TV Review: Rome Unpacked


Since Sicily Unpacked came to our screens in 2012, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli have been unpacking their bags all over Italy, giving us an insight into the food, art and history of wherever they travel. The various series over the years have strongly appealed to me as food, art and, of course, travel, are great passions of mine – hence the blog (Travel Gourmet!) and also my dip into a little bit of art sharing of late. Two more genial and well-informed guides would be hard to find. Both top of the game in their respective areas, what is particularly appealing about watching them is their passion, not only for their own specialist area but the other’s. They feed well off each other: Giorgio’s response to the art Andrew shows him can be just as insightful; Andrew’s knowledge of food and clear delight in being the beneficiary of Giorgio’s cooking makes us all wish we were there too. They come across as friends; friends who like to holiday together, and it’s a huge pleasure being a witness to their adventures. The mood is relaxed, full of laughter, full of awe at both food and art. And in the gentlest of ways is quite educational. In short, the ‘Unpackeds’ are wonderful TV. However, I’ve never felt until tonight that any quite matched that first one in Sicily, but now Rome has won their hearts and passion and the first episode in this new series was an absolute delight.

I know a lot of lovely Italians and one thing I’ve learnt is that the country’s unification back in 19th century (a period ending in 1871) has never completely wiped out the rivalries of the different regions. And it’s a rivalry that can cause passions and tensions to arise whenever food is discussed. Italians are invariably passionate about food and particularly of their own region. Beware of showing small cannoli from northern Italy to a Sicilian; talking pizza when both a Roman and Neopolitan are in your midst. It struck me that Andrew and Giorgio devoting a whole series (albeit only 2 episodes) to Rome on its own could spark a revolution. I hope they’ve got Naples, Milan and other major cities on their future list …

Rome is big. I once spent 5 weeks there and have been back many times, but it would be hard to say ‘I know’ it. How could one possibly cram the art and food of Rome into just one 60-minute episode? To be honest, how on earth are they going to do it in two!

The ‘largeness’ of Rome isn’t just about its geographical size. Graham-Dixon tells us straight away that ‘to understand Rome’ you have to understand its people, their driving force; they are larger than life, passionate … and, unpredictable.  This boldness, this needing to be seen, bursts out in the art and food too. The two travellers go in search of the artist Caravaggio, Andrew’s specialist subject. Has any artist been bolder, more passionate, rebellious and dramatic than Caravaggio? Then of course there’s the completely over-the-top Vittorio Emanuelle II monument on Piazza Venezia, which our two travellers seem to find as ridiculous as many others, but you can’t miss it; you can’t ignore it.

How on earth did they manage to visit the Capitoline Hill and stand in Michelangelo’s magnificent Piazza del Campidolgio on their own? Where were all the people? Where were the crowds as they stood in front of the Trevi Fountain? They just about resisted throwing a coin in but instead did a wonderful segue into Federico Fellini’s glorious film from 1960, La Dolce Vita,  and we get a short glimpse of the beautiful Antia Ekberg jumping in the fountain closely followed by Marcello Mastroianni.

Of course there was fabulous food too. Giorgio walking through the markets, Andrew close at hand, sorting through the fresh produce: a perfect romanesco broccoli, a fantastically large fresh skate. Then in the kitchen Giorgio, almost bursting with his enthusiasm and passion, cooks the most glorious fish stew. And of course we all envied Andrew. Wouldn’t we all love to have Giorgio cook for us.

In a restaurant, a chef who Giorgio says makes the best Spaghetti Carbonara in the world shows us how it’s truly made. No bacon, no cream, but absolutely some guanciale – cured pig’s cheek – and thought to be essential for an authentic Carbonara.

What a great treat the programme was. And oh my, how much it made me want to return to Rome … it’s been nearly 6 years since I’ve been there and now I need to go back and follow in Giorgio and Andrew’s footsteps.



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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

4 thoughts on “TV Review: Rome Unpacked

  1. A great start of the year and once again thanks to the BBC investing money in producing wonderful cultural programs. I will even forgive the initial talk of the people ruling or even being consulted which is a clear stretch of Rome history that can only work in this modern climate of sovranism. Full disclosure: never been at Vittoriano still 🙂

    1. You have to see the Vittoriano. I think of it as a wedding cake (I read that description somewhere years ago) rather than a typewriter. I’ve never been inside but have climbed its steps and walked through outdoor galleries.

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