Andrea Antonini is back in the game

Imago in Rome has opened again on the terrace of hotel Hassler. Its chef can now return with a new menu, full of colours and flavours, in an intense play on contrasts. And that al dente...

16-06-2021
Sunset from the terrace of Imago Restaurant at Ha

Sunset from the terrace of Imago Restaurant at Hassler Hotel, Rome

It's been little over two years since Imago, the restaurant of hotel Hassler in Rome, opened again with a new chef, Andrea Antonini. His first service was on the 5th of April 2019. Little under one year later, Italy stopped for the pandemic, so it's not so easy now to say how long it's been, because I cannot fully count the months spent vegetating at home. Just think that the restaurant launched the summer season last year on the 16th of June and finished it on the 15th of August and not in the dining room on the sixth floor, where the kitchen is, but on the extraordinary outdoor terrace on the seventh floor. From the 2nd of September they were back at work until the 23rd of October when restaurants closed again because of anti-Covid restrictions.

A souvenir photo with Roberto Wirth, Andrea Antonini and Marco Amato. Below, one of the tortoises used as centrepieces at Imago. Turtles are a beloved animal of patron Wirth

A souvenir photo with Roberto WirthAndrea Antonini and Marco Amato. Below, one of the tortoises used as centrepieces at Imago. Turtles are a beloved animal of patron Wirth

Not that we're all free now. We still cannot dine inside, for instance, only outside, but after almost seven months of stop, for the restaurant inside hotel Hassler it's time to start again. A few weeks ago, the first event. It's now open only in the evening (but this has always been the case) and on the terrace, in the hope that soon they will also be able to set the tables indoors. For Marco Amato, Wirth's restaurant manager, the dining room is plan B, in case of rain.

Unfortunately, a not very bright summer awaits us, in terms of weather. It's best to have two different options, one in case of good weather (which in Rome means fabulous sunsets) and one in case of rain, when dining indoors will no longer be prohibited.

The bread for each table is baked only once the service has begun

The bread for each table is baked only once the service has begun

Now we have recalled the issues connected with the times, we must acknowledge the merits of the owners, who have accepted the request of the chef to present a new menu, and not just present known dishes, not to complicate his work. Besides, from the terrace of hotel Hassler the view is even more breath-taking than from the sixth floor. A few metres and the view widens, there are no more roofs hiding Rome's jewels. Everything seems within reach.

Sea cucumber fettuccine

Sea cucumber fettuccine

One would already be happy just to order a salad of puntarelle, a first course and an excellent wine. Maybe two: first bubbles, then a red wine. Instead Antonini and Amato have decided to continue to guide a [real] restaurant and not to freeze Imago while giving life to a bistro in the wait of better times. And with virtually half the team, like everyone since last year. In the kitchen there's the executive chef, who will turn 30 on the 12th of July, and with him Luigi Senese, Luca Menesatti, Riccardo Romolo and Andrea Carbonaro, and pastry chef Mariasole Martella. In the dining room, with Marco Amato, maitre Alex Ciarla, head sommelier Alessio Bricoli, bartender Daniel Mastroiacovo, chef de rang Angelo Cecere, chef de rang Simone De Florio and demi-chef de rang Roman Popovich. They are all at work so that guests can have a nice time, and choose three dishes for 130 euros or the tasting menu for 160.

Pink rice, gamberi gobbetti and stracchino

Pink rice, gamberi gobbetti and stracchino

The clearest aspect, and the easiest to notice in Antonini's cuisine is that it's fun, thanks to the colours and variety of the pieces making the mosaic. I can't remember a recipe made with virtually one element. Every dish is made of many small preparations starting from the snack when in little time your table welcomes a red button of Bloody Mary, an idea of liquid baccalà, a sea urchin to be tasted as a whole (and of course the shell and needles are of a different nature), a fake carbonara in the shape of a quail egg yolk (which is not what it seems), a mixed salad served as if it were peeking from a vase, cut and placed upside down on a small plate. And then the work with mussels, in a broth but also as a sponge, a second salad which is made of 65 different leaves, vegetables and flowers. There's more: kombucha of apples from Trentino, a bread roll with butter and anchovies, and finally a piece of pizza e mortazza, that is to say focaccia and mortadella elsewhere in Italy.

Spaghetti with smoked sea urchins and pecorino cheese 

Spaghetti with smoked sea urchins and pecorino cheese 

Then two entrées: Mixed raw seafood and Battuta di Fassona alla pizzaiola, with hazelnuts, capers and Bearnaise sauce (served in a copper pot which I asked if they could leave so I could dip some bread in it). The first carousel starts with a small bowl with a red prawn from Mazara, transparent green tomato, mozzarella, oil with basil, nothing that recalls the opened and shelled seafood placed on the plate. Then the aggressive sea cucumber cut like tagliolini in three different sauces, with parsley, bergamot and sea urchins from three different seas, Sardinia, Puglia and Sicily. And then tracina with pesca tabacchiera, almonds and chicken liver pâté; a take on a classic like oyster and champagne and to finish a courgette flower filled with a tartare of calamari from Fiumicino.

Baccalà en croute, with shallots, lampascioni and chickpeas

Baccalà en croute, with shallots, lampascioni and chickpeas

Three tastings of first courses, first Scampi and porcini in the shape of ravioli; Pink rice, gobbetti prawns and stracchino; Spaghetti with smoked sea urchins and pecorino. Be ready for strong and muscly flavours, partly balanced by some sweet notes like the filling of the scampi in the pasta buttons and then the porcini in different shapes, both sautéed with butter and powdered. Both the rice and spaghetti show an exemplary cooking al dente. You can't say they are raw, and neither that they were kept in the water a minute too long. The person making them had a perfect mental, rather than real, chronometer. It's already a pleasure just to bite it, and then there's the play of fascinating and deep flavours, like the sea urchins with mint and pecorino.

The dining room of Imago on the sixth floor of hotel Hassler in Rome

The dining room of Imago on the sixth floor of hotel Hassler in Rome

The main courses include the less fishy fish of all, a Roman classic that one cannot always find in starred restaurants. Baccalà en croute, with shallots, lampascioni and chickpeas, a portion wrapped in pastry that recalls a Wellington beef fillet, while the rabbit is deboned and rolled, cooked in the pan and served with porcini and plenty of flowers for a gentle touch, with a sort of “piadina” holding the kidneys.

The dessert: Ricotta, pear and chocolate

The dessert: Ricotta, pear and chocolate

Sweet end with Ricotta, chocolate and pears. Please refer to the photo because this dessert is a true surprise, a kaleidoscope of harmonic colours.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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