Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rome... If You Want To!

When it comes to coffee, it seems that Melbourne has overtaken Rome. Kit Fennessy meets RRR’s Johnny Topper in Tridente, where they discuss the finer points of civilization.

That eternal city, home to the Trevi fountain, infants suckling at distended wolverine nipples and of course, that most European of all aromas… collapsed sewerage tunnels.

Our room was on the fifth floor overlooking Via Gulius Caesar, and there were plane trees along the wide avenue outside that reminded me of home.

Let’s face it, Melbourne is like Rome in many ways – we both have Italians, coffee, gelati, Catholic churches, plane tress and parks, though Rome might just pip us at the post for archaeological diggings.

I had an appointment to meet our friend Johnny Topper for lunch; a radio announcer from Melbourne who works at Northside Records in Fitzroy. Famous for his significant pauses on ‘New and Groovy’, he’s done the hard yards of the Australian music scene and has played in numerous bands, including the Pete Best Beatles. But when we met him on the Ponte Regina Margherita, he was a changed man, squinting, fumbling in front of him and bumping into things. He’d lost his glasses!

We went for lunch at the Ristorante Enzo, which felt like eating in someone’s lounge room with a lot of men in waist coats topping up your Bisleri. If not the height of culinary excellence, it was at the very least authentically Italian. I had the pasta marinara misto, and as usual it proved the litmus test for all restaurants, which in this case was average. Jane had a pasta with cheese, quite plain and her fantasy food, Topper the risotto con artichokes. The culinary revelation of the meal was the dessert which was a cake dripping in honey, alternate portions stuffed with custard and cherry.

As we reclined over coffees, thoughts turned to our observations of Rome and how it is, and is not, like good old Melbourne town.

Cardinal Sins

When Jane and I arrived at St Peter’s square, or la Piazza de Basillico Pietro, there were queues and police everywhere. Going in the back way, we found they were set up for a Papal mass, and so scored an unexpected audience with the Pope.

Johnny: “Oh man, back in 1983 I was living in Sydney. I couldn’t believe it, I saw the Pope mobile driving through the streets of Sydney after John Paul II’s appearances at Randwick. It was surreal. I’d be coming out of a pub, and there was the pope mobile, driving through the red light district! Two nights in a row!”

For the first time in my life I felt sorry for Cardinals. OK! I know they’re career politicians pushing a conservative agenda, BUT they did have to sit out in the sun, wearing black, waiting for the Pope to come out. Those cardinals had to sit there and bake for around two hours, then watch their boss being cheered as he rolled around the crowd in the Pope-mobile. As the Pope’s head drifted above the crowd, he reminded me of the nun in ‘the Blue Brothers’, the penguin who never seems to walk but just rolls everywhere. The Pope was dressed in white and got to sit in the shade.

Australian politicians take note! Trouble with the back benchers? Time for a public rally. Somewhere really hot.

Public Monumental Phallicism
What is it with the Italians and… enormous columns and obelisks? Everywhere we went there were massive stone erections shooting up into the sky, phallocentrism in its purest form and simpatico with Italian consciousness.

Lift your game Melbourne! With the exception of the Cheese Stick, I cannot think of a single massive pillar erected anywhere in the public forum.

Surprisingly, there aren’t enough toilets in Rome, but more than enough churches. I wonder if it’s anything to do with the denial of the physical form and an embrace of the spiritual life that’s lead to this situation? Probably not. Still, you never see any paintings of toilets in heaven at churches… though baptismal fonts are very high profile.

Footpath traders

African men are all over the place standing around with knock off YSL leather handbags at their feet. Elsewhere, people walk around tourist districts trying to flog bubble guns, or flying saucer toys that glow in the dark and shoot up into the air.

Another area we need to improve! We might have the occasional Vietnamese woman sitting on the footpath selling her home made confectionary, but the border line begging that these sales amount to is rarely in evidence. If we just have straight begging, how can we be considered a truly international city?

I didn’t see any gypsies, despite premonitions of babies being thrown at me around the train station, a la circa 1997.

Johnny: “Berlusconi had a real campaign over here. Picked them all up and shipped them out to Romania. That’s why they used to call them Romani gypsies. I think the same thing has happened in France.”

