by Sarah Wagner, The Telegraph, April 26, 2017
If you’ve been diagnosed as coeliac or intolerant, you could be forgiven for thinking that a holiday to Italy holds a lot less allure when you’re gluten-free. But beyond the well-known repasts of pizza, pasta and focaccia, an impressive gluten-free scene has been emerging in il bel paese, not least in its vibrant capital.
A self-confessed former bread addict and eternal Rome enthusiast, I’ve been gluten-free for more than two years, an unwelcome development that left me fearing that a visit to the city would never be quite the same again. But, thanks in part to the increasing occurrence of coeliac disease in the general Italian population as well as the popularity of Italian-born food movements such as Slow Food, the traditional reliance on gluten-based ingredients has given way to a new school of thought. As a result, on recent trips to Rome I’ve hunted down some wonderful restaurants, cafes and bars that offer a gluten-free slice of la dolce vita, all located in close proximity to some of the city’s finest cultural highlights.
Situated within the penthouse of Palazzo Manfredi, a 17th-century villa turned boutique five-star hotel directly opposite the Colosseum, Aroma is one such location. Accessed via a tiny old-fashioned lift that glides up, past hushed corridors dotted with gilded mirrors and plush velvet armchairs to the penthouse above, the elegant Michelin-starred restaurant features a specially designed gluten-free menu alongside its standard tasting and a la carte menus. With dishes including warm veal carpaccio with romaine lettuce, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, and corn rigatoni carbonara pasta perfumed with fine black truffle, the restaurant provides a luxurious gluten-free take on traditional Italian recipes, as well as jaw-dropping views of the ancient Roman amphitheatre.
A 10-minute taxi ride, or a scenic 25-minute amble away, past the crumbling ruins of Trajan’s Forum towards the vibrant fruit and vegetable market at Campo dei Fiori, lies Voglia di Pizza. An unassuming restaurant from the outside, it is renowned for cooking up some of the tastiest gluten-free pizza in Rome. Featuring an extensive menu of classic and more unusual pizza toppings, such as salmon and rocket, the restaurant also has a wide variety of gluten-free antipasto, pasta and meat dishes, as well as coeliac-friendly tiramisu and Italian desserts - perfect for those hungry for an archetypal taste of Italy.
Italian food is not just about the well-known mainstays, however, and for those seeking a more unusual taste of the city, there’s Zuma. Perched on the top two floors of the exclusive Palazzo Fendi, a stone’s throw from Piazza di Spagna, the award-winning Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant and bar features a delicious range of standard and gluten-free dishes, as well as a variety of signature cocktails. Combining elegant Japanese decor with the glamour of the golden age of Italian cinema - Anita Ekberg would not look out of place - the restaurant has a panoramic terrace overlooking the buzzing terracotta streets of central Rome and offers a delicious insight into the city’s developing international food scene, as well as its historic heart.
At just shy of 198 acres, the Villa Borghese gardens are Rome’s third largest park. Home to the 16th-century Villa Medici and the Borghese museums and gallery, which feature an astonishing array of masterpieces by artists including Caravaggio, Bernini and Raphael, the sprawling gardens are also the setting for the Casina Valadier. An 18th-century villa built by Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier, it has been transformed into a restaurant, bar and events space that lists a number of gluten-free options on its range of menus - from the carb-fest that is pasta with potatoes, bacon and ricotta cheese to oozingly-delicious chocolate fondant with vanilla sauce. Located at the front of the park on the Pincian Hill, the restaurant provides ample photo opportunities thanks to spell-binding views of the city which stretch, blanket-like below.
Situated next to the gently flowing waters of the Tiber river, Trastevere is a vine-clad haven of gently winding alleys dotted with artists' stalls, hidden sun-dappled piazzas and beautiful, weather-worn houses. Renowned as Rome’s most romantic neighbourhood, it is home to the Basilica of our Lady in Trastevere, a 12th-century church that’s faded exterior belies the glistening gold leaf mosaics within. It is also the location of numerous restaurants, cafes and bars, including the gluten-free delights of Mama Eat. Recognised by the Italian Coeliac Association, the restaurant has a comprehensive menu of gluten-free dishes and is a favourite amongst coeliac diners heading to the capital. Located just next to the Basilica, it is the ideal spot in which to enjoy some gluten-free cuisine, whilst soaking up the cultural delights of the neighbourhood.
But it’s not just the Italian capital that is seeing a revolution in gluten-free cuisine. Major cities such as Turin, Milan, Venice, Florence and Naples - where Mama Eat has a second branch - have all picked up the gluten-free mantle. Even Peroni has got in on the act. In a land traditionally renowned for its wine, the Roman-born beer brand has capitalised on the increasing demand and created a gluten-free option specifically for coeliacs - making la dolce vita that bit sweeter for gluten-free travellers to Italy.