I first tasted this dish at the Hotel Condotti Palace. It was one of the hotels preferred by our record company in Rome (always, always a fabulous bunch of people with excellent taste) and perfectly positioned at the top of the Spanish Steps for the occasional night off. Camparigirl and I paid it a quick visit when we were in Roma during July – and it is still as understatedly elegant as ever.
One of my favourite things about the Condotti was that they had a buffet table at lunchtime. Loosely themed along ‘cucina povera’ lines – the chef would basically walk to work via the market in the morning and pick up whatever was fresh and seasonal and put six or seven dishes together. Full and robust in the winter, light and fresh in the summer.
That day, Omar Sharif – the Egyptian actor and champion bridge player, was the only other (early) diner in the bar/ restaurant. We met at the buffet and I introduced myself – telling him that my mother (who is a pretty good bridge player herself) had always admired his style. He was delighted and invited me to join him for lunch – treating me to my first Negroni ever (as an aperitif, never with food!) – and introducing me to Vitello Tonnato. It was the most delicious of lunches in all ways. Charming company, lovely food, gorgeous old-fashioned hotel dining room.