I am Sarah Jappy

Mr & Mrs Smith review: Palazzo Scanderbeg

A carby courtship in ravishing Rome...

Palazzo Scanderbeg – Italy – Rome - Exterior

You know how the saying goes: ‘When in Rome, bed down in a former pasta museum.’ Admittedly, that wasn’t a saying until 10 seconds ago, when I wrote it down, but now it is – and it’s one to live by.

It is a credit to the bloodhound-sensitivity of my nostrils that, as we step into Palazzo Scanderbeg’s immaculate entrance – all elegant splashes of fior di latte-white and neutral hues; casual coffee-table tomes here, monochrome artworks there; everything done in the best possible unobtrusive Italian taste – I remark to Mr Smith, with a sigh of pleasure: ‘It smells of pasta.’

Not the fiery garlicky tomatoey slug to the nose of arrabiata, not the salty, creamy, cheesy, wafty fug of carbonara, but the clean and simple smell of durum wheat. It’s a soothing scent. Jo Malone should probably launch a pasta-centric range; ‘Penne and Pine Nuts’ might topple Pomegranate Noir.

Palazzo Scanderbeg – Italy – Rome - Library

At this point, in the immaculate lobby, I am unaware of Palazzo Scanderbeg’s carby past. What I am aware of is a feeling of immense satisfaction, having been graciously seated in a lardon-soft leather chair and immediately presented with a glass of prosecco as pale and delicate as an Englishman abroad. On the side: a little dish of buttery bits, bobs and berries that Mr Smith and I inhale instantly with approval.

This is my first minibreak with Mr Smith. We are yet to get lost in a hot and sweaty foreign city; we are yet to fall out when hangry and in dire need of a loo break; we’ve never got our car stuck down a Greek road without hope of imminent rescue from a tractor, or endured traumatic massages whilst wearing tiny paper pants in a Cretan spa, or survived together the emotional assault and physical indignity of a five-day-delayed Ryanair flight from Marrakech. Consequently, we’re as fresh and giddy as schoolgirls; our romance fizzing as brightly as the recent prosecco.

There is no better place for box-fresh lovers than Rome. Every single millimetre of this classical city, with its myriad laneways and frankly ridiculous cultural treasures and star-turn trattorie and gelaterie and knee-weakening pasticcerie and statues and art and ravishingly beautiful Italians, was designed to make people go gooey – whether for the gelato, the Trevi Fountain, pizza blanca, every single random church where magnificent frescoes lurk (take your hat off; I forgot) or each other. We fall for all of the above and more. Because: Rome.

Palazzo Scanderbeg – Italy – Rome - Classic Townhouse

Here in the Eternal City, we embark on the kind of revoltingly romantic sojourn that Instagram is designed for. Palazzo Scanderbeg plays an important role in this. Its simple, pearl-pale rooms provide a blank canvas for our love affair. Immaculate white boudoir; sleek black bathroom; Nespresso machine: this formula could go down in textbooks as instructions for seduction. Factor in quiet and discreet staff (who may or may not have interrupted us mid-‘sesso’, both to their surprise and ours), Poltrona Frau furniture and that leave-you-to-it approach that has guests disrobing with wild abandon, and you’re left with a heady mix.

Palazzo Scanderbeg – Italy – Rome - Breakfast room

Then there are Scanderbeg’s delicious DIY breakfasts; DIY in that you go upstairs and get them yourselves (as civilised a form of hunter-gathering as I’ve ever encountered). You’re even encouraged to take your edible bounty back to your bedroom (#itsallaboutdatbedroom), should you wish. Instead, we pause and remind ourselves what other humans look like, staking out a couple of bonkers purple chairs and nibbling indecently custard-stuffed croissants while admiring the views from the windows. (Palazzo Scanderbeg gives good window.)

When you’re falling for someone, you don’t really need to go outside. When in Rome, you definitely should. Not all neighbours are worth knowing, but Palazzo Scanderbeg’s is: a tiny, brilliant, wonderfully local restaurant by the name of Piccolo Arancio. I first divine that this place is going to be good when I admire it from the street-spying windows of our bedroom and notice a steady stream of chic, (understandably) smug-looking Romans trickling down to its al fresco, gingham-paper-topped tables.

Soon it’s our turn. We bag the prime spot outside, where we sit in sunshine for several hours, enjoying a lengthy culinary romance involving artichoke (OH, THE ARTICHOKE!), stuffed courgette flowers, anchovies with rocket and tomatoes, parma ham, salmon-and-cream gnocchi, Frascati and tiramisù. (NB: we try artichoke every which way in Rome; Piccolo’s crispy-leaved, liquorice-y fried version is the undisputed winner.)

There’s an inside section at Piccolo but I have no idea what it looks like; my advice is to bag an outside table and watch the world go by from your plate/s. On this recurring topic of food and drink, not one meal we pause for in Rome is any less than incredible. Other places worth writing home about include Cacio e Pepe – yep, for cacio e pepe – and a seafood restaurant called Nanà Vini e Cucina, which has a romantic courtyard where brilliant waiters serve giant fish platters, toothsome seafood linguine (heaped with clams, squid and mussels), and Pecorino wine worth boarding a plane for. We even find a hole-in-the-wall bar with a chalkboard drinks list and obliging barmen who concoct streetside Aperol spritzes with all the pizazz of Tom Cruise in Cocktails – for €5 apiece.

Occasionally, we put our knives and forks down. We visit the Trevi Fountain (admittedly it’s a two-minute walk away), the Colosseum and the Pantheon. We admire magnificent murals, we dip into antiques markets and we window-shop for eye-wateringly expensive vintage sunnies. We sniff delicious scents in an artisan perfumery; we stroll aaaaaaallllll around the city (managing to get lost, yet remaining paw-in-paw and in good spirits); we admire a Willy Wonka-worthy wall of liquid chocolate at Venchi gelateria. We walk across the river; we walk back across the river; we walk up the Spanish Steps; we walk down the Spanish Steps; we visit the Campo de’ Fiori market and we invest in pasta gifts for the folks back home.

Most of all, we enjoy each other, and Rome, and Palazzo Scanderbeg. That’s a threesome worth repeating.