an off-menu tasting of marinated Chinese cabbage, topped with a Chinese plum. The fresh and tart flavours were winningly paired with a gin, ginger and tonic aperitif – an absolutely perfectly executed drink.
Other starters include a range of marinated seaweeds and stewed vegetables, as well as the classic edamame beans in pods, all priced reasonably between €3-€5.
If you’re a dumpling fan, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a good choice here; other opening gambits include rice with marinated fish, again all priced between €3-€4.
We tried a handsome onigiri next, which are on the menu stuffed with prawns, salmon, and vegetables. This is a great way to get your carb fix and is priced at €3.
Next, we tried this super (off-menu) dish of veal tartare, sourced personally from a renowned, Italian breeder, combined with edamame beans and marinated ginger, and served with a very good sake.
Fortunately Simone was on hand to recommend a sake from the ample menu as I confess that I wouldn’t have known where to begin.
Before we changed flavours yet again, Simone brought us this excellent palate cleanser – marinated daikon radish, with pickled lemongrass and ginger. The tart and zingy flavours were perfect for resetting the taste-buds, and were paired brilliantly with a Japanese spritz, where the Aperol / Campari element was replaced with a dry plum wine.
We were now ready to try some of Simone’s delicate yet flavourful fish dishes, starting with this wonderful steak of Norwegian salmon, dressed with a savoury teriyaki sauce. The fish was incredibly tender – it fell apart under my chopsticks.
We then tried a delicate slice of marinated yellowtail cooked sous vide and served with pickled ginger. There were some lovely deep notes from the marinade but this was another refined dish.
Simone also wanted us to try one of his meat dishes of the day – this wonderfully tender Black Angus cooked sous vide. Expect to pay €6-€9 for the second course options here.
We weren’t going to leave without trying all four specialities on the wonderfully original dessert menu. Clockwise, from top left, we tried Japanese pancakes filled with adzuki-bean jam; sticky rice ball filled with green tea ice-cream; sticky rice ball filled with black sesame ice-cream; and sticky rice ball filled with adzuki-bean jam.
Desserts cost between €3-€4 so you can definitely leave space to try two or three.
This was paired with a sweet plum wine which proved a sensational way to round out the dinner. The choice of drinks and their masterful pairing with the food was one of my favourite aspects of the meal. Don’t hesitate to ask Simone what you should be drinking at every stage – it’s definitely part of the fun and reason alone to come here.
Overall, this was a delightful experience and represents something totally new for the Eternal City. The prices are excellent, although do remember that you should plan to order three, four or even five dishes to create a filling meal.
Doku – Japanese bar | Via Ettore Fieramosca, 30 | 00176 Roma | Tel +39 391 461 7286
Testaccina was a guest of Doku Japanese Bar