Hometown: Dublin, Ireland
Years previously lived in Rome: 22
Years worked as a restaurateur: 21
Accolades: The McKennas’ Guides, 1999-present
Family Friendly Restaurant of the Year for L’Officina, Georgina Campbell’s Ireland (2015)
Georgina Campbell Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Hospitality (2013)
It was in Rome where Dublin native and restaurateur Eileen Dunne discovered her love and passion for Italian cuisine. At 17, she moved there to study art but ended up staying for 22 years, working for the United Nations in the International Fund for Agricultural Development and meeting her future husband and business partner Stefano Crescenzi there. In 1995, the couple took their mutual love for and knowledge of Italian cuisine to Dublin, where they opened Dunne & Crescenzi, Bar Italia, and L’Officina.
There were a number of things about Rome that Dunne found herself pining for after moving back home: “The architecture, museums, smells, chaos and of course, the food. Not only the food per se but the large extended family and friends’ dinners. My children could not understand why they were not invited to our friends’ homes along with us for dinner, or why they were not particularly welcome in restaurants in the evenings when we returned home to Dublin!”
Rome is like a second home for Dunne, who returns to the city every other month. Over time, she’s seen gradual changes in Rome’s dining scene, namely a fusion of cuisines emerging in the city’s restaurants: “the influence of Japanese cuisine at the higher end of the dining market” and “a notable New York casual dining influence at the medium side of the dining market.” In this interview, she shares some of the restaurants and bars she loves to visit whenever she travels back to Rome.
What do you love best about Rome’s food scene?
It is casual and there is an eatery on each and every corner. Hospitality is a respected profession and this shines through when you go to your favorite restaurants and the same staff are working there, remember you, what you like, and are totally welcoming.
Name the top restaurants that you think every visitor to Rome should try.
For a truly casual dining experience and although a little out of the way, Trattoria dei Cacciatori on the Via Ardeatina, great for bruschetta, steaks on the open fire, re-fried vegetables and pizza. Al Pompiere in the Ghetto for the best artichoke antipasti including carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes) and carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes) and linguine with artichoke. Absolutely casual with butcher paper table coverings but has amazing thin crust pizza is Pizzeria Ostiense; try the deep-fried zucchini.
Armando at the Pantheon for simple Roman pasta dishes (amatriciana, carbonara, cacio e pepe) executed perfectly and finish with ciambellini biscotti dipped in dessert wine. Osteria degli Amici for delicious Roman food; the cacio e pepe pasta is a must.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?
Trastevere. I love the buzz, and having lived there for more than 10 years, it pulls at my heart strings. There is something special about living in a busy quarter packed with restaurants – those special moments early in the morning when all is quiet and waiters are setting up umbrellas and tables as vans unload crates of fresh vegetables and fish, then late at night there are the last remaining diners clinging to their glasses of wine in the hope they can stay just another half hour.
Describe your “perfect dining out day” in Rome.
I love breakfast at Ciampini in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina – coffee is excellent, croissants are wonderful – relaxing over a newspaper or simply enjoying the parade of stylish shoppers, gazing occasionally towards Piazza di Spagna. A saunter around the back streets of Via del Corso checking out the trendy boutiques. Head back towards Piazza Navona, taking in the sights and take a peek at Raphael’s tomb, cross the Piazza Navona and observe Bernini’s stunning Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and continue to Campo de’ Fiori, a bustling market of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Whilst deciding on a snack, I drink the ice cold water from the fountain. Focaccia stuffed with prosciutto and fresh figs or a slice of ciambellone cake from the Fornaio. Take a seat on the cold marble slabs at the base of the Palazzo Farnese and breathe in Rome. Aperitivo time and I head to Antica Enoteca on Via della Croce, settling for a very decent glass of Ripasso Valpolicella. Excellent seafood dinner with my husband at Pierluigi’s and finish the night with a digestif at our old haunt, Bar San Calisto.
What’s one dish you tried in Rome that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?
Antonello Colonna’s reinterpretation of a carbonara, a kind of ravioli stuffed with bacon, egg and pecorino in a buttered sauce. Actually his restaurant, Open, just off the Via Nacionale offers a brilliant buffet lunch.
What are some of your favorite places to go to for good cheap, quick eats, and what do you like ordering from there?
The Testaccio Market, a great place for focaccia filled with the most unusual ingredients like fried innards, brain or simply delicious polpetti (meatballs). Pizza al taglio (pizza slices) from Pizza Box on the Aventino, although my favorite is in EUR, Pizza Pazza. Great sandwiches and salads from Roscioli on Via dei Giubbonari [and] Cul de Sac for cheese platters, antipasti and fantastic wines.
Eataly offers street food from every corner of Italy; Forno at Campo de’ Fiore for the best white pizza focaccia ever and freshly baked biscotti and tarts; buffet lunch at La. Vi. Latteria & Vineria or Porto Fluviale; Pizzeria Ostiense for the finest thin crust pizzas. Settembrini for good lunch fare with an elegant touch, and coffee at Sciascia Caffè in the same area.
Since it’s Rome, we have to ask: where do you go for the best bucatini all’Amatriciana and what makes it so good?
