Perpetual is an audacious and modern new restaurant in the sleepy quarter just east of the Colosseum. Its opening six months ago was the culmination of a six-year effort by Cezar Predescu. The investment of time and money is palpable. There’s a slightly nervous energy – is this going to work? – that pulses through the mostly empty restaurant. One wants to root for them, and indeed there is much to praise at Perpetual. But it’s a more complicated picture…
Entering Perpetual is instead like stepping into a restaurant on the World’s 50 Best list. With its combination of evocative lighting, minimalist design and massive kitchen, Perpetual has more in common with Mugaritz or Noma than anything in its host city. Until you get to the food.
In a sense, dining at Perpetual is like watching a performance by some very young chefs who have temporarily taken over the fancy restaurant where they completed their internship. There is a disconnect between the quality of the food, the setting, and the manner in which we are invited to marvel.
That food is mostly delicious and enjoyable. But the way in which it’s presented can be overly precious. For example, a dish of ‘cacio e pepe’ that replaced noodles with al dente white asparagus was tasty but not brilliant. However, it was presented like an absolute treasure, with one server delivering the vegetable, another spooning the sauce, and third following behind with tweezers to add a single flower as garnish. The dish was fine, but it wasn’t developed or delicious enough to warrant this level of display.
The most successful dishes were the least gimmicky. The tortello of shrimp, with an intense and vibrant sauce made from the heads, was profoundly delicious. So was their play on saltimbocca, with crispy fried sage leaves garnishing a perfectly cooked veal sweetbread with prosciutto gel. The baccalà was luscious. Some dishes relied too heavily on (recreated) form over function, like the aforementioned “cacio e pepe” and a “meatball” that evoked no meat. One dish was bad, and a few others were neutral. I consider this a perfectly acceptable success rate for experimental cuisine when it’s served in an environment like Epiro or Osteria Fernanda.
These more modest restaurants may be Perpetual’s peers when it comes to execution. However, it’s hard to keep these more reasonable comparisons in mind when Perpetual has so many of the superficial trappings of a World’s Best restaurant. Expectations skyrocket when we are asked upon arrival to tour the gleaming kitchen, when the wall behind our table is pulled back to reveal a hidden pastry kitchen with waving chefs, and when we receive a copy of the evening’s menu that’s been sealed with embossed wax.
There’s nothing inherently offensive about such flourishes, as long as the food is equally compelling. When it’s not, these add-ons seem artificial. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to a sub-par bread course were it not rolled across the room in a expensive ceramic barbecue and presented with a lengthy speech about loaves and humanity. How awkward to witness this and then be asked to appreciate a rock hard crust with a near-frozen interior, all while considering that “this is what bread used to taste like.”
There’s a lot of earnest young talent at Perpetual and the promise that, with continued hard work, their cuisine will eventually match the setting in which it served.
An eleven course tasting menu at Perpetual is 85€ with wine pairings for an additional 45€ or 70€. There’s a lunch special with three courses for 30€. Ordering alla carta, antipasti and primi dishes are around 20€ and secondi are 32€.
Address: Piazza Iside, 5
Hours: Open Monday-Friday for lunch from 12:30-15:30 and dinner from 19:30-midnight. Open Saturday for dinner only from 19:30-midnight. Closed Sunday.
Telephone: +39 06 6936 7085
Website Online Booking Facebook Instagram
Perpetual in pictures
Photos by Meg Zimbeck © Rome by Mouth
What people are saying
- Luciano Pignatero (2018) says that at lunch the dishes are centered around the traditional Roman cuisine and not too complex.
- Scatti di Gusto (2018) rave about a dish of potato gnocchi cooked under ashes with white truffle but hated their “insipid” version of Carbonara that put the sauce on top of cooked chard instead of pasta. They conclude that Perpetual has great promise but that some things still need developing.
- La Republicca (2018) offers a pre-opening report about the project but no review.
- Gambero Rosso (2017) offers a pre-opening piece about the project but no review.