Someone once said that love is a game of chance. I wouldn’t know about that, but I do know that romance is a game of skill. And just as DeepBlue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, perfect romance can be precisely engineered.
How do I know this? I’ve seen it. The Michelin-starred Aroma in Rome is perhaps the most precisely engineered romantic restaurant in the world.
I was there in September last year. It was lunchtime on a Monday. Autumn was not quite in the air, and the freshness brought by a Mediterranean storm the night before was gradually being eroded by a creeping heat throughout the city. The midday sun was searing, bouncing off the passing fiats and Vespas as they circled the Coliseum.
Aroma is located on the top floor of the five-star boutique hotel Palazzo Manfredi. A gold-plated lift takes you to the top floor of the hotel, where you then take a few steps up to the restaurant, which is held within a glass conservatory. The colour scheme is silver, glass and white. All of this may sound tastelessly expensive, but it feels entirely relaxed, and fitting.
But how does the restaurant engineer romance?
The setting. We dine on the balcony, which has a perfect view of the Coliseum. Some might argue there are more romantic settings in Rome than this erstwhile home of barbarism, the Trevi Fountain, or the Spanish Steps for example. But I’d disagree. True, passionate romance is necessarily a gladiatorial duel – Eros and Thanatos and all that. And so the scene is set for a violent collision of passions against this wonder of European civilization.
As anyone who has lusted for another will know, when caught in the fiery depths of infatuation, nothing exists apart from one’s paramour. The maître d’, one’s fellow diners, the Sommelier are all just ghosts in an Orphean House of Hades.
But in real life of course violent collisions of passion are few and far between. Instead we inevitable get caught up in love’s humdrum spin cycle, where our fellow diners are far more fascinating than the person on the other side of the table.
There is very little a restaurant can these days do to provide amenable guests. On this Monday lunchtime in Aroma, there is a small collection of international diners. A young couple from London in their early 20s, presumably dining out on Daddy’s money. A Russian family bombastically drinking fine wine, toasting their success. And a fivesome of fifty-something ladies from the American Mid-West, elegantly dressed, but slightly overweight. One of their group didn’t eat pasta – bizarrely.
This gaggle of fellow diners may sound awful – and in truth they were. Yet unlike most restaurants, one is not vulnerable to the horrors of human proximity (except of course for one’s paramour). The reason? Good service.
Compared with New Yorkers, who always seem too business-like, Londoners, who never know how formal to be, or Parisians, who are frankly rude – the Roman waiter is a paradigm of suave attentiveness. This comes from an innate, Italian sensuality, which tempers the formality of fine dining. One feels that Fellini’s Marcello Rubini would be at home here.
Finally, the menu. Chef Giuseppe di Iorio’s seven courses marvellously guide you through modern Roman cuisine. Highlights were the stewed Octopus, with a parsley sponge and potato foam that created peculiar but rather enjoyable textures. One pasta dish – a green “lasagnette” with quail and chanterelle mushrooms was particularly good, with the smoked Provola cheese adding a dark undercurrent to the sensitive layers of flavour. The sommelier’s excellent pairings helped us along to a very enjoyable afternoon.
Setting, service and gastronomy. The key factors for the perfectly engineered Romantic Restaurant. As you might have deduced, they’re rather similar to any good restaurant. But what makes Aroma special, is how they all fuse into one, lifting the air like freshly picked orange blossom on a late May morning.
Ristorante Aroma, Via Labicana, 125 – 00184 Roma. Tel. +39 06 97615109. For more information, including a little on its history, ambience and the team behind Aroma, visit www.aromarestaurant.it.