Hostaria Dino e Tony - a Review
HOSTARiA DINO E TONY - A REVIEW
“Make sure you eat it all up!” cries Dino as he sprints past his brother Tony before disappearing into the frantic kitchen of Hostaria Dino e Tony. These are words that I only associate with my mother as she struggled with the petulance and disobedience of my childhood self. But this is the first time these words have not followed with: “or you will not have any dessert”. Perhaps this is because only clean plates return to Dino’s kitchen, but I suspect he makes no such threat mainly because he has no intention whatsoever of not bringing dessert. The finest of hosts, food and hospitality run through the DNA of these two brothers. Those fortunate enough to enter their home will learn there is one rule: overeating is compulsory.
Rome is no different from any other major city insomuch that its restaurant scene is largely focused on tourism. As we walk the streets, we are not sure what is more baffling; a) how many restaurants proudly boast of their ‘menu turistico’, an offering that to all intents and purposes shafts tourists with substandard food that often isn’t even regional, and doesn’t even try to hide this or b) despite all warnings, even by the restaurant itself, quite astonishingly hordes of people gravitate towards them. I suppose the crux is that many do not see ‘menu turistico’ as a warning, but rather are happy to associate as a tourist and therefore also dine like one. This is fine - but in a desperate attempt to personally avoid this, I revert to a method that I have always found reliable. I type into Google: “Rome restaurants with no menu”. It is here I stumble across Hostaria Tony e Dino - a tiny family-run osteria north of Vatican City, that is clearly mostly frequented by locals.
Immediately, it is like walking into a family home; the walls are painted a light turquoise – the sort you would associate with a child’s bedroom. Hanging proudly is an adorable black and white print of the two brothers in their younger years holding hands, a rather nice memento of how the duo have aged yet still stand side-by-side. The restaurant is cramped but cosy, and as we are ushered to our tiny table in the corner, we quickly realise that here it is best to do as you are told. Happy to oblige, from here on the only answer was yes. “Vino Rosso?” says Tony, “Si” says us. “Un Litro?” says Tony, “Si” says us. “Antipasto?” says Tony, “Si” says us. This would be the theme of the night.
Left to our own devices, we engross ourselves in conversation about the chaotic and unpleasurable experience of flying with Alitalia. In a similarly frenzied yet far more welcome fashion, we are glady interrupted by a huge platter of food being plonked on the table. Think children’s birthday party: deep fried olives that had an uncanny resemblance to scotch eggs, creamy polenta croquettes that at a quick glance could easily be mistaken for sausage rolls, and crispy Roman-style pizza decorated generously with gorgonzola. Not to mention the fantastic fluff pastry filled with spinach and velvety stracciatella cheese. Finesse is not the word but delicious is.
Stuffed yet determined to go on, we brace ourselves as Tony returns to our table. He asks what pasta we want; gricia or amatriciana. Both these dishes are classics from the Lazio region, and have in common an inundation of pecorino cheese and guanciale - intensely salted cured pork often originating from cheeks. Where amatriciana differs is the addition of a rich tomato and onion sauce. Both are commonly paired with the thick spaghetti-like pasta called bucatini, but Dino opts to use rigatoni - which we soon learn is perfect for capturing the flavoursome pork in its tubes. Justifiably impatient with our umming and ahing, Tony takes matters into his own hands and insists on bringing us both. Rather naively, we are confused as two bowls of gricia arrive but explain it away with the language barrier. But then the penny drops. Of course! Overeating is compulsory and it is seldom common for two brothers to be familiar with the concept of sharing. Tony removes the little remains of our gricia and exchanges it for an equally substantial bowl of amatriciana. Truly in a pasta induced coma, normally it would be time to stop eating. But there was unfinished business to attend to…
Many foodies, quite understandably, touch down in Rome and dive straight into a bowl of the region’s beloved carbonara. I, too, couldn’t wait to take the plunge, but there was another dish that I was particularly eager to try by the name of carciofi alla giudia. Translated to mean Jewish style artichokes, this Roman classic dates back centuries and combines humble Italian cooking with the heavy reputation of the Jewish culinary tradition. Large artichokes are marinated in lemon juice before being deep-fried in olive oil. Aesthetically the final product resembles sunflowers, and as Dino so vehemently pointed out at the time, it is edible in its entirety. Rather interestingly, in 2018, alarm bells were set off in the Italian Jewish community as the chief rabbinate in Israel declared the artichoke no longer kosher due to non-kosher parasites being discovered inside one. Amusing assurances were made that Roman artichokes were not susceptible to this problem, but I suspect this was a heroic and admirable attempt to protect this dearly loved dish. Religion really should not interfere in food matters.
Conversely speaking of necessary interference, by this point we are a litre of wine down and even more incapable of resisting the hospitality of Dino & Tony. So naturally out comes the tiramisu. The father-daughter combo next to us are also nearing the end of their banquet, and after striking up conversation we learn that they live next door. Tony leaves the four of us with a bottle of homemade vermouth, and the elderly gentleman next to us seems determined to get us drunk. Shot after shot, we are most obliging and continue to struggle with an inability to refuse. At least the food was over. Well, not quite. The lady next to us calls Tony over one last time and speaks in Italian with a big smile on her face. Then follows another platter, this time with an array of small sweet treats such as almond biscotti, shards of hazelnut chocolate. and coconut cake that reminded me so much of the Jewish confectionary, desiccated coconut pyramids. Finally, and somewhat thankfully, it was over. This remarkable experience left us departing with just 30 euros each, and a hell of lot of weight to show for it.
They say that it is important for parents to instil values into their children that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. “Make sure you it eat it all up” is certainly one I carried into my evening at Hostaria Tony e Dino. I also did as I was told and respected the rules of the host. In Tony & Dinos home it is clearly important to overeat. Overeat I did, and I wouldn’t hesitate to overeat there again, again and again.