Kennith Ng, who lives in Hong Kong, told The Local that in August he and his wife were charged more than €600 for a plate of pasta, a roasted fish and a bottle of water shared between them at Antico Caffè di Marte, the same Roman restaurant that was recently accused of charging two Japanese tourists over €400 for two plates of fish, spaghetti and water.
In Ng's case, the damage was even worse: €468.60 for just two dishes and a litre of water, plus a compulsory “tip” of €137.
That brought their total bill for a two-person lunch without wine to an eye-watering €605.60.
The couple protested but eventually paid the charge in full after being threatened by the restaurant's staff, said Ng and his wife, Bobo Chan, who have reported the restaurant to the Italian police.
Chan told officers that several waiters surrounded her and her husband and subjected them to “menacing behaviour”, telling them they would not be allowed to leave without paying, according to a copy of the police statement seen by The Local.
After filing a police report within hours of the incident of August 24th, the couple emailed a further complaint to the Guardia di Finanza – Italy's financial crime force – upon their return home. The police in Rome also advised the couple to contact the Italian consulate in Hong Kong, but “we have heard nothing from Italy so far,” Ng told The Local on Monday.
He advises other visitors to do their research before eating out in Italy, since subsequent searches online revealed many similar complaints about Antico Caffè di Marte, which is rated “Terrible” on TripAdvisor.
The restaurant, located near Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican in the heart of Rome's tourist centre, has been repeatedly accused of serving customers large quantities of seafood or steak without explaining that they'll be billed by weight.
While the restaurant's owner told the Italian press in connection with another incident that the “menu is clear“, Chan said that the charges listed on their receipt were “totally different” to what they had understood from the menu displayed outside.
Italian law requires that restaurants display their prices clearly and accurately. But like in tourist hotspots everywhere, establishments in some of Italy's most heavily visited areas are notorious for finding ways to overcharge unwitting visitors.
Other notorious cases include an €80 bill for a couple of burgers and three coffees near the Vatican, a €1,100 meal for four at a restaurant in Venice, a single cone ice cream that cost €25 in Florence, and a €42 check for three gelati and some water near the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Such rip-offs are, thankfully, the exception, but they risk damaging the reputation of Italy's entire tourism industry.
As Ng says, honest restaurants also the victims when unscrupulous businesses take advantage. “I actually had a very lovely holiday in Italy by and large, we had some unforgettable memories and met so many lovely locals,” he told The Local. “In fact, most of the restaurants in Italy are second to none, their passion for food is so touching, just beautiful!
“Therefore, I feel so sorry for those lovely restaurants' owners as it is unfair to them.”
Have you been ripped off while travelling in Italy? Email us and tell your story.