Roma Wasn't Built In a Day (And That Carbonara Does Slay)

By Sophie Steiner, December 5, 2021

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The Place

Gregarious Giampaolo de Santis (Zozzo, Porcellino) is living out his dream of opening a casual neighborhood Italian hangout plus alimentari supermarket – an all-purpose mini shop where everything is made from scratch. Its name is Roma, and it is now open on Kangding Lu. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

When you first walk in, you’re greeted by the alimentari section – a smattering of fresh-made pastries, breads, pasta, jams, spices and gelato, plus a wide assortment of charcuterie – cheeses, meats and pickled or brined nibbles.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Next, you’ll hit the bar, outlined by backlit arches, a common design motif throughout the restaurant that pays homage to the Colosseum of Giampaolo’s hometown of Rome. Aperitifs, digestifs and cocktails are what you can expect, plus over 220 bottles of competitively priced wine, with wine by the glass ranging from RMB48-138 and bottles priced between RMB178-688.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The main floor dining sees dark blue plush wrap-around bench seating accented by low-hanging Edison bulbs intertwined with a terrarium-esque display of suspended greenery.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Walk past the expansive open kitchen and the large tree planted at the base of the staircase and move upwards towards another level of exposed ceiling piping and concrete walls illuminated by globular orb lighting.

There’s also a wine cellar and tasting room, plus two private dining rooms upstairs that can be combined into one for events. The minimalist design, curated by Naples-born brothers Giuliano and Nazareno Labate, centers around earth tones with crimson detailing, bushy shrubs and a blend of wood and metalwork. 

It’s all very industrial chic. 

The Food

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The restaurant’s focal point is the brightly lit open kitchen. Here, chef Andrea Calducci (executive chef of 101 Centuono in the Shanghai Tower) consulted on roughly 80% of the menu – ensuring as much as possible is made in house and fresh daily – offering a range of dishes that take diners on a journey through Italy. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Using Giampaolo’s grandma’s recipe, the Polpette Alla Romana (RMB98) are Roman-style meatballs in a delicate tomato sauce. The meatballs themselves are noteworthy for their varied yet soft texture, slightly crumbly, melting into the light tomato sauce in which they sit.  

Pro Tip: Giampaolo is known for his notoriously fluffy focaccia, so save some that’s served at the beginning of the meal for added dunking fodder. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

After marinating for over 24 hours, the Polpo & Romesco (RMB108), or grilled octopus leg with bell pepper romesco sauce – is sous vide for an additional six hours, then topped with a common Sicilian garnish of chopped tomato, black olive and garlic chutney.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The real bread and butter – so to speak – is the pasta. Giampaolo makes it fresh daily with the finest Italian flour, dialing up the egg content for notably silkier noodles. Case in point: the Spaghettone Alla Carbonara (RMB98). The thin egg fettuccini noodles are slick with luscious egg yolk, studded with puffs of crackling pork cheek and shaved Pecorino. Plain and simple, this dish is sultry.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Handmade with its perfect imperfections, the texture of the curling, ribbon-like Pappardelle Al Ragu Di Chinghiale (RMB128) is soft and forgiving – not wholly uniform – creating a complex mouthfeel when paired with wild ground pork sauce and confit mushrooms. The unassuming ingredients meld together – a piece of carrot, a dice of onion, a chunk of pork sausage, then disappear into the buttery sauce. 

DSC04399.jpgAgnolotti Al Ragù D’Anatra (RMB128), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

When in Rome, get the Roma Pizza (RMB138), a traditional tomato passata scattered with stringy stracciatella cheese, Parma ham, cherry tomatoes and fresh rocket. The dough is made with a higher water to flour ratio before rising for 48 hours – just like at Zozzo – resulting in an airier, crunchier crust. This fan favorite was sold by the slice at Zozzo, but even a whole pie goes down all too easily. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Resting on a bed of scalloped potatoes, the Rombo Alla Siciliana (RMB188) sees roasted turbot fish topped with cherry tomatoes, black olives and briny capers, a Mediterranean flavor palate brightened further by a gasp of lemon.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

They say a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands, a motto we live by when it comes to dessert ordering. Whether it’s the Tortino Ai Cuore Fondente (RMB88) – a chocolate and walnut cake erupting with molten cocoa lava alongside salted caramel ice cream – or Tiramisu Roma (RMB88) – a cakey rendition of the traditional alternative, topped with chocolate mousse rather than cocoa powder – you really can’t go wrong. 

The Vibe 

Roma feels like a neighborhood spot – in Shanghai, in New York, hell, even in Rome; it just feels like you’ve been here before, and that’s comforting. This isn’t where you'd go to party. It’s not a place to wow a business client. But it’s not going to give you sticker shock when the bill comes either. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

It’s an approachable place for a consistently solid meal; a place for a glass of wine or two paired with smooth lounge jazz and good vibes. That’s what Giampaolo had a vision to create, and that’s exactly what he has done.

Price: RMB150-350
Who's Going: Carb addicts (bread, pasta and pizza, oh my!), all the Italians, Jing’aners craving all that is good from Italy 
Good For: Pasta consumption, casual wine and dining date nights, friendly catchups that won’t break the bank

See a listing for Roma. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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