At first thought, a fusion of Japanese and Italian dishes might seem odd. For Francesco Apreda, however, the melding of these two cuisines came across as a natural progression. Apreda spent years in Japan learning about that nation's flavours and cooking techniques. When he returned to Rome, he applied what he had learned to his native cuisine, and the results are marvellous.
At Imago, whose name translates to "magician" or "magic," Apreda sublimely blends textures and flavours of the far east with Italian ingredients. Perhaps the best example of his unique cuisine is a fava bean soup that tastes like miso soup but with a flavourful nuttiness. His reliance on exceptional ingredients and his ambition to create worldly flavours in one of the planet's great food and cultural cities is what makes dining at Imago a distinct experience.
A quail's egg is breaded and fried and appears like a bird's nest when presented on a canape block. Sfogliatella, a classic Italian pastry, is made to resemble a samosa and served with green tea ice cream, further evoking the Asian theme of Apreda's food. Other menu items that showcase Apreda's mix of Japan and Italy include sake-glazed black cod, rigatoni with shies pesto, soy vermicelli, and a delicious octopus dish served with seaweed.
In a city where it's difficult to have a bad meal, Apreda elevates Rome beyond its culinary roots and deserves the accolades he's received. Imago has earned a Michelin star and distinction as one of the Italian capital's most elite and elegant dining rooms. Its service is incredible -- one waiter who fillets a hen tableside tells me he practices the task at home because "I love my job so much" -- and the setting couldn't be more opulent.
The restaurant is on the sixth floor of the Hassler Hotel, one of Europe's most highly acclaimed properties. Adjacent to the top of the Spanish Steps, the Hassler provides a dazzling view of the city. At Imago, guests can gaze out to the sweeping view of the city and the stunning sunsets over the ancient landmarks. While dining on such contemporary flavours, you will realize Rome's present is just as brilliant as its past.
Location: Piazza Trinità dei Monti, 6, 00187 Rome, Italy
Menu Price Range: For pasta dishes and main courses, the range is 32-65 euro ($46-$95 CAD); the chef's classic 10-course tasting menu is the recommended choice and it costs 150 euro ($215 CAD).
More Places to Dine in Rome
Osteria Pesce Fritto e Baccala: You'll want to glimpse how the citizens here live. San Lorenzo is the place to do that. This district just beyond the walls of the ancient aqueduct features loads of good, inexpensive dining options. The best I found was Osteria Pesce Fritto e Baccala, where you can dine along the cobblestone streets of Via dei Falisci. Order cuttlefish pasta, mussels and prawns, and enjoy with a glass of red wine -- all for less than 15 euro ($21 CAD).
Location: Largo dei Falisci, 4, 00185 Rome, Italy
Menu Price Range: Most items are less than 15 euro and a half carafe of good wine is about 4 euro ($5.80 CAD).
Canova: A classic Italian cafe, Canova is in a terrific location next to Piazza del Popolo, a large square near the city's northern gate and not far from the Tiber River. Canova is in a touristy spot, so prices are higher than in San Lorenzo. Pizzas will cost you about 12-15 euro ($17-$21 CAD). But you must have a coffee here. Canova's blends are smooth and easy to enjoy in the morning sunshine on a Rome patio. A cappuccino costs 5 euro ($7.25 CAD)
Location: Piazza del Popolo, 16-17, 00187 Rome, Italy
Menu Price Range: Most pizza and pasta dishes cost between 12-25 euro ($17-$36 CAD)
Verde Pistachio: No stay in Rome is complete without lots of gelato. An ice cream shop with a popular food truck, Verde Pistachio has a brick-and-mortar outlet on Via Nazionale. For 2.50 euro ($4 CAD), you can have a cone or cup with three scoops of up to three flavours. Try the pistachio -- it tastes like peanut butter.
Location: Via Nazionale, 239, 00184 Rome, Italy
Menu Price Range: Gelato services for 2.50-5 euro ($4-$8 CAD), plus a range of smoothies, crepes and biscotti each for less than 10 euro ($16 CAD).
Getting to Rome
Canadians who opt to book their plane trip on Air Transat will depart with direct flights from Montreal or Toronto -- I connected there from Vancouver and took advantage of the upgrade to the Option Plus level.
This Air Transat option (starting at $59.50 per person, one way; $99 round trip) provides two checked bags as well as a complimentary meal, snacks, small welcome bottle of Prosecco, and an additional alcoholic beverage. It also offers early on-boarding and comfortable seating close to the front of the plane. Once you complete the approximately nine-hour journey to Rome's Fiumicino Airport, you can pick up your rental car, or use public transit, Uber or a taxi to your destination. I had a poor and costly experience with a taxi driver and stuck to Uber and public transit for the rest of my trip in Italy.