A village foody oasis with contemporary bite.
Garbatella fast becomes a favourite of any that visit boasting otherworldly architecture, authentic local cuisine and lively laid-back nightlife. The impressive bridge Settimia Spizzichino is now opening up a contemporary artery into the historic neighbourhood linking it to the studenty Via Ostiense and inspiring a new wave of hip venues.
The area was a development plan for working class families in the 1920’s copying the British ‘Garden City’ by Ebenezer Howard, a utopian ideal where residents live in harmony with nature. The architectural style is a mix of Baroque-like ‘Barochetto’ with naturalistic botanical and animal motifs along with Medieval and Renaissance flourishes. It has been left to quietly age, the rain creating a romantic Titian-like rust on the facades. Small detached apartment blocks huddle around inner common courtyards with green cultivable spaces. Legend has it the name came from a kind innkeeper known as Carlotta who fed construction workers, which led to the shortening of Garbata Ostella meaning ‘well-liked hostel’ to Garbatella. The plan also included Via delle Sette Chiese, an ancient trail for pilgrims to the seven major basilicas in Rome.
With the dawn of fascism a set of urban-hotels with less green spaces were set up as makeshift dwellings for displaced workers with common dining and washroom areas such as Albergo Rosso, a strange looming terracotta building with clock tower designated for bachelors.
At Piazza Bartolomeo Romano is the famous Palladium Theatre with curious convex and concave opposing lines, run by the Romaeuropa Foundation in collaboration with Roma Tre University hosting progressive film festivals, concerts, theatre and more.
The striking Public Elementary School Cesare Battisti, built in 1930 under fascist rule on Piazza Damiano Sauli displays a skeletal-like dome and imposing grandiose eagles presiding over the tall entranceway.
Down the street from Garbatella’s historic centre behind Piramide metro station is Eataly on Piazzale XII Ottobre 1492, a multi-level complex of glittering glass instantly recognisable. It encompasses a gourmet food market, retail zones, chic open plan food stations and top floor restaurant and workshop area for tastings, events and cookery classes. The prices are high-end which causes some separation in opinions from locals. Nonetheless its popularity has grown tenfold since the chain first opened in Turin in 2007.
New in Garbatella is La Maisonette Ristrot, a restaurant-bistrot that has a lot of people talking. Situated in an historic deep red 1920’s villa a few steps from the metro, on offer is Mediterranean cooking with modern twists and an emphasis on fresh fish and seafood. The decor inside is reminiscent of a French retro bistrot with light painted wood and mixed reclaimed furnishings. Outside the rustic facade boasts striking Roman red terracotta with a large outdoor decking area and funky graffiti. They have coined the term ‘RISTROT’, a novel hybrid of restaurant and bistrot. They serve biological and natural beverages such as craft beers and organic wine. Recently they’ve started offering aperitivo dj sets and live concerts to entertain diners in the summer months on their attractive spacious decked terrace.
Another spot nearby Garbatella is Borgo della Marchesa that boasts a cool urban vibe with low lighting, strewn books and throbbing music, a youthful mix of a lively intimate bar with club ambience. They pride themselves on their shared philosophy and proximity to the underground dance club central of Via Libetta and host live music and DJ sets Thursday to Saturday. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10pm, the bar hands out drinks street side from their lengthy menu of shots and tempting cocktails where the fun spills outside on warm nights (try their tasty Moscow Mule). Downstairs is surprisingly spacious and welcoming, the perfect place to pull up an armchair in the colder months, with a vintage and handmade market every second Sunday.
NaturaSì is my shopping Achilles heel. On Circonvallazione Ostiense, 262 this is one of the few organic and biological supermarkets in Rome with a wide selection of hard to find natural food, hair and beauty products.
Pizzeria Tre Gatti on the historic street of Via delle Sette Chiese, 68 has a huge selection of pizza from classics to the more fantastical such as stracchino cheese with nuts or pear and gorgonzola along with draft or craft beers and wine. You can opt for a long pizza ‘alla pala’ to share with all your favourite toppings.
A few doors down on Via delle Sette Chiese 56, is 568 Public House Garbatella. This spot oozes minimalist cool with light wood decor and diffused lighting creating a warm atmosphere with live music sets at the weekends. The menu is simple but creative including stuffed potatoes, hotdogs and omelettes with a focus on their vast choice of craft beers.
Li Scalini De Marisa on Via Roberto de Nobili, 17 is a neighbourhood restaurant I come back to time and again for down to earth Roman cooking. Sat below street level with a quaint covered seating area outside, you’ll discover authentic Roman cuisine for a great price. I usually order the strange-sounding but surprisingly delicious tripe in tomato sauce.
Otium Club is a surprise feather in the cap of Garbatella’s historic centre. Close to Teatro Palladium on Via Roberto de Nobili 3b, it’s like a little radical chic treasure cave with striking red walls, funky music posters and jumbled vintage decor adding an underground edge to the local area. They have a good selection of liquors, beers and wine living up to its hip dive feel with various platters, panini and snacks to nibble on too.
Garbatella’s indoor weekend Farmers Market on Via Francesco Passino has over 30 stalls offering fresh seasonal produce from the local Lazio area. It came to Garbatella after a move from Testaccio and now occupies an ex-slaughterhouse previously unused for 10 years. (Open Sat 8.30am-6pm/Sun 8.30am-2.30pm).
Bar dei Cesaroni on Piazza Giovanni de Triora is a bit of a local staple, made famous by the popular Roman TV show ‘I Cesaroni’ and known to locals as La Bottiglieria or liquor store. It is part legend part hang out spot for locals and curious tourists and also seat of the Roma Club for football fans with paraphernalia crowding the cramped interior. A good option to grab a drink and take in the local ambience at their tables out front.Photos by: Mr Nicola Cerza