Just to the northwest of the faintly grotesque tourist nexus that is Piazza Navona, Rome’s Centro Storico (“historic centre”) offers a maze of streets, alleyways and piazzette. There, it’s possible to wander, get lost, find yourself again, elude the tourists mobs, bump into them again, and even find filming locations from Eat Pray Love (ugh). Among the cobbles and crumbling apartment blocks are numerous bars, restaurants and gelaterie. Our destination last night was No.Au, a bar/restaurant located between the handsome Chiostro del Bramante and the somewhat chichi Via dei Coronari (which even boasts one of Rome’s few cupcake shops these days. Bloody cupcakes).
No.Au, which opened in summer 2012, is a collaboration between several big names in Italy’s craft brewing and food scene who wanted to “recreate the atmosphere of a Parisian bistro, with quality products and good company, in the centre of Rome.” You’ll find the whole spiel (in English), and an explanation of the name of the place, here on the Baladin site. Why is it on the Baladin site? Because one of those (five) big names is Teo Musso, the founder and master brewer of Baladin, Italy’s biggest craft brewer.
So key is Musso in the Italian craft brewery scene, a biography has even recently been published. It’s called ‘La birra artigianale è tutta colpa di Teo’ (“Baladin. Craft beer is Teo’s fault” – ie Musso is to blame, ie responsible, for the whole craft beer scene in Italy.) Presumably the title is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but certainly Musso is among the most influential of Italy’s craft brewers. His collaborators here are Luca Tosato (also of Baladin), Leonardo di Vincenzo (master brewer of Birra del Borgo), Paolo Bertani (also of Borgo, and previously Baladin) and Gabriele Bonci (renowned pizzaiolo and TV regular whose company produces the breads for Open Baladin bar. We did a pizza course with him last year).
It’s no surprise, then, that at No.Au, the main beers you’ll find on tap are from Baladin and del Borgo, but they also have others, in bottles, both Italian and international. Beside where we sat was an old box of US brewer Dogfish Head’s intriguing/strange Midas Touch. I stayed with Baladin for my first choice. As I’d tried a lot of the offerings on tap, I went for a Nazionale (6.5% ABV), which the friendly, helpful waitress described as a “simple” beer. It’s described as an Italian Ale – as it’s top fermented and also because it’s made with entirely Italian ingredients. This includes the hops – which was a pleasant surprise, as so many Italian craft beers seem to depend on international hops.
This really was a pleasing beer, perfect to accompany the antipasti we’d ordered: a plate of bufala e prosciutto and some very fine freshly cooked potato crisps/chips accompanied by three flavours of mayo. As the waitress said, it was simple – a golden yellow, with a quickly subsiding soft head, very subtle aroma of ginger and lemon, and a fairly sweet, mildly hoppy smooth taste (27 IBU). Molto beverina.
Fran’s first beer was Keto RePorter (5.2% ABV) from Birra del Borgo. This porter is made with the addition of Kentucky tobacco leaves, but it was also very mild from the few sips I had.
As the beers were served in half-pints, and we’d finished the antipasti, I fancied trying something a little more interesting, so the waitress recommended Baladin’s Open Rolling Stone, which they described as an Italian APA on their blackboard, but as an IPA on Ratebeer. Either way, this beer, branded for the magazine of the same name, is very tasty. It’s relatively strong, at 7.5%, and had a slight perfume of camomile and a reasonable head. At first taste it was soft and sweet, but this gave way to a drier, slightly hoppy flavour (it’s still only a fairly moderate 36 IBU though, according to Baladin’s site). I was enjoying this one, but about half-way through my half-pint it started getting a bit detergenty, losing its crispness.
Fran’s second one was a Genziana from del Borgo. I’ve had this before, though didn’t try it last night. It’s a really interesting beer made with bitter gentian flowers.
When some friends arrived, we ordered some more food. The emphasis here is on snacks and food that’s either stirato (“ironed” ) or crudo (“raw”). The ironing takes place on a piastra (flat top grill). I was slightly surprised to see a lot meat available (such as sandwiches made with burger buns and sliced roast beef), as over at Katie Parla’s site she reports how Bonci’s places are going vegetarian for a month to protest Rome’s lack of appreciation of Lazio’s farmers and producers. I asked the waitress, and she said the menu was in transition. So if you visit any time in late July, there may be more vegetarian food. I had seppia (cuttlefish), which had been ironed in a folded sheet of parchment, with zucchini. Served with an ink mayo, it wasn’t bad, but I would say this place is more about the drinks and antipasti, more a place for aperitivi or after-dinner drinks.
Talking of after-dinner drinks, when we’d eaten, I ordered one more (hey, that still makes just one and a half pints). I got Baladin’s Isaac, a 5% blanche made with orange zest and coriander and it was a perfect palette cleanser.
All in all, a very pleasant evening. Although the place only started to fill up, and the lights went down, around 8.30-9.00pm, it’s definitely a good place to visit for quality Italian craft beers. And plates of cheese. And maybe even some wine. Oh, and the music was pretty good too. All this within a stone’s throw of Piazza Navona and its thoroughly-worth-avoiding eating and drinking options.
Baladin brewery (English site)
Birra del Borgo brewery (English site)