The Cost of Food

True of Rome, true of all Italy, and indeed France, I was surprised just how affordable food is there compared to Australia. The most expensive meal we ate on the trip came to 95 Euros, which equates to roughly $150 for a four course dinner for two, including wine in the heart of the tourist district.

In stores the cost of fresh produce was astoundingly cheap, and fresh. Alcohol? Try 17 Euros for a 700 ml bottle of Tanqueray Gin, or should I say around $23 Australian? Your taxes at work.

Crudo vs Caldo
A short note on the lingua franca. I went to a deli where we ordered prosciutto, and caused some confusion. What did we want? Prosciutto crudo or prosciutto caldo? It transpires the Italians call all hams prosciutto, the difference being the crudo (crude or salt cured ham) and caldo, or cooked, which is your more traditional “ham”. We bought both, and with cheese, olives, some bread and the remains of the bottle of chianti it made a stunning lunch.

Drinking in Parks

We walked all over the Villa Borghese, seeing (variously) the old Villa, which is now a museo with a beautiful and productive vegetable garden, caribinari on horse back, the Italian Globe Theatre, and people riding around on four seater bikes and Segues, which was highly reminiscent of ‘Arrested Development’.

We stopped and had a couple of beers in the park at a small garden shed, not as good as the Austrians do it, but pretty good. It occurs to me that there are not many drinking and dining establishments in Melbourne’s park lands, the exceptions being the café beside the Fairy Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens, the Kent Hotel next to a median strip in Carlton, and at a pinch the Sky High Restaurant in Dandenong. Take note Parks Victoria!

An excellent dinner near la Plaza Popolo at a small ristorante where I had the grilled fish, a bottle of wine, profilterols and a coffee, and an ameretto. Jane had the pasta matriciana and a salata verde misto. Six tentacles!


‘You know, I’ve been here for three days, and I’ve yet to have a really good coffee,’ Johnny opined as we replaced our cups to their saucers.

And indeed the coffee culture in Europe is a million miles from that of Melbourne. Order a latte, and you’re either corrected into having a cappuccino or presented with a Viennesse style coffee. There’s no such thing as a long black (unless you go to a tourist savvy purveyor of coffee and order a “café Americano”, which is anathema to me). And the espressos can be disappointing.
But like everywhere, quality varies from store to store.

We ambled back towards the Vatican precinct, and found Johnny a coffee shop Jane was fascinated by because of the produti Italiano (little tins of sweets with paintings on them) and signage. The coffee there was heaven, and we left Johnny to find his way back across the river.

But we couldn’t help him, glasses or no. We had a flight to catch…

Next episode: Cagliari!


Marcia said...

Dear Kit and Johnny, if you think Rome is bad then spare a thought for the poor Aussie tourist stranded in London for two weeks, sick as a dog, and desperate for a caffeine fix! Nada, despite the plethora of coffee chains espousing their coffee wrangling expertise. Soho provided the only instance of anything resembling drinkable, in the form of 'MilkBar' which of course is run by, you guessed it, Australians. Fortunately it was just around the corner- life-saving.

David said...

errh..did you go away somewhere...?
did we miss you...maybe .maybe not..hard to tell..?

Roma huh! my favourite city una citta' eterna!, but did you eat underground in some of the roman ruins if not che cosa fai?

Did you hang out around the rail station in some sort of Fellini daze picking up large women...(I hope you actually watched some Fellinin before you left , particularly La Dolce Vita)

And if you piss in Rome you have to know where to go...they may have a lot of churches but they are not all open. Finally the real test of a man in Rome is that you have to go to the barber and you have to know what to ask for and when you pay the barber he has to press the change in your hand and you are supposed to trust...

tuo fratello
monsignor Davide'

----- Original Message -----
From: Kit Fennessy
Subject: Re: Kit's Cucina!

G'day David!

Oh, you're funny. Mind if I post that on the blog?

Kit ///


now i have forgotten the expression for ...whatever.. which is the answer to your question but you need to put in the hand gesture as well. Rome with no gypsies..could that really be rome? and Rome coffee was only ever good if it a) came with a view or b) you could sit down without it costing and c) you had it with the locals and I truly know the answer to b).