When you’re recommended a restaurant by your neighbour, chances are it’s going to be good because Romans are notoriously picky when it comes to their food. But I had no idea what a treat I was in for when I took his advice and headed for dinner at Ai Marmi in Trastevere, one of Rome’s most vibrant and popular neighbouhoods.
Ai Marmi has a reputation that preceeds itself you see - and not just for its cuisine but for its nickname. The locals call it the ‘Obitorio’ which means ‘the morgue’ - the name arose as a result of the restaurant’s long marble tables, which are stacked close together, making for a rather ‘intimate’ dining experience.
However, whilst Marmi doesn’t take reservations, the line moves reasonably fast and after 20 minutes we were ushered in from the cold night air and squeezed in at the end of a long row of fellow diners.
As I said before, this is not a place you go to for intimacy (unless you consider sitting cheek by jowl with half the neighbourhood fun.) Do not expect tablecloths or fancy glassware either - you will be disappointed! However, what the place lacks in luxury touches it makes up for in atmosphere, and with expert waiters all juggling several huge tables at once, I was surprised at just how quickly someone came over to us.
Yes, Marmi is not where you’d bring a date (unless you want the world to listen in on your conversation) but it is the perfect place to tuck into traditional Roman pizza!
But, first things first - be prepared to wait. We stood in line even though it was early in the evening (my friend’s son, in desperation, looking up alternative eateries on Google, since he was certain we’d starve before we got a table).
Marmi (which, by the way, means ‘marble’ in Italian) specialises in thin, crispy Roman pizza, with a variety of toppings (ranging from the classic margherita, to pepperoni, zucchini blossom and the most delicious ‘four cheeses’ I’ve ever tasted). They also serve small fried appetisers such as arancini (rice balls with mozzarella inside), potato croquettes and salted cod bites. But it’s the pizzas that really are the star of the show.
Our pizzas were all enormous and dripping with oil and flavour. They come uncut, so prepare to get busy with your knife and fork. Whilst they’re large, it’s normal to order your own here - however, I’d highly recommend going in a group, as I did, and sampling slices from your friends’ plates. It’s fair to say that once the ten-year old our group (who’d not wanted to wait outside) bit into his pepperoni concoction, an expression of rapture spread across his face. He remained silent until every last crumb had been devoured.
Thin, oily and full of flavour, they’re cooked the way they should be - in a wood-burning oven - which is on display, kept full by three very talented pizza-making guys!
Just be warned - you might have to wait 20-30 before your creation arrives. This isn’t because they’re twiddling their thumbs - on the contrary, they’re working like maniacs, and (on their feet for hours on end) I can only hope they’re being well-paid for their labours…
He was not alone. We ate greedily, and without too much talking (which was probably a good thing, since it’s pretty noisy at Marmi). But by the time our plates were clean, there were large smiles on all our faces. Each one of us was completely sated, which was a pity since my the woman sitting at the next table informed me they have excellent deserts (including a mean tiramisu). No doubt I could eat a desert next time - if I starved myself the entire day in anticipation of dinner…
With huge pizzas costing between 7 and 11 euros, and reasonably priced drinks (house wine and local beer), this is tasty and inexpensive Italian food at its best. I loved the atmosphere - you can tell that this is a place frequented by locals more than tourists.
You can’t choose where to sit, so you could end up next to a huge Italian family (completely with crying babies), a large group of budget-conscious students, or simply people like us - hungry people who want to eat good old-fashioned Roman pizza!
The verdict was unanimous - it was worth standing in the cold. As for me, I’ll be back soon (having not eaten breakfast or lunch, in anticipation of ordering pizza and something sweet). In fact, as I think about the Margherita I ate there, I’m already salivating…
Ai Marmi, Viale de Trastevere 53, Rome
Phone: 06 580 0919