I was excited about spending a lazy morning in the newly opened Eataly in Rome but in the main because of the draw of it’s air conditioning, in what has been an exceedingly hot month or two in Rome. Eataly is the newest ‘fratellino’ of the Turin-based chain founded in 2003 by Oscar Farinetti. An “American”-style huge food outlet together with a choice of eateries. Now, I have done some reading to see how Eataly was appealing to both the locals and the more critical food bloggers resident in the city. The consensus seems to be that it is too big and brash and that Rome doesn’t need this injection of mall style shopping when it is full of genuine and fresh food markets and authentic small grocery shops, full of artisan products, on every street corner. However I must admit I very much enjoyed my experience there; yes it is of course really just a huge/aspirational supermarket, but when every other country in the world has this as an option, why not, especially when food is so incredibly important to the locals, shouldn’t Rome have that additional choice too?
You enter what is quite an unusual building to see in Rome, an industrial, giant, glass and stainless steel palace that was once part of the Ostiense Railway Station. Now renovated and pristine, Eatlay certainly takes advantage of this incredibly open plan space. On the top floor there is a beautifully designed cooking school together with the high-end ‘Italia’ restaurant showcasing Italy’s regional cuisine. We, though, headed straight for the second floor and enjoyed a great cup of coffee in one of Eataly’s two coffee areas, here we bought beans that had been roasted in store and later tasted superb in both our Moka and French Press.
We then got a little distracted by the wine, a great selection with vino sfuso from Piemonte. As huge fans of Barbera we stocked up on a two-litre bottle that has been keeping us company every evening this week. On this floor you can also find a wonderful Osteria, each month hosting a guest chef; a place for aperitivo with the simple concept of choosing wine by the glass together with, either a piece of cheese and/or a hunk of salami, and also areas dedicated to beef, chicken, fish and even guinea fowl.
A microbrewery on site in a side room, close to the meat, allows you to sample 12 artisan beers on tap. Central tables throughout Eataly, each with their own number, allows you to order from whichever area you personally fancy the food and sit together with friends. The displays of food were really appealing and well organised. One complaint we had though was there was very little opportunity to try, something we wet-behind-the-ears Londoners have become accustomed to with the spoils of overly-priced food markets in our home city; we even asked at the sfuso to sample the wine on tap, a request that was turned down. I actually think they would do well to have ‘tastes of the day’ to encourage people to sample foods, wines and oils, which I am certain would result in better sales. However lets not run before we can walk, we are, after all, still in Italy and although this new concept store is full of revolutionary (for Rome) ways of shopping and eating, there is still a very Italian feel in the way that staff like to stick to the rules even if the rules don’t work.
On the first floor you come into a super area dedicated to cured meats and cheeses and even a place where they are making their own mozzarella on site. There is a place you sit up high on stools and order fried fish, a very popular choice for Italians, this place was packed on our visit. Then you move through to the pasta and pizza area. As a connoisseur of the Margherita pizza I really expected to be underwhelmed by pizza in what is a essentially a supermarket, although the decision was made when I saw a brand new high chair ready and waiting for Luca at an empty table. We ordered our pizzas together with a couple of glasses of wine (I know, I know, you are only supposed to drink beer and cola with pizza but hey, I’m English and I like wine with everything!) and started to people watch. At that moment we saw how much everyone, including staff, seemed to be enjoying themselves. The Romans really were getting on board with the concept, filling up their baskets, enjoying huge and varied lunches together and generally showing an appreciation for a very new shopping and eating experience. Our pizzas arrived together with some olio picante and I have to say I devoured it with relish, (the oil really enhanced the pizza and I immediately searched for it to buy on the shelves afterwards) the flavours were excellent and the crust ‘buonissimo’. Also in this area you can watch as fresh pasta is being made in another open kitchen. The selection of pasta to buy is vast and very well priced too.
On the ground floor where you ultimately pay for all your purchases you’ve accumulated in store you find a wonderful selection of fresh vegetables and fruit, piled high and although not at the most competitive prices, the produce looked fresh and appealing. Here too you can find a well-designed vegetarian restaurant, a place to order a panino and a bread area where we picked up some Pane Rustica, quite delicious with some goats cheese we chose upstairs. There is an area that sells homewares, and even Eataly’s own brand china and glassware. To the left of the door there is a bar selling Illy coffee and cornetti, although sadly just an hour after opening they had sold out of the latter on our visit; as I reminded you before it’s still Italy, no one thought to replenish! A piadina station where the chefs were rolling out the dough before cooking and filling in front of you, a gelateria which I was so sad not to try on this visit and beautiful pasticerria and chocolate shop.
All in all it is a giant of a food shop but the luminious building, the well-thought food quarters, the high quality ingredients (and the wonderful AC!) all made it a very enjoyable experience for us. If you had two days to experience Rome in, you wouldn’t necessarily want to spend your precious time here, but if you are a regular visitor to Rome, or if you are local to the city it is a fantastic new choice to have, especially as it remains open until midnight every day; I still can’t get used to my local Spar closing at 8pm, after our 24/7 life in London! A simple concept together with super produce, but don’t forget we are still in Italy and so from time to time even a simple system is prone to fail due to the Italian penchant for over-complicating things. Judging by the seemingly warm response of the patrons it certainly looks like it is here to stay, so if you are tired of the August heat, get down to Ostiense for some Air Conditioned relief and marvel at the delicious food and shiny surfaces.
Air Terminal Ostiense
Piazzale XII Ottobre 1492, Rome
Open all days from 10am until midnight
Tel. +39 06 90.27.92.01
How to get there
Metro B Piramide or Garbatella stop
Bus: 60, 63, 280, 175 and 30 express, 670, 715 and 716
Train: Ostiense station