Il Margutta Resto Arte Review

§ 5 comments

Il Margutta
118. Via Margutta Roma

€120 for two, with wine

Restaurant Type : Fine Dining | Casual
Diamonds : ♦♦♦♦♦♦

Our excitement builds as we walk down Via Margutta—echoing the footsteps of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn—on our very own Roman Holiday. We’ve been eating our way through the best Vegetarian Restaurants in Europe, from Saf and Black Vanilla in London, to Cookies Cream in Berlin. And we wonder anxiously: What will Rome have in store?

The narrow cobble-stoned street hits our sweet-tooth exactly, antique shops and fine furniture, tiny galleries and a few coffee shops. All perfumed with the scents of a Roman evening, orange trees, coffee, petrol and wine. It’s the perfect aperitif for an evening of fine dining, and we take one last long inhalation before stepping into Il Margutta.

Unfortunately, that breath will be the highlight of our evening. From worn out, but still garish decor, to poor service and barely alright food, Il Margutta disappoints.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, as if ever there was a more cringe-worthy cutesy codeword for a “we’re cool” restaurant than gastro-pub, it’s Resto Arte, but the word of mouth online was so very good, and since all vegetarian businesses wear their meatless-hearts on their sleeves, we are prone to giving them greater license. Besides, what might one expect from a Resto Arte? Gallery worthy paintings on the wall? Cutting edge minimalist, or full of moxie maximalist decor? Careful presentation? Surely all good things.

Oh, alas.

Had we scrutinized those glowing reviews I mention, we might have realized the givers were desperate vegetarians from the American hinterlands. It’s quite understandable that they were overwhelmed, for walking into Il Margutta is a blitzkrieg on the senses. Virulent yellow walls jar against glossy black surfaces, and torn canary coloured pleather tufted upholstery spills its guts into the room. Clever level changes and mirrors create an illusion that—perhaps—you won’t be bumping elbows with your too-near neighbours, but also make the vista go on and on (and on).

For now, the art on display consists of gilt-framed frescos of nude, angel-winged, deliciously zaftig women. As fond of fat-bottomed girls as any Queen fan, I am a little charmed. My partner, however takes on a greenish tinge as she’s seated directly opposite a sprawled beauty.

“I think she’s lost her vulva.”

She points to a severe black line that looks like a stray eyebrow, and we scramble to change seats shortly after receiving our menus.

Our server is not amused. But then, neither are we.

We’re fine with the prix fixe menu—though it is rather constrained with only five variants to choose from, and we’re unsure about the repeating yellow-smear motif that might be a rose or an orifice—but when my Audrey asks if she might please have the “wild strawberries salad dressed with aged balsamic vinegar, fresh-milled black pepper and spinach,” instead of the “julienne of seasonal stir fried with soya,” to start, our server says simply “NO.”

When we prefer to order the Cabernet to go with the rich meal we anticipate, vetoing his suggestion of Chardonnay, he manages to both pout and glare at the same time. Professional, opinionated, and sometimes rather brusque waiters are part of the charm of dining in Europe. No fake smiles. Fewer model-actresses waiting to be discovered. A relief. But his palpable condescension isn’t professional, and neither is his sloppy service as he repeatedly leaves stray cutlery behind between courses, scrapes crumbs into my lap, and offers our bill before dessert, without being asked.

If only the food had been stellar, the outré trappings of the meal might have been forgiven as an excess of personality and passion. Unfortunately, it isn’t spectacular at all.

The first course is nicely plated, a crisp and glistening pyramid of matchstick vegetables on a bed of greens, the aforementioned ‘seasonal with soy’. We dig in with our forks eagerly. Roman simplicity? The straightforward sweetness of hazelnut gelato, the perfect balance of acidic tomato with peppery basil? No. This is just soy sauce on vegetables that appear to have been tossed in the wok wholesale. Some are mush, others raw. It’s a slimy F-minus even PF Chang would disdain.

Our next course is comprised of grilled layered vegetables sprinkled with a fine tasting brightly acidic and deeply olive tapenade. It almost lives up to the atmosphere outside, each vegetable has been grilled according to its ability with attention to our needs, but in all it is—and I abhor over-sauced goopy food—rather dry, as only the very top layer is dressed.


Ostensibly the main course, the next ‘treat’ we endure is a strange world of starch. Onion rings, a baked potato, and the star of the show: a breaded-and-fried ‘gluten escalope.’ A turdish zig zag of pesto slimes across the top.

I gamely slice off a morsel and pop it into my mouth—it is dry but greasy, crisp on the outside, inside ropy. A real parcel of starch—I wish for some faux-bone if only to have an excuse to spit it into my napkin. Lost in a sea of blandness, the pesto has no discernible presence. I sally on and try first an onion ring, and then a bite of potato. They are what they are. I flag the waiter in piteous desperation, willing to endure another joust, “the menu mentioned lemon?”

For once, he has the good grace to apologize. Indeed, with a squeeze or two of citrus, and a generous twist of pepper, the plate improves. But only marginally. And where had the lemons been hiding out? The meal doesn’t exactly worsen from there, but somehow fizzles out. The salad is fresh, but the avocado on the plate seems strangely misplaced, not only declining to marry with the crisp apples and greens, but over-ripe and a little brown. The dessert—a ‘mosaic of three sorbet’—isn’t even worth mentioning, three tablespoons of frozen jam, it’s over-iced and underwhelming.

We place our cash on the table and walk back out to the charming street.

“Gelato?” I ask.

“Yes, please, I’m starving.” She replies.

Like the first partner you brought home to meet your parents—Il Margutta is a disappointing tease. It ticks all the boxes that ought to make it ideal, a respectable history, a piano, snazzy presentation, penguin-suited waiters, and high prices—but it is rubbish in the sack. Several other fine restaurants in the city surpass it in both style and substance even for vegan/vegetarian palates. In our European tour it was certainly the worst. Though I understand the novelty for vegetarians with few dining options in their own home-towns, I simply cannot recommend it.

 

**

Two grudging diamonds out of six—for the location, and because it was at least edible.

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§ 5 Responses to Il Margutta Resto Arte Review"

  • tazimd says:

    Oh yes, is there anything better than gelato in Italy?

    • gregwest says:

      I know, right? The gelato there was so fantastic, in particular—Blue Ice's hazelnut flavour. So good.

      There's actually a fairly decent chain of gelaterias in Vancouver—Gelarmony—but it's just not the same. Will have to stick to home-made.

  • misavings says:

    Wow! Thanks for the awesomeness of that review. You painted a picture of the place in my head – and i felt that I was sitting there "enjoying" the meal with you.

  • gregwest says:

    Thanks so much! Glad to share the "enjoyment" with you! Caveat Emptor! And yet given the muggy air and the lacklustre summer so far on the West Coast, I wish I was back in Rome. I hear it's scorching and sunny there at the moment—perfect for soy gelato (and perhaps Cinzano on ice). Cheers!

  • I like the spirit of this country. It is truly important to get more different impressions, as I think.

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