What do an archaeological dig under Testaccio market, finely aged Glenfiddich whisky and Retrobottega, one of Rome’s most avant-garde restaurants, have in common?
It turns out they are all custodians of legendary secrets which inspire a quest for the authentic, as we discovered at the recent Maverick dinner in the heart of Rome.
Organised by premier Scotch whisky makers Glenfiddich, the Maverick dinner brought together journalists, bloggers and influencers on a six hour exploratory journey through ancient artefacts and exceptional ingredients.
Kicking off in Testaccio market, the invited guests (including yours truly) were taken on a trip into ancient Rome, visiting the subterranean site of mercantile history, distinguished by preserved amphorae and an exciting, ongoing dig.
Testaccio was the beating, commercial heart of Rome’s ancient river port, and starting here gave us some perspective on the night ahead: a hunt for authentic excellence.
After our tour of Testaccio, we headed into the historical centre of Rome and to Rettrobottega, one of the city’s most exciting, contemporary restaurants.
We started at Retrobottega with a whisky and soda aperitif, made with a 12-year-aged single malt and topped off with a refreshing slice of apple. The perfect way to prepare for the dinner ahead.
The tempting menu told us everything we needed to know about a dinner which Glenfiddich had challenged the Retrobottega chefs to compile using whisky both as an ingredient, and as a complement.
We dove straight into the gourmet dinner with this beetroot tartare, with parmesan fondue, and roast seed chips.
The antipasto courses were accompanied by this sumptuous natural wine which gave a characterful slant to the the light, vegetable-focused dishes.
Retrobottega is distinguished by an open kitchen, and part of the entertainment was watching the team of chefs plate up before our very eyes.
Next we continued with a Roman favourite of braised artichoke. However, this proved a complex, new take on a local classic, stuffed with steamed chestnuts and sprinkled with mint and pecorino cheese. Absolutely delicious.
It was time to switch up the wine pairing, and this time we tried a crisp pinot grigio from Foradori.
Next stop on the menu was a lightly fried sweetbread or animelle, another ingredient which recalled Roman traditions, but which was transformed into something new in the expert kitchens of Retrobottega. Blended with a Glenfiddich 18-year-aged single malt, and served with crisp puntarelle greens, this became an instant classic.
This was followed by a couple of vegetable and herb crepinette in a 21-year-old Glenfiddich mist. Amazing flavours, and what stunning presentation.
It was time for red wine, and this artful Valpolicella from Musella proved a fruity accompaniment through the pasta course.
These pasta ‘buttons’ were filled with tongue, and served with parsley butter and green peppercorn foam. Absolutely sensational.
Next up – another sensational French red wine to continue the journey.
This divine risotto dish surprised with the flavourful combination of hopped wort, speck and powdered malt. It was a dip into the tastes of the past, in a modern and accessible new form. The risotto was also blended with a Glenfiddich 21-year-old single malt.
The main course was a triumph of flavours, and presentation. This pigeon breast, marinated for four days in tamarind, was served with a striking slice of Jerusalem artichoke and doused in 15-year-aged Glenfiddich. Truly remarkable.
We then closed the dinner with dessert, an exquisite goat’s cheese, walnut and date tartlet blended with 15-year-old Glenfiddich. But we couldn’t quite finish the night without a whisky tasting – courtesy of our generous hosts, Glenfiddich.
A selection of single malts were paired with chocolate from master chocolatier, Moriondo & Gariglio. From left, we tried single malts aged 12, 15, 18 and 21 years. These worked well with different degrees of pure dark chocolate, rising to 100% pure cocoa solids.
All in all, the evening proved a true voyage of discovery, encompassing the unexpected, the bold, and above all, the authentic. Maverick restaurant Retrobottega rose to the challenge to create a menu inspired by Roman history, artfully blended with Glenfiddich single malts. From the market moments through the whisky tasting, to the ingenuity of Retrobottega, I felt I had come a little closer in my quest to uncover precious, little-known but authentic experiences in the city of Rome.
Testaccina was a guest of Glenfiddich and Retrobottega