Back in 2014, I interviewed Cristina Bowerman and featured her restaurant Romeo in an article for the Wall Street Journal about modern chefs setting a new culinary course for Rome. This celebrity chef gained acclaim for her Trastevere restaurant Glass and then opened Romeo in Prati as an effort to bring creative cooking to a wider audience. She eventually shuttered that location (it’s now Osteria Birra del Borgo) and reopened Romeo in Testaccio in 2017.
I find this new incarnation of Romeo to be a selfie-taking, over-the-top and embarrassingly cheesy restaurant. Their slick branding is on every wall and surface, giving it the feel of a chain restaurant. Both the cocktails and ceilings have preposterous garnishes. The phrase “Trump’s merkin” rushed to mind when I received their signature Romeo cocktail that’s topped with an inedible cap of spun Campari. It isn’t cool, and yet it’s trying so very hard.
This corporate circus vibe bums me out because the food at Romeo can be quite delicious – in particular, the grilled octopus with cauliflower and chorizo, and the gnocchi with baccalà and ‘nduja. Bowerman has good ideas, and she understands seasoning, acidity and balance better than many of her contemporaries. Her cooking was perhaps more refined at Romeo’s previous location in Prati. Or perhaps I just disliked the setting less. Here in Testaccio, situated in a former Porsche dealership and under new ownership by one of the world’s largest beer conglomerates, Romeo unfortunately feels more like the French franchise Hippopotomus than a place for culinary discovery.
Romeo in pictures
Photos by Meg Zimbeck © Rome by Mouth
What people are saying
The following reviews refer to Romeo’s current location in Testaccio
- “I Cento” by EDT ranks this as their #23 restaurant in Rome for 2018. They discuss what a hard worker Cristina Bowerman is and the transformation of this “contemporary, versatile and labyrinthine” space by architect Andrea Lupacchini.
- “Roma nel Piatto” by La Pecora Nera gave them a score of 7- out of 10 points (“good”) in 2018.
- Scatti di Gusto (2016) discusses the sale of Romeo to global beverage conglomerate AB inBev.
Another recommendation in this modern style