As the only Englishman in Rome who is reviewing all the Gricia, it’s difficult to stay anonymous in restaurants. A few months ago, my identity was compromised. I was in a restaurant named Beliveat, which seems like a garbled pun on ‘Believe it’, ‘Be, live, eat!’ or ‘Believe! Eat!’. I like to think it’s the last one, as that’s basically Italian Catholicism.
‘Believe! Eat!’ is in Pigneto, an increasingly hipster area of east Rome. (Of course it’s in the East – where did you think they’d put the hipster bit, the West?!) My only previous experience of Pigneto was playing five-a-side football there in a match I found through an app. After my impressively “un-English” performance I was asked to join a local 8-a-side squad. They found a team sponsor. I bought the kit. Then they lost every game 5-0 and shared porn clips on the team whatsapp group. It took me four appearances to have the courage to quit.
Safer to stick to Gricia. Miraculously, ‘Believe! Eat!’ offered Gricia with short, fresh pasta. It wasn’t fresh pasta that uses egg, however, but fresh durum wheat pasta. But it was still delicious, a solid 4 Colosseums. The only problem was the meat. I could have sworn on the Pope’s special pasta fork that is blessed by several bishops – *conjecture* – that it was pancetta, not guanciale. My girlfriend and our English-Italian friend agreed that something was not quite right.
Then, when our friend returned from having a smoke outside, she said she’d got talking to another smoker. He’d asked her how the meal was. ‘Good,’ she’d replied.
‘You ate well?’
‘Yes, yes, we ate well’.
‘Only one thing,’ my friend added, ‘in the Gricia, it might be pancetta’.
‘No,’ replied the man, suddenly stern. ‘It’s guanciale, Roman guanciale.’
He seemed really sure. At that point she realised who she was talking to. He held a rolled-up apron in his hand and a small, official-looking key fob dangled from his trousers. It was the chef on a ciggie break.
‘It was really good,’ she reassured. ‘It’s just my friend is really particular about Gricia. He reviews them all.’
‘He’s a reviewer?’ fear flashing in his eyes.
‘Sort of,’ she said.
‘Who does he review for?!’ asked the chef. ‘Who?!’
She refused to tell them, which fuelled the atmosphere of intrigue. The chef told the waiters, the waiters told the other customers, and everyone was desperate to cater to my every need. They asked incessantly if the meal was okay. They proudly told me that they make Gricia with proper guanciale, and use fresh pasta to be a bit different. I smiled and nodded wisely, pretending to take notes on my phone. Finally, they begged and begged me to say who I reviewed for.‘Please, tell us who you review for. Where can we see the review?’
‘You mean you don’t recognise me?’ I said. ‘I’m the chief food critic for roryokeeffecomedy.com’. Their faces went blank with respect. They were so moved by their esteem for my work that they were lost for words; some might even say they were confused. ‘You shall receive four Colosseums,’ I declared. ‘Be honoured.’ They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders with honour. ‘Tell the other restaurants I’m coming for them.’ I pointedly picked up their card and stepped back out onto graffitied streets of east Rome.
Restaurant: ★★★★ | Pasta: ★★★★ | Pepper: ★★★| Cheese: ★★★★ | Guanciale (‘pork cheek’): ★★★| OVERALL: 4/5 Colosseums