Culture in Rome

Again, this isn’t a guide-book – just places I particularly liked.

Campidoglio, Capitoline Museums, and the Aracoeli: obvious, but it’s worth going into the museums to see the area as it looked in the early days, when much of the Forum was a marsh. The Capitoline Hill starts out as a temple to an archaic Latin goddess Mater Matuta, the dawn, and then as the Temple of Juno Moneta (our word mint). Spare a thought for the statue of the consul Cola da Rienzo, he of Wagner’s opera, and in the mornings, a madman sometimes shouts down from the porch of S. Maria di Aracoeli. Incidentally, the Campidoglio is a fine shortcut (using the stairs of the Conservators’ Palace) from V. dei Fori Imperiali and the river (V. del Teatro di Marcello)

Who hasn't taken this shot...dusk, Leica MP, 50mm Summicron, Ilford 400 (I think)
Who hasn’t taken this shot…dusk, Leica MP, 50mm Summicron, Ilford 400 (I think)

Trajan’s Market – this has been restored with a well-done iron-clad museum, that last time, had contemporary art in it. Quite cool museum space in an old building (incidentally, jazzing up ancient spaces for modern viewers is something the Italians seem to do very well), and an unusual view over the imperial fora.

Palazzo Farnese – tours are available, by booking with the French Embassy (whose building it is). Afterwards, have a drink at Bar Camponeschi.

San Luigi degli Francesi – inter alia the Caravaggios. Have a coffee before or after at Cafe San Eustachio nearby, or the one across the square that is less popular but perfectly good (especially if you don’t care for sugar in your espresso).

Catacombs – definitely worth a visit, if only for the walk from the bus stop, through green fields and a lane of bougainvillea, not far from the Via Appia Antica. Particularly welcome in the stifling city heat. The catacombs themselves are impressive, if rather less spooky than Palermo’s crypts.

Basilica San Clemente – must go, there are two basilicas (4th and 11th century) built on top of a mithraeum, with a super relief of a bull sacrifice.

San Pietro in Vincoli – go to see Michelangelo’s great tomb for Julius II. Suffer silently the photographing gaggle of fools.

On the Ponte Sisto (maybe?)
On the Ponte Sisto (maybe?)

Santa Maria degli Angeli & the Diocletian Baths – if I recall correctly, the primary interest here is the size and rawness of the space. There is possibly a group ticket that covers 2-3 other museums (which fall within the National Roman Museum of archaeology), including the Palazzo Altemps.

San Ignazio – Andrea Pozzo’s overdose of tromp l’oeil in the ceilings, but most notably, in a fake dome that is designed to only be seen from the entry to the church (not only is it painted on, it is painted with a skewed perspective)

Palazzo Altemps – must go, wonderful art in a wonderful, not super crowded, space. Palazzo Massimo and the Balbi Crypt are part of this ticket also.


Arca Sacra del Largo Argentina – a field of ruins, still under archaeological intervention, that is home to a large family of cats and bums. Very atmospheric.

Ara Pacis Augustae – the ex-mausoleum, in the form of an Etruscan (?) tumulus, of Augustus, very grand, very ruined. Not sure one can go inside, but there is also a modern museum next door with an exhibit about a relief that recounts the achievements of the Emperor. The pizzeria, restaurant, enoteca in the Piazza di Augusto Imperatore (Gusto), is meant to be very good, and is hyper-trendy.

Chiostro del Bramante – a wonderfully un-crowded space, with a fine little cafe, and excellent shows – we saw the great Catalan Joan Miro, as well as Karl Lagerfeld there.

Santi Quattro Coronati – it is venerable, from end of 6th century. Not really sure what else distinguished it other than it’s great antiquity.

Palazzo Doria Pamphili – quite possibly, my favourite museum, if only for the Velazquez Innocent X that became Bacon’s model for his “screaming pope” paintings

MAXXI & MACRO – the two modern/contemporary art museums. Both are worth a visit, MAXXI for its Zaha Hadid design, and MACRO for its location in an old Peroni brewery (and the art)

An opening at MACRO I just walked into. Very cool.
An opening at MACRO I just walked into. Very cool.

