A PUNTER’S VIEW OF THE Il Pagliaccio – Rome’s only two Michelin-starred restaurant – BY DAVE MACKAY
A famous Roman (Russell Crowe in Gladiator!) once said, ‘Are you not entertained?’ Well, if he was asking diners at Il Pagliaccio then the answer would have been a resounding, ‘Yes’.
After the inevitable Covid cancellations, we finally made it to Rome for Mrs Punter’s 40th (ahem) birthday and found Il Pagliaccio (“The Clown”) through the obligatory visit to the Michelin website.
Chef Patron Antony Genovese was born in France and honed his trade globally before settling here in 2003 – and then achieving two Michelin stars. The staff are of equal quality with their front of house manager, Matteo, having been awarded Michelin’s “Best Service” award in 2021.
The restaurant is unassuming from the outside, nestled in what would be described as a “hip” area of Rome, seemingly populated by all the residents of Instagram and Ferrari adverts. Looking out of place as we did (but still complying with the dress code) we were warmly welcomed not only by Matteo but by the chef himself.
I say ‘chef’, but really his title should be ‘The Ringmaster’ as he is a culinary showman creating “oohs” and “aahs” to match any trapeze artist or knife throwing act.
Never ones to deny ourselves the full works, I went for the 10 course ‘Circus’ menu and chef was able to curate a vegetarian version for Mrs Punter. We also went for the drinks pairing and Luca, the sommelier, skilfully dealt with Mrs Punter’s statutory, “I don’t like reds” request. As ever, I don’t intend to bore you with the full menu but here are a few of the highlights.
A light and airy polenta bowl kicked things off and a couple of courses later the first of the exceptional pasta courses (served with a spork, yes a spork). The first ‘wow’ moment came via ‘A Walk In a Spring Garden’, a course containing six different single bite morsels which took up almost the whole table. That nearly led to marital strife with us ‘discussing’ which was the best. Turns out I was right and she was wrong, the taco was the best.
As you would expect from a two-star chef in Rome, the main pasta course was a triumph and my beef with shimeji mushrooms and bone marrow was worthy of words which simply don’t exist in any human language. The blue cheese pudding was similarly difficult to describe but we had to plump for Stanley Tucci’s go to phrase from his trips around Italy and just said “Oh my God” over and over again.
The drinks paring was excellent too and it has taken 40 (ahem) years and several restaurant trips but Mrs Punter has finally drunk, and enjoyed beer – a dark chocolate stout which was paired with the pasta main. Curve balls like that never cease to delight.
A couple of nice touches at the end too. A small glazed cake with a candle and music box playing ‘happy birthday’ showed the personal touch and each diner came away with a gift bag containing olive oil and almond cakes.
Rome has the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and other amazing sights but this culinary experience provided memories at least equal to any of them.
Il Pagliaccio may mean “The Clown” but this was serious cooking.