Tivoli, a stunning hilltop town around 25 km from Rome, is a great destination year round. But while a trip in high season might see you dedicate more time to visiting its outdoor delights of Villa D’Este and Villa Adriano, low season is the perfect opportunity to focus on a leisurely lunch in a cosy spot in the centre of town.
New Tivoli restaurant La Fornarina, which opened around six months ago in a former bakery, offers a broad menu for every tastes. Its four dining rooms are pretty as a picture as well: designed by Testaccio interiors experts, Off Living Room, La Fornarina combines shabby chic upholstery with mood lighting for the perfect ambiance.
Positioned right in the centre of town, La Fornarina is a short walk from Tivoli’s central car park, and has the kind of timeless vibe which makes you think it’s been there forever.
While classic Roman cuisine and gourmet pizzas are amongst the stars on the menu, chef Simone Mancini also has serious gourmet credentials. On my visit to La Fornarina, he provided a tasting menu to guide us through some of his most outstanding dishes.
Creativity and the art of surprise reign in these kitchens, and so it was that we started lunch with an apparent tiramisu, which actually contained baccalà and mashed potato with a sprinkling of bitter cocoa.
Next, we moved onto another ‘fake’ dessert, a savoury ‘Ferrero Rocher’ made from Roman poor dish picchiapo (refried boiled beef) combined with hazelnuts. Absolutely delicious.
Mancini’s creative surprises continued with this stunning sponge combining roast octopus and black cherry. This risky combination proved a surprise hit.
The chef also served an exceptional dish of smoked scallops with pig cheek, chips and sauce made from Jerusalem artichoke, as well as a mango mayonnaise. This was one of my favourite dishes of the day!
This was followed by a superb dish of tuna tartare, ginger, poppy seeds and red onion sauce.
Mancini also created an exceptional tripe dish, combining tender strips of tripe with raw red prawns, lemon juice and tomato water.
The exploration of Roman offal dishes continued with a dish of fried sweetbreads, plated with a remarkable sesame seed and broccoli wafer.
We continued with an exceptional meat dish, featuring tender rabbit wrapped in kale, served with Roman vegetable puntarelle.
La Fornarina also excels in gourmet pizzas, so we couldn’t resist ordering a wonderful couple of pizzas topped with mortadella and mozzarella, as well as slivers of sweet pear with prosciutto.
Mancini is also a master of first courses, so I was delighted to sample this delicate risotto combining lemon and vanilla.
Fish delights continued with this spaghetti dish combining creamed oysters, mussels and white truffle. Sublime.
We had just about left room for dessert, and this extraordinary poached pear – steeped in mulled wine – tasted as good as it looked.
We closed the meal with some hand-made macarons tossed with banana pieces and chocolate sauce. I found the banana a bit strong but the combination was the ultimate in comfort food.
La Fornarina was a really pleasant surprise in Tivoli, with Mancini’s menu moving effortlessly between Roman classics and great pizzas, and a stunning gourmet offer.
The prices are pretty wow too – expect to pay €20 per head for the pizza tasting menu, antipasti dishes cost anything from a couple of euros to €15 tops, while first and second course dishes range from €10-€20 – suiting every budget.
La Fornarina | Piazza Palatina 8 | Tivoli | Italy | Tel 0039 (0)774 312786
Testaccina was a guest of La Fornarina