GNAM – near the Villa Borghese, this is perhaps somewhat overlooked in a city of brilliant old art, but has a strong collection of 20th century Italian art; we saw some great Fontanas, Burris, etc.

Santa Sabina & the Cavalieri di Malta – both on the Aventine hill, through a key-hole one may see all the way to the Vatican

Fahrenheit 451 – my favourite bookstore, in Campo dei Fiori. Definite art and left-wing stance, with lots of postcards that I think might date to the Red Brigades years. There are a few other art bookstores nearby.

Vatican – besides the usual stuff at the Vatican museums, bankers might care to seek out IOR – the Institute for the Works of Relgion, aka the Vatican Bank. A perpetual centre of scandal, most famously in relation to the Roberto Calvi affair (the head of the bankrupt Banco Ambrosiano, found hung at Blackfriars Bridge, supposedly for losing Vatican, and Mafia, money).

The bee of the Barberinis, Pope Urban VIII
The bee of the Barberinis, Pope Urban VIII
Shamless plug for your correspondent. I did this when researching the Calvi affair; note P2 certificate of one Silvio Berlusconi.
Shameless plug for your correspondent. I did this when researching the Calvi affair; note P2 certificate of one Silvio Berlusconi.

Via Michelangelo Caetani – a plaque marks the spot where the kidnapped PM Aldo Moro’s body was found in the boot of a red FIAT, precisely half-way between the Communist Party and Christian Democrat headquarters. Have a drink to Moro at a Communist wine bar, possibly at 35 V del Monte della Farina.

V Michelangelo Caetani, where Aldo Moro's body was found
V Michelangelo Caetani, where Aldo Moro’s body was found

Commercial contemporary art galleries:

Lorcan O’Neill – near Vaticano

Marie-Laure Fleisch – near Pza Navona

CO2 Contemporary Art – near MACRO

Frutta – near Pza Navona

Gagosian – near Spagna

Monitor – near Pza Navona

Pastificio – a former pasta factory, now with galleries and artist studios

Valentina Bonomo – near Ghetto

Pio Monti – near Ghetto

Coffee in London

A post about coffee places I like, mostly in London, and coffee generally.

Declaration of bias: Firstly, I prefer Italian coffee, whether a lukewarm cappucino that is a perfect amalgalm of froth, milk and espresso, in a small traditional cup; or an espresso,  both consumed standing up, with lots of perfectly dressed old men & women in furs milling about, elegantly  eating cornetti. A barman bashing out coffees, two at a time, with will ignore your request for frappucinos, skinny anything, decaf, low-cal sugar, no GMO, beast-friendly, ethically-sourced, or any other modern idiocies.  So slightly different from the Antipodean style of coffee in London (characterised  by rhythmic banging of the milk can, fairly slow service, IMHO a more bitter espresso, and lovingly-made “coffee art”); however I admit we owe it to the Kiwi & Oz crowd for bringing carefully-made coffee to London.  Secondly, most of my experience is in the West End and East London, so no knowledge or interest in the northern/western suburbs – therefore, this isn’t intended to be exhaustive, rather it’s where I actually go.

Moving swiftly on…

Flat White & Milk Bar (Soho): basically started the “new coffee”, and Eric from the original team still runs it.  Great coffee, friendly service, and awesome location next to the last bits of Berwick Street market surviving.  Have an espresso, stand outside and get good-humoured abuse from Norm, Jim, Matt at the vegetable stand.  Antipodean + media  crowd.

Bar Italia (Soho): don’t understand what the fuss is all about, pretty average coffee, doesn’t feel very Italian.  I suppose if one is an avid guide-book reader or in thrall to 70s London or Ronnie Scotts, it makes sense, but I shouldn’t go for the coffee.  Disclosure: it was great in 2001, when there were few other options in W1 !
Kaffeine (Fitzrovia): good coffee, nice owner, good/modern decor.  Check out all the nearby galleries: Alison Jacques, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, Carroll Fletcher, Mummery & Schnelle, Piper, The Photographers Gallery, Art First, Paradise Row, Pilar Corrias, Whisper, Vela, Rosenfeld Porcini, Regina, Josh Lilley

Store Street (Bloomsbury): lovely space that uses the original architecture (old Victorian? skylights).  Has a student feel, if only because it’s close to UCL.  Really like it.

