Rome’s Trastevere district never goes out of style, but if you’re looking for the best restaurants in Trastevere, it hasn’t always been easy to escape touristy mediocrity.
Enter Jacopa, a restaurant on the peaceful side of Trastevere with bags of character serving gourmet food that has an extremely healthy relationship with the origins of Roman cuisine.
In many restaurants in Rome, and indeed, in Trastevere, the diner has had to choose between rustic Roman fare in a red-checked-tablecloth trattoria, or internationally-inspired / insipid options which please none by trying to please all.
Jacopa, hosted by Hotel San Francesco, on the edge of one of Trastevere’s lesser known but picturesque squares, is all about the ‘eating everything’ culture which unites traditional Roman poor-food (no part of the beast is wasted at the table) and and an energetic, modern way of looking at food in a sustainable but subtle way.
You should start your evening at Jacopa’s ground-floor bar, or on it’s recently refurbished roof terrace, a bijoux space with a lovely atmosphere overlooking the Aventino and the sleepier side of Trastevere. A minimalist menu of largely cold dishes is being served here.
The cocktails menu is fun, combining tradition with experimentation (there’s a theme emerging). I tried the sensational Milano Torino Irlanda, a fun twist on an Italian classic, combining sweet vermouth, campari, orange bitters, rabarbaro zucca, rhubarb puree and Guinness foam. It really hit the spot between bitter and fresh (my favourite kind of cocktail).
The beautiful ambience of the dining room is another clue that this is not a ‘hotel restaurant’, but rather a gourmet dining experience hosted by a hotel. The lighting, upholstery and tableware combine quality and comfort to put you in the mood for the stunning menu.
Jacopa is the brainchild of Roman entreprenuer Daniele Frontoni, while the menu’s beating heart is chef Jacopo Ricci. Ricci honed his skills in the kitchens of Anthony Genovese at iconic restaurant Il Pagliaccio, and also contributed to the success of Prati’s Secondo Tradizione.
Ricci is an unashamed fan of Rome’s rich offal traditions, but this is no spit and sawdust trattoria fare: the amuse bouche tris is a wonderful leap into this young chef’s imagination. From clockwise, herb-baked snails, beetroot-infused savoury baba with fish eggs, and chickpea wafers with chickpea puree and lemon represent a whistle-stop jaunt round Italy, with a running jump into the Mediterranean to boot.
Even the homemade bread hits the right rustic note, whilst being a precise thing of beauty, with its alien fractals and wholesome bumps and cracks.
For antipasto, this seared scallop lacquered with veal jus, paired with a veal-filled raviolo, proved a beautifully balanced combination of texture and flavour.
Ricci’s cuisine is big on natural theatricality. These beautiful fettuccine, topped with ribbons of cuttlefish and seaweed, was another playful combination of Italian tradition with the freshness of seafood. Exquisite – one of my favourite dishes of the night.
These tortelli served with pig cheek and filled with pork were another crowd pleaser with this vivid red pepper sauce.
Our Jacopa main course also hit the high notes: a dish of tender roast lamb with chicory, served with a bowl of grain sauteed with offal and roast beef. Again, the triumphs were texture, flavour and the sensation that Ricci was dipping into Roman traditions while still trying something new.
The palate cleanser before the dessert was this perfect slice of blue cheese, carefully sourced, like all of Ricci’s ingredients.
My table tried three Jacopa desserts, including this winsome pannacotta served with barley and liquorice sponge.
One of the most stunning sweets was this sheep’s milk dessert served with beetroot and rhubarb.
But my clear favourite was this white chocolate dessert, served with raspberries and meringue, in a new take on a classic combination.
We rounded off an excellent dinner with handmade chocolates, a sweet exit following a sensational experience.
If you’ve been inspired by my description of dinner, you may also like to know that Jacopa also serves a hearty breakfast menu for all tastes and appetites. It’s another way to enjoy this beautiful space and explore this beacon of a much-needed food movement in Trastevere.
Jacopa | Via Jacopa de’ Settesoli, 7| Rome | Italy |Tel 0039 065809075
Testaccina was a guest of Jacopa