Following research, we loved what we saw about So What?!? and asked to drop by to take some shots. They were kind enough to provide us with the following meal, however all thoughts and opinions are – as always – formed independently and without agreement to be favourable.
Ever walk into a restaurant and get the immediate impression that you’re going to love it?
The interior decor is great and the people you meet with as soon as you arrive make you feel fantastic before you’ve had a chance to sit down? So What?!? Vegan Restaurant is exactly like that; and if you’ve never had that feeling before then it’s time to travel to the ancient Italian capital of Rome where a very modern vegan and vegetarian-friendly culture is being born.
The Heart of Alternative Culture
In the heart of the hip and happening suburb of Il Pigneto that is not all that much more than a thirty minute walk or a couple of metro steps along from Roma Termini station, So What?!? couldn’t have chosen a better place to be located considering the huge amount of young Italian locals around the area, the trendy cafes that are dotted around, and the street art all around which are tell-tale signs of alternative culture and the popular future that almost always follows.
Vegan May Be Trending, But…
So What?!? is most likely going to be at the forefront of the change that is happening in Rome not just as the alternative culture finds its new home and grows over time, but also at the head of a culture of change towards a vegan diet and a healthy living lifestyle, but this is no fad for the husband and wife team that opened this particular Italian vegan restaurant in Rome in 2013, but rather they’ve been vegan for the vast majority of their adult lives and the current trend towards more people adapting has come as a welcome surprise.
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Paolo and Alessandra have been vegan for a long time – especially so in Paolo’s case as he turned vegan from a vegetarian diet in the late ’90’s – and together they’ve been cooking fantastic vegan food via their online vegan cookbook Vegan Riot for a number of years, so when they came to think of all the fantastic vegan food that they knew how to make, as well as all the incredible vegan food they’d tasted whilst doing some travelling themselves, they realised that Rome wasn’t looking for another standard vegan or vegetarian restaurant, but rather a unique place full of their personalities and the cuisine they’ve pulled together, not just of vegan classics, but full of the incredible Italian recipes that local people love, but never really knew were already vegan.
Personality Of A Punk
It’s not hard to tell just what kind of people Paolo and Alessandra are from the moment you arrive. At their hearts, they love pop culture and it’s plain to see from the decor all around, but whilst the punk vibe can have some people a little apprehensive at first in other bars, clubs and vegan restaurants, here at So What?!? it’s heartwarming and playful.
The toys that decorate the walls, the movie posters from classic 70’s and 80’s sci-fi b-movies give this vegan restaurant character, and it calls out to your own childhood as you spot pop culture references that almost everyone will know – like this play on the Run DMC logo.
Italian Vegan Cuisine
Whilst talking to Paolo we both began to understand the diversity of the menu and how they’ve chosen the items upon it. Sure there are some of the classics like a veggie burger or two (I do love a good veggie burger!), what makes this particular restaurant special is the inclusion of not just Italian cuisine, but also local and provincial classics that you don’t often find outside the city.
Eventually sitting down to try some items from the menu we wanted to try the food in the classic Italian style with an antipasti and settled on Lingue di Dragone (Tofu Stuffed Aubergine Rolls)
Note: To really eat like a local in Italy, be sure to leave your ‘one plate is a meal‘ standards back home and embrace the multiple plate culture of antipasti, primo, secondo and dolce. Anything else is simply not Italian and you’re really missing out!
The aubergine was grilled perfectly, the dressing just right, but none of it was as delicious as the tofu stuffing itself.
In our experience tofu cooked or prepared in the wrong hands can be a tasteless affair, but at So What?!? you can taste and understand that the mind behind the process of making this vegan starter loves the craft flavours with thought, care and attention to the senses. It’s delicate and subtle, but mouthwatering and incredible easy to order a second plate of.
For our first plate we had the pleasure of trying two dishes, first we sampled Riso Intergrale con Ras El Hanout (Mixed Rice with Arabic Spices, Courgette and Baby Leeks) which was possibly the best tasting rice we’ve sampled since we were back devouring rice daily throughout Asia; alongside that we also had the good fortune to try one of the local Roman dishes that is simple, classic, yet entirely vegan.
Linguine con Pesto di Salvia (Pasta with a Sage Pesto) is a classic Roman dish that neither of us had heard of or tried before, but both of us are dying to try again due to the unique taste that keeps your tongue tingling in anticipation for another bite.
Swapping plates between us in typical couple eating style, we finished with our primo plates of delicious vegan food and began to start on our secondi piatti (second plates) which began with a plate of Lo Chiamavano Trinita’ (A Trinity of Kidney Beans, Onions and a Tofu & Lupin Bean Wurstel) which is themed on a classic spaghetti western comedy film of which the plate takes the idea behind the recipe and name.
The pasta was pretty tough to beat, but this plate with a Mexican feel was certainly delicious too, most notable because of the texture and taste of the wurstel sausage, made from a combination of tofu and lupin beans that we’d never tried before, but one we would choose over almost 100% of the vegan sausages we’ve tried to date.
Alongside this we were also lucky enough to try an item that wasn’t on the menu, but available to us on the day which was Patate con Soy e Aneto (Potatoes in a creamy Soy and Dill Sauce) that were cooked to my level of al dente perfection – not too hard, not too soft – but with plenty of flavour instead of boiled to death. On top which was the sauce that was hard to believe was soy cream considering the great texture and even better taste.
No Italian meal is complete without a sweet dish to finish, and as my waistband during our time back in Italy will tell you, I’m never going to decline the opportunity.
Of the select choices of sweet desserts neither of us could decline the chance to enjoy a spoonful of Destroy! (Peanut Butter Mousse on a bed of Chocolate Muesli), and we couldn’t have been happier with our choice.
Presentation goes a long way in the food industry and So What?!? are no exception to the rule, and as we opened up our jar, releasing the delicious smell and flavour from inside, we hesitated only a second before burrowing in with our spoon to consume in haste the sweet taste inside.
Fresh, full of flavour, and a combination of textures; Destroy! may have a name that might make you think twice about eating it; once you begin to taste that sweet peanut butter mousse you won’t stop until you’ve scrapped out every last drop and even last crumb.
With every review we do we always try to look at the pros and the cons, the weaknesses and the positives; but with the Italian-based cuisine at So What?!? Vegan Restaurant in Rome you’re left with nothing but great things to say, and huge desires to order a second round of everything – especially the dessert!.
Another huge positive for us was the team at So What?!? who wore nothing but smiles the whole time we were there, making sure we had everything we needed between making the restaurant ready for the stream of people that began to arrive from all over Rome before we made our late night surprise trip back to Franca’s home.
via Ettore Giovenale 56-58
Have you eaten vegan in Rome?