Indagare's editorial director Annie Fitzsimmons pens a love letter to one of our favorite Rome properties, Hotel de Russie, and their shakerato (best enjoyed in the private garden).
Few things in life are as enjoyable as a drink—or a morning hotel breakfast—in the garden at Hotel de Russie, even and especially in the summer when the city heats up with a tropical sun, the humid air almost quivering. The perfect summer afternoon in Rome, set at this hotel, might go something like this: Siesta, Shakerato, Spritz.
For those unfamiliar with the shakerato, it is one of Italy’s versions of an iced coffee (for a country that heats up in the summer, there are many versions), but this one is served in a cocktail glass without ice.
“Coffee is our tradition—summer, winter and so on,” says Giacinta Polidori, the hotel’s food and beverage manager. “Italians have always loved a cold coffee in the summer.”
During my first stay years ago, I fell in love with the drink, specially prepared at the hotel’s Stravinskij Bar. Now, as a self-proclaimed shakerato ambassador, I tell everyone going to Rome about Hotel de Russie’s version—and after sampling it throughout Italy, in other grand hotels and casual cafes, this remains my favorite.
It probably has something to do with the hotel’s centerpiece, the magnificent garden filled with lush plants, fountains and benches in the back—the private courtyard and upper-level terrace can be seen from the entrance of the lobby, inviting you to find a seat under the white umbrellas.
On that first visit, I had an afternoon shakerato in the bar and ended up canceling my dinner that evening to stay in the bar and people watch, moving on to a classic Spritz and ordering off the bar menu—it felt like the center of Rome’s social life. Many regular guests at the bar are locals, some who come every single day. Hotel guests do get priority, but you can also call to book a table—it’s a convivial, global mix.
After a chat with longtime head bartender Paolo Dianini, I know the very simple secrets of the drink, and it starts with a steel cocktail shaker. The glass—think martini glass—is first cooled. Into the shaker goes a large cup of ice, an inch of sugar and espresso. The key is in the strength of the shake—it must be vigorous, making a foam on top of the coffee. It’s poured out without the ice, otherwise it gets too watery when you serve it. And here’s how to enjoy it—hold that narrow stem and sip it like a cocktail, slowly.
“The most important thing is how it’s shaken,” says Paolo. “Otherwise, it’s not foamy. When you start sipping, you need the foam on your lips like when you drink a cappuccino.” But it’s usually made without milk—and I prefer mine without any sugar. The coffee seems naturally sweeter while cold, even without sugar. Paolo says it’s very popular with foreign visitors, though they drink it in different ways, often requesting almond milk. In Puglia, they add almond syrup to iced coffee (with cubes), which is called a Caffè Leccese. I’ll try a teaspoon of almond syrup in my next shakerato—the point is it is customizable.
A shakerato is best enjoyed in the morning and afternoon, around 4:00 p.m., after Italy’s long lunch and afternoon siesta, with caffeine fueling the way for the evening ahead.
Other popular summer drinks at Hotel de Russie? A martini; a special summer Bloody Mary with different kinds of tomato; a Negroni with the signature RF stenciled on the block ice cube; and the Stravinskij Spritz, with prosecco and homemade botanicals. Homemade ice cream is also in demand, as is the fresh strawberry and tomato salad with burrata, balsamic vinegar and mint.
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