Rome restaurant in hot soup for 700-euro lunch tab

A lobster is displayed at "Alive and Kicking" in Cambridge, Massachusetts, December 23, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

ROME (Reuters Life!) - Italian authorities have shut down a historic Roman restaurant days after it charged a Japanese couple nearly 700 euros for a seafood lunch to become an unwitting symbol of tourist rip-offs in the Italian capital.

The tourists filed a fraud complaint with police after being surprised with a bill for 579.50 euros plus 115.50 euros in tip for downing pasta and lobster with wine and gelato at the Il Passetto restaurant just off the popular Piazza Navona square.

Health inspectors arrived within days to shut down the 149-year old restaurant -- which has served stars ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Grace Kelly -- citing hygiene reasons.

Restaurants in Rome’s center have long been notorious for overcharging or serving overcooked pasta to the millions of tourists that flock here each year, and news of the pricey lunch sparked sharp criticism from consumer groups and city officials.

“As far as I’m concerned, this restaurant should never reopen again and operating licenses should be revoked for things of this nature,” Mayor Gianni Alemanno said, adding that he had ordered police to make surprise checks to uncover such fraud.

Consumer group Codacons said such rip-offs were frequent in the capital, while the head of an Italian business association also called for “maximum punishment” to be meted out.

But Il Passetto’s owner said he was surprised by the complaint, adding that it was the Japanese couple’s decision to leave the tip. Tipping is not obligatory in Italy, but is often demanded from foreigners anyway.

“They ordered 12 oysters, two kilos of lobsters, wine, 1.5 kg of seabass and even took photos with the waiters before leaving,” Franco Fioravanti told Rome’s Il Messaggero daily.

Writing by Deepa Babington