Two special months for Imago

With the Hassler still closed, chef Antonini and maître Amato in June moved the restaurant to the 7th floor, on a 250 sqm terrace. The results were excellent. The last service on Ferragosto

09-09-2020

It’s hard to visit the same restaurant twice in the same year, especially if it’s far away from Milan. Not because of lack of will, but because of all the commitments, and because luckily there’s a fantastic editorial team on which I can count. So if Passera or Zanatta have recently visited a restaurant, I try to visit one that’s been neglected for too long, and is unjustly collecting dust.

Two perfect images of this disgraced year take me to Rome, towards the end of the winter, and now, always next to Trinità dei Monti, at hotel Hassler, whose owners, the Wirths, have made the right choice of presenting it as a section of paradise above Piazza di Spagna, at the top of the incredibly beautiful steps.

The entrance to hotel Hassler, closed since early in March because of Covid

The entrance to hotel Hassler, closed since early in March because of Covid

Hassler is a 5 star luxury hotel that includes a precious restaurant, Imago, on the 6th floor. Since April 2019 the chef is Andrea Antonini, born in 1991. Very calm and careful, he’s the kind of person who ponders cuisine, without ever letting go to unnecessary special effects, loud declarations and tricks on social media. Silent but with a voice, he rather speaks through facts and dishes.

It’s not easy because the capital can be so beautiful, that in many places what you’re being served easily loses its importance. And sunsets, and the darkness of the night help everywhere, let alone when a place is already wonderful. Antonini in my opinion has the gift of making the best use of the view offered by Hassler to give even greater strength to his offer. Especially now, in the middle of the emergency.

Imago uno and Imago due because by chance this was the last restaurant I visited before the lockdown. It was on Thursday the 5th of March. I remember the worries among the staff, and the almost empty hotel, very few rooms had been booked, and very few guests were in the breakfast room in the morning. Once back in Milan, the government was soon to lock down Italy.

The kitchen on the sixth floor of restaurant Imago

The kitchen on the sixth floor of restaurant Imago

I remember I called Marco Amato, a great point of reference for dining room service, to tell him it made no sense to write about a place that nobody knew when it would open again. We parted promising each other to get in touch when the glass could be considered half full. With the hotel still closed, patron Wirth made use of the Palazzetto, four floors to the right of the Spanish Steps, when looking from the top. There are four rooms, a wine bar, a restaurant, a cocktail bar at the top, a temporary solution, perfect to regain confidence in every aspect of hospitality and understand what to do with Imago itself.

The restaurant run by Antonini and Amato on the sixth floor of Hassler was both affected by the fact that the guests would have to walk through a somnolent reception, and the fact the dining room would be closed by windows. It seemed it lacked the energy that would give strength to the offer. The solution is charming. The way it is organised these days, Hassler has two huge suites on the last two floors, on the seventh, the historic suite, and the most recent one, added later, on the eighth.

Chicken and pepper ravioli, chef Andrea Antonini

Chicken and pepper ravioli, chef Andrea Antonini

So here’s the solution: they moved the tables on the terrace of the seventh floor, 250 sqm of paradise overlooking all of Rome. It’s breath-taking. Opened on the 16th of June, only for dinner, from Tuesday to Saturday, it celebrated its last service on the 15th of August, Ferragosto, before the holidays till Tuesday the 8th of September. By then we will know if the unique format, inspired by the hotel’s situation, will be replicated throughout the month.

Risotto, scampi and porcini

Risotto, scampi and porcini

Having started with 9 tables in mind, on my visit on Friday 24th July I counted 12 for some 30 clients maximum. It’s not just a question of paying attention to the kitchen with a reduced staff, but it’s most of all a matter of service. Having created this beauty on the last floor, it’s as if the waiters were doing bodybuilding. Bear in mind that everything comes out from a pass on the sixth floor, then they must walk down a corridor, walk a fleet of stairs, and then get to the terrace. And to keep the food warm, there’s not just the classic cloche but a tray too, and a hot stone on which the plate is placed. Back and forth, back and forth, with an important table arriving at 11 pm, such a regular client it’s impossible to say no to him and his guests. Six, altogether, and well-spaced out but given the period, it still looked like a banquet.

Catalan style lobster as interpreted by Andrea Antonini

Catalan style lobster as interpreted by Andrea Antonini

Twelve dishes, all in all, so you can choose à la carte or pick one of the tasting menus. To start, Italian-style Scallop Ceviche (without chilli pepper) and Coccio, panzanella and lemon, inebriating . Then three first courses: Chicken and pepper ravioli, intense, but forget the home made version; Spaghetti, sea cucumber, sea urchins and pecorino, with their perfect sapidity; Risotto, scampi and porcini, raw and cooked, brave in their exemplary preparation as we’re in the middle of Rome’s hot summer, and not on the Dolomites.

Sheep’s milk Cheesecake 

Sheep’s milk Cheesecake 

Two main courses, again, two tastings: Pigeon and camomile 2.0 to underline its evolution, and Catalan-style lobsters, impeccable as long as it’s given a different name as it has nothing to do with the salad so emblematic of Alghero, in Sardinia. Some names are carved into marble, and evoke very precise recipes. You can of course give a new take, update them but distorting them makes no sense in my opinion.

Before the double sweet end, a second glass of Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore Posaù from Giovanna Maccario’s Maccario Dringenberg in San Biagio della Cima (Imperia), tel. +39.333.2063295.
Then the desserts: two, because since I couldn’t make up my mind, I tried both the Ricotta and sour cherries, and the Sheep’s milk cheesecake with apricots and pine nuts. The latter was better, the former being too full, but this changes little in my opinion. In the middle of the emergency, I truly praised what Antonini prepared and organised. His merit? He managed to draw my attention from the view to his dishes. Fantastic.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso 


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