16 August 2011
TRAVEL: Florence restaurant (and general eating) guide
I loved Florence. It was my first visit and really exceeded my expectations as did everywhere we ate which seemed remarkably untainted by the tourist hordes if you know where to look. But then I did spend hours upon hours researching restaurants and things to eat! If you are visiting then I'll save you the trouble by listing all of my best finds here with budgets to suit everyone. I've also created a Google Map at the end with more places I wanted to try but ran out of time for, like the place that serves truffled sandwiches and Prosecco!
Best for Gelato
Avoid the piled up, gaudy displays for the tourists and head to one of the below. Grom is a branded and well-respected gelateria with a great pistachio flavour but I preferred the following two.
Via Lambertesca 18. www.carapina.it
The one everyone is talking about whoever they are. Only the best seasonal ingredients are used here and well worth the extra euro for. Some unusual flavours like olive oil, beer or even cheese mingle with classics. I liked the Vin Santo, which had a boozy Zabaglione taste and the Primolatte, a fresh, pure "first milk" much like a Fior Di Latte. The yogurt flavours are good and well matched to one of their fruity sorbets.
2. Gelateria della Passera
Piazza della Passera 15
A hidden gem and one I randomly stumbled across yet went back to 4 times in as many days. Set in a beautiful tiny piazza south of the Arno, I think this was may favourite overall. The sorbets were just the ticket after eating too heavily at dinner. Mostly classic flavours with a few surprises like the very good Mojito. I however couldn't eat enough of their pineapple or melon sorbets.
Best Cheap Eat
1. Il Contadino
71 Via Palazzuolo www.trattoriailcontadino.com Lunch and dinner. Closed at the weekends.
I still can't get over the cost of the meal here. Go for the set meal prices of €10.50 for primo, secondo, side, water and coffee or €11 for the option of a quarter litre of wine on top of that. Insane as the food was delicious and the wine better than any pish that passes as house wine in the UK. This is a simple, yet charming, classic tiled, local trattoria on the outskirts, full of lone dining workers at lunch but you MUST go. The daily changing menu includes classic home-style Italian cooking like mamma would make. The menu is read out to you but English is spoken. I went for home-made ravioli and a wonderful veal and pea stew but you can have minestrone, roast rabbit, carpacchio or even just pasta and a plate of cheese. Beware though, the coffee would wake the dead!
2. Gusta Pizza
Via Maggio 46, 11:30am to 3pm and 7:30pm to 11pm. Closed Monday.
Florence may not be the obvious place for a pizza yet this pizzeria is one of the better ones. Cheap as chips at €4.50-€7 yet great quality ingredients. Go early to get one of the glass topped barrels and be prepared to share. Alternatively get takeaway and devour on the steps of the Santo Spirito piazza. Avoid the house wine like the plague though and opt for a beer. The Gusta family also have a good sandwich shop round the corner called Gusta Panino for a quick cheap bite on the run.
Mercato Centrale. Closed Sunday.
No foodie should miss a visit to the Mercato Centrale (closed Sun) to gawp at the size of the artichokes and grimace at the tripe stalls. Mostly full of expensive dried mushrooms and multi-coloured pasta for the tourists but worth going alone for the best porchetta sandwich in Florence. Make sure you get it "bagnata" which means "wet" with the cooking juices from the roast. God I still dream about this sandwich.
2. I Due Fratellini
Via dei Cimatori 38. www.iduefratellini.com
"Hole in the wall" sandwich and Chianti shops were common in Florence, the fast food joints of the time. I Due Fratellini is still there where a mere €2.50 gets you a nice crusty roll and a choice of filling like porchetta or pork with salsa verde. Wash it down with a small glass of Chianti which you prop up on the specially made shelves on the outside wall. Pret a Manger can bite me.
1. Dei Frescobaldi
Via dei Magazzini, 2. Closed all day Sunday and Monday for lunch. www.deifrescobaldi.it
Smart restaurant with great quality food and ideal for a quiet lunch as few tourists will venture here. We just had some wine and some primi for a light lunch. The pasta of my Girasole ("sun flower") was like silk, filled with ricotta and spinach and topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil. Mr. GF's Pici with pancetta and cheese was a real man's pasta dish and something he raved about for the rest of the trip. Prices range from €12-16 for pasta and €18-20 for meat secondi.
I thought the €6 per diner cover charge was a little steep though - everywhere in Florence will charge you a few euros but this was the highest, yet shouldn't put you off a visit as the food and service is great.
2. Caffé Italiano
Via dell'Isola delle Stinche, 11. Closed Monday. www.caffeitaliano.it
Caffé Italiano offers classic Tuscan cooking with a beautiful smart-rustic interior. Again we pit stopped here for a plate of pasta at lunch although I opted for the Gnudi, a type of regional ricotta dumpling similar to gnocchi. These were served with a simple sage and butter sauce. Mr GF went for the potato ravioli with ragu. The chaps opposite us chose the steak, a must in Florence, and here they serve the Chianina steak - more expensive but the best. The Chianina, huge white cattle, has been bred locally for over 2000 years.
The full 5 course tasting menu at €50 would be a good option for a lingering, atmospheric dinner. It's worth noting the cheaper pizzeria they have next door which only serves 3 pizza choices all of which are supposed to be very good.
Best for Classic Tuscan food
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco
Borgo San Iacopo 43, Lunch and Dinner. Closed Wednesday.
We chose the Chingale Bianco for our anniversary dinner and, as the name suggests, wild boar is the house specialty.
The interior of this Ostiera is charming and fills up very quickly creating a lively atmosphere. I would drop in or call and book for dinner as small queues were forming outside. The menu is a bevvy of classic Tuscan dishes, they do a really good mixed antipasto with boar chacuterie. For primi, I went for the classic ribollita soup and Mr. GF, clearly on a pasta bender, the homemade tagliatelle with thick boar ragu. Divine. Mains were also great. My herbed roast pork fillet was so tender and served with lashings of the intense roasting juices. Remember to order a side dish as meat will arrive alone or with just roast potatoes.
As I wasn't eating red meat we didn't go for the table sliced Florentine steak as there was a minimum weight order (which really needed two people to finish). Mr. GF opted for the sliced beef and rocket which was the same cut anyway.
This is a really great restaurant and if you book be sure to get the little nook downstairs or the table upstairs for a bit of privacy and lingering as staff tend to be tempted to rush you a little to calm the queue.
Google Map of Florence
This map shows some of the gems I discovered in Florence as well as some I have yet to visit but been highly recommended. Times and prices correct as of July 2011 but be sure to check the current opening details as restaurants will close either Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Wednesday and part or all of August for their holidays. Some just randomly close so hard luck!
View The Graphic Foodie in Florence in a larger map