Armando at the Pantheon never fails to deliver a great bucatini all’Amatriciana, but I also love Osteria degli Amici in Testaccio. The secret of a great Amatriciana sauce (and I pride myself on this dish, [which I] learned from Stefano’s grandmother), is using quality guanciale (pork cheek fat), a hint of vinegar, Italian tomatoes and freshly grated pecorino.
What’s one dish you always have to get whenever you return to Rome?
For the first few days in Rome, I dine solely on spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Spaghetti cooked al dente with the freshest clams, hint of garlic and Italian parsley.
Since this is a site geared for travelers, are there any favorite restaurants or bars at Rome’s hotels that you particularly enjoy visiting?
I suppose one does not associate eating in hotels with Rome. However, wallet permitting, a visit to La Pergola is a must to savor the unique cuisine of Chef Heinz Beck. For a wonderful terrace dinner with breathtaking views, indulge at the Hassler Roma hotel. Aroma Restaurant at the Palazzo Manfredi is another beautiful and special spot.
Do you have any favorite watering holes you like to frequent?
I must admit I love my aperitivo, Italian Wine Cobbler, at the Hotel de Russie Stravinskij Bar, accompanied with delicious nibbles. Antica Enoteca or Cul de Sac for excellent wines. Excellent aperitivi and Prosecco-based cocktails at Pierluigi’s.
Are there any snacks or foods native to Rome that you particularly like and that visitors should seek out?
Il quinto quarto (offal; the fifth quarter as in butchering). I adore filled toasted focaccia to be found at Testaccio Market; puntarelle dressed in olive oil, garlic, anchovies and lemon juice, cime di rapa and cicoria re-fried with garlic and chilli at Osteria da Fortunata at the Pantheon; carciofi alla Romana or alla Guidea from Al Pompiere at the Ghetto; Trapizzino for delicious trippa alla romana (tripe) sandwiches; supplì al telefono (fried stuffed rice balls) from La Casa del Supplì (San Giovani). Deep fried baccala (cod) in light batter [from] Dar Filettaro, [and] ricotta and Amarena cherry cake from Boccione in the Ghetto.
What would you say every visitor must see or do before leaving Rome?
View Rome from the Gianicolo early in the morning or late at night and promise to return.
Eileen Dunne’s Shortlist:
Trattoria dei Cacciatori, Via Ardeatina, 402; Italian, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Al Pompiere, Via de Santa Maria dè Calderari, 38 (Regola); Italian, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Pizzeria Ostiense, Via Ostiense, 56 (Ostiense); pizza, dinner only daily.
Armando al Pantheon, Salita dei Crescenzi, 31 (Sant’Eustachio); Italian, lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Friday, closed Sunday.
Osteria degli Amici, Via Nicola Zabaglia, 25 (Testaccio); Italian, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesday.
Ciampini Roma, Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina, 29 (Campo Marzio); café, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Il Fornaio, Via dei Baullari, 5 (Parione); bakery, open daily.
Antica Enoteca, Via della Croce, 76 (Campo Marzio); Italian/wine bar, lunch and dinner daily.
Pierluigi, Piazza de Ricci, 141 (Regola); Italian, lunch and dinner daily.
Bar San Calisto, Piazza di San Calisto, 4 (Trastevere); bar, open Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Open, Via Milano, 9/a (Monti); Italian, lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Testaccio Market, Via Galvani (Testaccio); flea and street market, open 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Pizza Box, Viale Aventino, 46 (Ripa); pizza, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Pizza Pazza Per I Pazzi Della Pizza, Via Alessio Baldovinetti, 25/27 (EUR); pizza, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Roscioli, Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22 (Regola); Italian/deli, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Cul de Sac, Piazza di Pasquino, 73 (Parione); Italian/wine bar, lunch and dinner daily.
Eataly, Piazzale XII Ottobre, 1492 (Ostiense); Italian food market, open daily.
Forno Campo de’ Fiori, Vicolo del Gallo, 14 (Parione); bakery, breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
La. Vi. Latteria & Vineria, Via Tomacelli, 23 (Campo Marzio); wine bar, lunch and dinner daily.
Porto Fluviale, Via del Porto Fluviale, 22 (Ostiense); Italian, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Settembrini, Via Luigi Settembrini, 21 (Prati); Italian/café, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Sciascia Caffè, Via Fabio Massimo, 80/A (Prati); coffee shop, open daily.
La Pergola, Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri, Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101 (Balduina); Italian/Mediterranean, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Imàgo, Hassler Roma, Piazza Trinità dei Monti, 6 (Campo Marzio); Italian, dinner only daily.
Aroma Restaurant, Palazzo Manfredi, Via Labicana, 125 (Monti); Italian/Mediterranean, lunch and dinner daily.
Stravinskij Bar, Hotel de Russie, Via del Babuino, 9 (Campo Marzio); bar, open daily.
Osteria da Fortunata, Via del Pellegrino, 11 (Parione); Italian, lunch and dinner daily.
Trapizzino, Via Giovanni Branca, 88 (Testaccio); Italian, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Second location: Piazzale Ponte Milvio, 13 (Ponte Milvio); lunch and dinner daily.
La Casa del Supplì, Piazza Re di Roma, 20 (San Giovanni); pizzeria, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Dar Filettaro, Largo dei Librari, 88 (Parione); Italian, dinner only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Pasticceria Boccione, Via del Portico D’Ottavia, 1 (Sant’Angelo); bakery, open Sunday-Friday, closed Saturday.