There are only five ingredients in a proper Roman carbonara. Five ingredients, so the provenance of each is crucial; the way in which it's treated by the cook is paramount. These five ingredients have to be prepared perfectly and then brought together in such a way that each ingredient shines while contributing to something greater.
Eggs, pecorino, guanciale, black pepper, pasta. That's it. There's an alchemical brilliance to them when they become carbonara, when the eggs and cheese and rendered guanciale fat emulsify to become a thick rich sauce that coats the toothsome pasta, and that holds the crispy hunks of fried pork cheek, laced with the bite of black pepper to cut through the fullness.
To true devotees – and yes, I'm one – this is the pinnacle of pasta. This is how you judge a restaurant in Rome, how you assess the quality of the ingredients it uses and the skill of its cooks.
And at Salumeria Roscioli, an upscale trattoria on a cobbled street near Campo de Fiori, they're doing it right. They're sourcing their ingredients from the best producers; they're cooking their guanciale to perfection; they're turning cheese and eggs into a sauce so silky, so rich and delicious you want to bottle it and take it home and eat it every night for dinner.
It's doing everything right, which is one of the reasons Salumeria Roscioli is packed tonight, as it is every night (and day). This place is popular. It's open until midnight six nights a week, and even then they're turning people away as they pull the doors closed.
The restaurant does classic Roman food, in the same way all of the best family-run restaurants in the Italian capital do, though with a few additions, a few innovative pasta dishes and a few gourmet ingredients sourced from outside Italy. Those twists – and the perfect execution of the classics – have gained the Roscioli family a reputation that extends far outside the boundaries of Rome.
And the story of its success, as with all the best yarns that come out of this ancient capital, is one of empire-building.
Just 20 years ago, the Rosciolis' empire consisted of one bakery, a "forno" near Campo de Fiori that had been in the family for four generations, and a modest delicatessen a few doors down. In 1999, however, the young brothers Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli began stocking the deli with the best products they could find from around Italy. A few years later they added a kitchen and a wine cellar to the deli, and Salumeria Roscioli was born.
Now, this small area around the Campo is dominated by one family. All roads lead to Roscioli. There's the bakery, which for 13 hours a day churns out amazing baked goods, including the best "pizza rossa", flatbread covered in crushed tomatoes, you've ever tasted. There's the salumeria, open 16 hours a day, home of that incredible carbonara. There's Roscioli Caffe, just near the salumeria, a coffee and pastry shop that rarely closes.
The Rosciolis also have a stake in a nearby pizzeria, Emma, plus they run wine-tastings at Rimessa Roscioli, and there is its online gourmet store. Essentially, you could dedicate your entire Roman odyssey to eating nothing but Roscioli fare and consider it a holiday well spent.
I've done the research on this, too: a good day in Rome begins with a cappuccino and an "aragosta", a lobster-shaped pastry, at Roscioli Caffe. It continues with a swing past the bakery for a pizza rossa to calm any mid-morning hunger. You then grab a late lunch of pizza at Emma, enjoy an afternoon espresso back at the cafe, and finally spend a long evening at the salumeria, feasting on anchovies, burrata, prosciutto and mortadella, and of course on that crunchy, slippery, toothsome carbonara.
It's a day that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Ben Groundwater travelled at his own expense.
Singapore Airlines flies daily from Australian ports to Rome, via Singapore. See singaporeair.com
Corso 281 is a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Rome. See corso281.com
For bookings, opening hours and menus for all Roscioli restaurants and the online shop, see roscioli.com