Cafe Italia Uno (Bloomsbury): one of the most authentically Italian cafes around, and the cheapest (good) espresso in the West End (£1.60).  The bondola panino (mortadella, mozzarella, and marinated artichokes) is superb. Have as many as 10 Italian/European football matches on at a time during the season.

Nude Espresso (Soh0): great location on Soho square, they have another location near the City

Fernandez & Wells (Soho): 3 locations in Soho, good food and wine, and very nice spaces. I find them expensive (espresso at £2.20 I think), and of the three, the two wine bars are the more interesting, particularly the one on Lexington Street on a nice summer evening.

Nordic Bakery (Soho): not sure about espresso, but they have good filter coffee and great open-faced Scandi sandwiches (eggs, herring, cooked ham, etc.). Lovely decor inside and good location on Golden Square, pop next door to Frith Street Gallery or Riflemaker Gallery nearby.

Taylor Street Baristas (various locations): coffee is Antipodean style and the food is good, but the real draw is the lovely attitude of the staff, particularly at the City locations.  It’s impressive how they manage to charm, without ever becoming brash/bolshy….in the face of a steady stream of increasingly grumpy/despondent/irritable/demanding RBS and Deutsche Bank employees !

Climpsons (E Ldn): coffee joint/parlour room/conference centre/creche for the Broadway Market hipster crowd. British baristas.  Good coffee, great birchermuesli.  Beware on Saturday – market day, you won’t get a china cup there for love nor money.  So unless you like your coffee with a cardboard taste, better go elsewhere.  Perfect at all other times (go early to avoid prams).

E5 (E Ldn): simply the  best bread in E London, freshly baked under the rail arches.  Coffee is pretty good, but it’s more the gesamtkunstwerk of a neighbourhood place, artisanal bakery, dodgy floorboards, dodgy door, psychopathic homeless people outside, smell of baking, and excellent hot lunches.  Again, full of prams…but hey…someone has to finance gentrification !

Wilton Way (E Ldn): radio station & cafe, British baristas.  Great vibe, love the avocado on toast.  Super little BoBo street north of London fields.

Campania (E Ldn): great value weekday lunch, some of the most authentic Italian cooking from area around Naples I’ve had, really simple, really good. Coffee is pretty good.  Is pretty rammed on Sunday flower-market day.
Layla’s (E Ldn): bit of an institution on Arnold Circus, somewhat worthy & self-conscious, but the eggs with sage are excellent, and the shop next door has some of the freshest and hardest to find produce from Italy I’ve seen (cima di rapa, puntarella, radicchio di castelfranco, lemons from Amalfi, anchovies preserved in salt, etc.), and, somewhat perversely, a large collection of Polish sausages.  Decent value Duralex plates, cups, etc.

Allpress (E Ldn): big, well-done, roaster and cafe, British. Good coffee, but the real draw here are the panini and baked goods. They also seem to have the FT for people to read, which immediately covers the cost of the coffee !  Nice vibe – sort of a media/architect/art world overlay on the standard hipster fare.

Towpath (E Ldn): canalside location in the summer is the draw, to be honest, never had the coffee here, opting instead for wine

The Waiting Room (Deptford): really good coffee from British baristas, good vegan food (hot dogs, falafels, etc.), and nice staff. Bit weird decor, but sweet.

The London Particular (Deptford): excellent hot food (mackerel with vegetables, warm salads, good wine, etc), very good coffee, British baristas.  Is quite small, but great location, lots of students from nearby Goldsmiths College, friendly staff, and a respite from the relative hell-on-earth that is Deptford (which however is very much the on-trend art scene at the moment).

Monmouth (various locations): very good coffee, but not really sure one needs the crowds or the intensely touristy feel. If you nevertheless insist, try the Maltby Street roastery (only open Saturdays I think) rather than the rammed other locations.