Hotel Locarno: the "regal" 5-star hotel that has enchanted Rome for 100 years

Leonardo Samarelli
copertina hotel locarno

At Hotel Locarno, the austere charm of the property meets an outgoing and tradition-rich gastronomic offer. In the five-star hotel overlooking Piazza del Popolo, Nicholas Pinna and Domenico Smargiassi have respectively been the Bar Manager and the current chef for 14 years, creators of one of the most invigorating offerings in the city.

The story

Amidst the frenzied opening of luxury hotels that have been affecting the Roman landscape in the post-pandemic years, characterized by modern structures and rich contemporary installations, the Hotel Locarno proudly maintains its decadent and austere yet warm and welcoming charm. Most of the rooms are still furnished with the same objects dating back to the hotel's opening in 1925 – inaugurated on the occasion of the Jubilee by a Swiss family, hence the name in memory of their hometown.

hotel locarno roma l entrata
hotel locarno roma il salone esterno

It was Maria Teresa Celli, mother of the current owner Caterina Valente, who began the impressive restoration work that still brings glory to Locarno, the five-star hotel a stone's throw from Piazza del Popolo, perfectly visible from the rooftop of the structure.

hotel locarno roma rooftop

"We traveled around the world and throughout Italy, and I still do today, in search of unique objects, furniture, and other complements with which we furnished the hotel. After all, as I always say, our core business is to tell the story, and the pleasure of preserving it is what drives my daily work" – recounts Caterina Valente. "I've automated the whole hotel, but intentionally, on the noble floor, there are antique keys because I want to offer an experience: the weight of the key brings the customer to come to the desk, I can greet them with a smile, preserving that human relationship of service that would otherwise be lost."

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The bar-restaurant

A philosophy of making guests feel "at home" is evident in the gastronomic proposal, starting from the bar counter, diligently orchestrated for 14 years by Bar Manager Nicholas Pinna, who knows exactly what to offer to those who come to drink here, whether they're tourists, one of the many Americans who frequent Locarno, or a Roman looking for distractions.

hotel locarno roma nicholas pinna

"For me, the bar is comfort, not something complicated, what you read on the menu you'll find in the cocktails: simple, recognizable, and well-balanced ingredients," explains Nicholas. "The customer who comes here is not looking for a speakeasy but a place to drink well and directly, they don't want extreme mixology, and I have to intercept these needs."

hotel locarno roma il bloody mary

The menu is structured into 24 cocktails, divided into several sections that tell the philosophy and passions of the Roman Bar Manager. In the part dedicated to Italian drinks, "Innocenti Evasioni," the Roma-Bracciano (a reinterpretation of the Milano-Torino) is the recipe that best defines Nicholas's qualities and wisdom: Campari bitter, Antica Formula Vermouth, Rabarbaro Zucca, and orange bitter for a clean, essential, and pleasantly aromatic taste. On the menu for years, it is in the top three of the best-selling mixed drinks every month.

hotel locarno roma domenico smargiassi e nicholas pinna

Now it's time to meet the chef, Domenico Smargiassi, also in the Hotel's dream team for 14 years. "I arrived exactly one month after Nicholas." The chef has to cope with an all-day culinary proposal, served in every space of Locarno – from the main lounge to the fireplace room or the rooftop – in what can be defined as a cross between a bar and a restaurant.

chef domenico smargiassi

The starters are enticing and lively preparations, such as the Gamberoni in filo pastry and the Chicken 'n' chips, two chef's flagship dishes. In the first appetizer, playful and elegant, the maple sauce is an intuition that Domenico created after watching an episode of the well-known TV show Man vs. Food, while in the second appetizer, the chicken is the result of an unexpected preparation: marinated for 24 hours, it has three accompanying sauces – all homemade –, five spices, and a breading that enhances the tenderness of the meat.

hotel locarno roma la sala camino

The Yakitori of beef fillet and grilled pak choi is a one-way trip to Japan, and here too, the sauces make the difference, with Teriyaki with pineapple and Vermouth giving intense umami sensations. The chef shows a certain affinity for oriental preparations, which often put a twist on traditional dishes, a recurring theme in Domenico's life, who found his way after various life experiences. "Since I was a child, this has been my vocation. Then I graduated in sociology and started a career as a journalist. I was also a football school coach, but when one day a dear friend of mine, with whom I have always shared this passion, asked me to help him in the kitchen because he was injured, I didn't think twice, and from there I decided to embark on this path."

hotel locarno roma costolette d agnello

Surprisingly, it's a traditional dish, the Amatriciana Gran Cru, which instead of being, as often happens in these contexts, a poor copy of one of the Roman cuisine's must-haves, has nothing to envy from the interpretation of many renowned trattorias in the Capital. "I'm very proud of my Amatriciana, it's a studied recipe. The secret? I smoke the guanciale with balsamic vinegar which gives the right sweetness to the sauce."

hotel locarno roma amatriciana gran cru

The Bloody Brunch

During the weekend, the spotlight is on the Bloody Brunch, served in the charming fireplace room of Locarno, where Domenico Smargiassi's cuisine meets – once again – Nicholas Pinna's vision of the Bloody Mary.

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@Adriana Forconi

From the classic version of the drink to the Red Snapper prepared with Gin, plus a third variant that changes every week. "We wanted to create a menu that could satisfy and intrigue our entire audience, presenting both comfort food and original and captivating recipes at the same time," concludes the chef.

hotel locarno roma uova alla benedettina

It starts with the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, savory muffin, and hollandaise sauce. A good start where the different flavors of the ingredients complement each other and are enveloped by the pleasant richness of the hollandaise sauce. The second dish once again declines the egg in a Roman key: Maritozzo stuffed with scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and herb mushrooms, where the sinuous softness of the leavened dough is the leitmotif of the course.

hotel locarno roma il maritozzo

After the Amatriciana, another great interpretation of a classic is the Pappardelle with white wine ragù and Parmigiano. The correct thickness of the pasta embraces the ragù, which is cooked for two hours in white wine and finished with a tasty sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. Before leaving this authoritative structure rich in history and interesting culinary insights, there is the opportunity to taste an interesting reinterpretation of a dish with Middle Eastern origins, the Biryani, cooked in a panko crust, "masala" beef, and yogurt sauce, accompanied by a soft-boiled egg and ragù rice.

hotel locarno roma pappardelle al ragu

Via della Penna, 22, Roma, RM, Italia
Telefono: 06 3610 841

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