“Stealth wealth” became A Thing in 2023. TikTok was awash with “get the look!” fashion videos; magazines full of think pieces on crisp white shirts and camel cashmere. The idea is to ooze money — or at least look like you do — in classic, understated cuts and colors. What the Streeps and Paltrows have been doing for decades is now the standard for the aspirational and chronically online.
The trend came to mind as I tumbled into Rome’s five-star Anantara Palazzo Naiadi during the Cerberus heatwave. Slick with sweat, a suitcase half my size and missing one wheel, toenails unpainted and there to interview chef Heros de Agostinis, I wished I’d paid more attention.
There are fancy hotels, then there are stratospherically fancy hotels like this one. The neoclassical, crescent-shaped nineteenth-century marble building rises up in front of the dilapidated baths of Diocletian. Just checking in is an act of wonder, glass panels underfoot revealing ancient ruins hidden among the foundations.
But people come for the food, too — still not something many hotels can boast about. INEO riffs of Italian tradition and de Agostinis’s experience: at Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo and London’s Lanesborough. His “mettisage” of techniques is playful, bursting with color.
Opening the door to a duplex suite felt like a delusion from dehydration; a generous upgrade affording a piazza view and a staircase leading to a sumptuous double bed. My friend Sophie arrived moments later, collapsing on the sofa. She shook a flimsy portable fan until a squirt of mist sighed out.
“I think it melted.”
Showered, watered and reborn, our appetites returned in time for our dinner reservation. Plates of culatello (translating to “little ass”) and Nero di Parma ham were served with fig and walnut bread, before chef came to say buonasera.
“Call me Heros. So, this is where I was born. The more ethnic part of Rome — Esquilino. Nowadays it’s becoming like Shoreditch.”
He cheerily explained his concept.
“I wanted to collect techniques I learned around the world — and destiny eventually brought me back to Rome. The owner gave me trust. He asked me, ‘what do you want to do?” I said I wanted to do Italian food mixed with other cultures. Esquilino-style. So, here you are in Rome… but you are in the world!”
We were served Champagne Brut Le Prestige, with a caveat.
“For sparkling wine, France is the best. We can admit that.”
A bottle of Habemus hailing from red wine wonderland central Italy brought it home again, made with Grenache, Tempranillo, Carignan and Syrah.
The seven course “INEO’s Journey” tasting menu gives the broadest sense of Heros’s capabilities, which are manifold. We scooped sea scallops mi-cuit with gazpacho of carrots and Philippine lime, and cooed over confit of John Dory in ventricina Abruzzese oil, with sumac. Mid-meal, a trolley appeared, positively groaning with breads and savory pastries. Later, another laden with cheeses.
“This is so good, I could cry,” came Sophie’s review.
A saddle of lamb tikka masala bowled us over, served with a fresh Greek fave meze, buttermilk and mint. Strawberries with Amalfi lemons and almond ice cream had us rolling to bed, dazzled and full.
The following day brought the eclectic Spice Spoons experience, a private cooking class with Heros. Declaring forty degrees too hot for the usual tour of Esquilino market, Heros hailed a car from the hotel’s fleet, hinting at something better. At that point, I’d have followed him to hell. No doubt it’d be cooler than Rome, and there’d be toasted focaccia.
“My friends. They have this great little place.”
The “little place” was Roscioli, one of the biggest names on Rome’s food scene — and number one on my hit list. Spread across a spaghetti tangle of streets in Campo de’ Fiori is the Roscioli family’s legacy: a Ristorante, Salumeria, Antico Forno, Caffè Pasticceria, Rimessa (an esoteric food and wine space) and a Wine Club. A sister spot has just opened in New York, too.
The perfect surprise, I couldn’t believe our good fortune. A tear might’ve escaped my eye, but I’ll forever blame the AC.
At Roscioli Salumeria Con Cucina, there are two wine menus — one solely for Italian wines, one for everything else. It amounts to almost 3,000 bottles. We descended downstairs to the cellar, the team dusting off bottles of Chateau d’Yquem with the appropriate reverence.
“We need them. For 300 cheeses, each week,” nodded the manager sagely.
Heros and the Roscioli gang pulled up two bar stools for Sophie and me, plonking down glasses of white wine and a plate of anchovies. Glasses clinked as focaccia bianca arrived, layered with thin mortadella. We walked down to Roscioli’s bakery for a double espresso, then spent a full ten minutes poring over homemade suppli and organic rotisserie sandwiches.
Along the way, Heros picked up every ingredient needed to make two of Rome’s most famous pasta dishes: Amatriciana and Carbonara. We puffed our way back to the car, and the AC.
“Now, I cook.”
A huge fan blew the scent of guanciale directly into our nostrils, seated in Heros’s gleaming private kitchen back at the hotel. While he chopped tomatoes and grated pecorino, he talked.
“In Esquilino market you will find all the products in the world — Uganda, China, Malaysia. Next time.”
“I continue to travel while staying in Rome, and I have the chance to be creative. I want to make a trip around the world with the food. Now we’re five months open, I’m pretty sure, the people want Italian with a twist.”
I asked what he does with his time off.
“I’m a typical Roman guy! I like to cook… and eat pasta!”
“What’s your absolute favorite food?” I prodded.
“From mi madre. Something made with love. It doesn’t matter what it is. Why is it better? Because they do it with unconditional love. They want you to feel good. You know?”
I thought of my own mother, always trying new Italian recipes from scratch. How lucky I was as a kid, and now; two prized Roman chefs stood in front of us pouring wine and telling stories. As we tasted both dishes (perfect), Heros shot my question back at me.
“And your best meal?” We both knew the answer; the same as his.
“Mamma mia,” Heros said.
A cold blast of air made my mascara run.
Quizzed on how to assimilate to new cultures, travel writer and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once said: “Drink heavily with locals whenever possible.” The “Opening a bottle with…” series is about getting pickled with people far cooler than I am.