/Caffè Propaganda Opens Near the Colosseum

Caffè Propaganda Opens Near the Colosseum

Molten chocolate cake…zzzzzz…oops dozed off and woke up in 1997.

It has taken me a full week to properly write about Caffè Propaganda, the bar/cafe/restaurant/cocktail bar/pricey macaron dealer/wannabe Parisian bistro that opened near the Colosseum on November 17. The place has generated more buzz than any other place in Rome I can remember. This is due mainly to the cast of characters involved: the beloved Chef Arcangelo Dandini, well-respected Pastry Chef Stéphane Betmon, fancy owners, a PR firm, a killer location, and a clientele that eats up trendy with more gusto than actual food. A recipe for success? So far, so good. The place has been packed and has garnered many positive reviews (though I can’t say this is one of them).

I visited for brunch last weekend with Mamma Parla and my friend John. We arrived at 1pm and were shown to our table near the kitchen. From there, I had a view over the entire dining room, a stunning space channeling early 20th century Paris. Pretty. But random.

Now what can I say about the meal? I think my comments to Eater are pretty accurate. Dishes were chronically underseasoned and only the eggs cooked with tomato and mint resembled anything particularly brunchy. (In Rome, the word brunch is applied to any prix fixe or buffet weekend lunch and has little to do with the traditional definition of the word.) The service was a hot mess and there were a bunch of casually dressed investors (?) with meagre forearm strength awkwardly bussing tables and generally causing confusion on the crowded floor. So at least there was some comic relief. The meal was relatively affordable at €25 for 4-courses. I would happily have paid more for some salt.

I’m sure the food and service will improve, but what really needs work is the business model. Caffè Propaganda is trying to be everything to everyone, it seems. In a way it reminds me of the nearby OS Club. During the week, Caffè Propaganda serves Roman classics, sandwiches, salads, super fancy desserts, macarons. There is brunch at weekends. The place is always open, though good luck trying to find out what they serve when. In what seems to be an unwritten rule in Italy, the company website is still a work in progress, more than 2 weeks after opening. But even more confusing are the prices, which are all over the board, ranging from €2 for a single macaron to €16 for tripe. Tripe!!! First courses are a bit more reasonable at around €10-12 each. Desserts are €8-12.

It’s hard enough running a successful restaurant with a well-conceived dining concept, much less a business with a vaguely defined one. But since I have 0% understanding of how or why Roman restaurant economics work (they seem to defy logic), maybe they’ll pull it off.

If things start to tank, however, they can always hock a few speakers. The music is so unbearably loud I developed tinnitus during the two-hour meal. The press release actually gives credit to one of the investors, dj Giancarlino, for the playlist. This amuses me.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on the place. It just opened, after all, so the food and service get a pass. But unfortunately that is not where the problem lies. The whole concept is just so boring. Hasn’t hype over clearly defined substance been done before?

2017-02-17T15:22:50+00:00 December 5th, 2011|Categories: Food & Wine, Restaurants, Restaurants in Rome, Rome & Lazio|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. Jerry December 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I trust Katie.

    Even tough I haven’t been there yet from Katie’s description I can frankly say to have already experienced this kind of chaotic and grotesque sit-com that seems to be the essence of almost any restaurant in Rome.

    I’m sick and tired of this city and of its totally lack of respect for customers and their money.

  2. Rossella December 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    I haven’t been there too.
    I’m Italian anyway as you I can’t understand why and how Roman restaurant economics work. I’m bored of vague business plan, they make my eating experience too much complicated.
    At the end…if I have the opportunity, I’ll try Propaganda otherwise no problem.

  3. MegRhi December 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Seems like the type of place I avoid in NYC.

  4. Jordan Cox December 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Nice review! And it’s stressing me out just reading it. You hope this stuff will get resolved and tightened up over time, but it probably won’t. Look at Necci.

    It’s a shop selling food and bread, a bar, a breakfast bar, a quick take-out lunch place, a sit-down lunch place with reservations, an aperitivo place, a sit-down restaurant for dinner, a dessert place, and a late night place for snacks and beer and wine.

    It never closes and there’s no simple way to tell when one part of the service starts or finishes. This means servers have to be all things to all people — making them really shitty when you want sit-down service, and hard to find when you want something quick. The snaking, confused line for the cash also blocks the path out of the kitchen, so everyone is always in someone’s way.

    I love that there’s a beautiful spot where I can get a cappuccino and a cornetto with butter and sit and read and not pay extra to sit. And it’s the opposite of so many old Roman bars that feel like a bad part of the 1930s with awful lighting and horrible cornetti — so I still go to Necci often, mostly for breakfast, and kinda love that it’s there. But it’s been open for a few years and you’d think it would be humming along by now.

    Also FYI there are maybe 400 laws in Italy against any restaurant having an accessible or simple website. It takes 6+ months to build something entirely in flash with great background music and unreadable text that won’t work on phones or iPads but will cost several thousand euro and arrive months late, so please cut them a lot of slack.

  5. Amanda December 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Ha. I was there last week, admittedly just for a drink. But given the super-slow bartender (he was going all chemist-style on a cocktail… too bad I only wanted a glass of wine) and a crowd, and staff, that both seemed just a biiiit too snooty for their (okay, nice-looking) digs in the heart of microwaved-pasta-land, I was not impressed.

    Even though I’m pretty damn curious about what exactly goes into an €18 burger.

  6. Mamma Parla December 6, 2011 at 5:33 am - Reply

    I totally agree! Will re-visit on my next trip to Rome in the spring..that should be enough time to work the kinks out, right?

  7. Sarah May December 9, 2011 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    Sounds like you needed E to turn that noise down. I think I will pass!

  8. Erica January 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    It must be noted that though the bartenders at Propaganda may be slow, they are very well-versed in the art of the cocktail. If anyone contests, I invite you to come taste the entire cocktail menu with me 😀 again…

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