As I have mentioned in previous trip reports…finding good places to eat, when you travel, can be tricky. Do you just stick around the main tourist areas? Do you try a place based on how it looks from the outside and the menu? Or do you listen to others recommendations? Do you blindly trust the guidebook? Before going to Florence I tried to note down various options based on feedback from travel forums, guidebooks etc. I put everything into Google My Maps (as you can see here ) and from there I imported it into Google Earth and printed a report that I brought with me. Here is a summary of some of the meals we had in Florence. Note that you can see the location of the various places marked on this interactive Google map. The restaurants are marked with red markers.
Italy is known to have great food and the cuisine varies from district to district. I was looking forward to going to Florence as there were some exciting Tuscan dishes that I wanted to try out. Each evening we would head out with a restaurant in mind (plan A) and a plan B and hence we did not make any reservations.
On our first night we were looking for a restaurant called Garga on Via dei Moro but I had forgotten the number so we never did find it. Instead we went for plan B: Buca Mario on Piazza degli Ottaviani 16r. We sat deep inside a maze of a basement I guess (I kept getting lost when I went to the bathroom). I started out with gnocchi in gorgonzola which is normally a great dish. But I was disappointed, as the gnocchi reminded me of mashed potato balls - yes, that is what they are but these ones had a strange consistency. Nikki was not happy at all with her porcini risotto - the problem was the risotto itself which just reminded us of ‘ordinary’ dry, boiled rice. For secondi I went for a Florentine speciality: trippa alla Fiorentina which is tripe in a tomatoe based sauce. The tripe was chopped into thin slices and it became a bit chewy after a while…and when you start thinking about what you are eating - it can freak you out. Nikki went for a dish that we have made a few times at home and a dish that I love: chicken cacciatore (chicken in tomatoe based sauce). This was also quite tame - lacking in an allround ‘. All in all we were not very impressed by the meal at Buca Mario so we passed on the dessert as we had not been convinced by the main meal. But the waiter was fun (he was singing to Nikki) and he acted shocked when we asked for the bill…he was like “what about dessert???”. The meal cost 100€ including a bottle of Chianti Riserva (about 25€). We also got a limoncello each on the house. This is a lemon flavoured post-meal drink served ice cold…it is actually quite tasty. On the way out we also got a box of Buca Mario’s cantuccini…a type of biscotti I guess. All in all …if I go to Florence again, I will not go out of my way to visit Buca Mario again. Please visit the restaurant homepage for more information.
On our second night we just walked from our hotel at sunset and over the bridge to Oltrarno for dinner at a place called All'Antico Ristoro di' Cambi, located on Via Sant'Onofrio 1r. This is a small place and we got a table outside. It was not much fuss at this place when it came to decorations…simple chairs and tables, hand written menu etc. Inside the hams were hanging from the ceiling, big steaks were laying on display in cold storage - it seemed like steak was their speciality :-) So we started out with some proscuitto (finely sliced ham) with stewed porcini mushroom. What can I say? It was simple but delicious and it was lovely to sit outside, on a warm summer’s eve, and enjoy the meal. For the main meal we both went for good old meat, (known as filetto) a thick steak fried over an open flame. I went for the one marinated in balsamic vinegar and Nikki went for a plain one. My meat was delicious and tender, in fact I have not had such a tender dish in many years (not since I went to the US a few years back). How do they get it so tender? Quite a noteworthy dining experience and elevated by the bottle of Brolio Chianti on the side. Remember that you have to order ‘contorni’ (side dish) for the meat..and the meat comes a bit on the rare side so you may want to mention whether you like it medium/well-done - but I’m not sure what kind of reaction you will get from the waiter or chef :-) . We were pretty hungry that night, so we splurged on desert. I went for the crema mascarpone and Nikki went for the chocolate cake. My dish was pretty good and tasted a bit like custard while Nikki’s cake was just perfect and made with real dark cocoa. Including wine and desert, the bill came up to about 100€. I have to say that dinner here was so enjoyable that we seriously considered going back the following night. Highly recommended if you want a well prepared steak and excellent chocolate cake. Please visit the restaurant homepage for more information.
The following night we went to Trattoria Mario to have dinner but we soon found out that this was closed and it seemed to only be a place for lunch. So we moved on to plan B: I’Toscano on Via Guelfa 70r. This was again a pretty small and informal place and it was very quiet when we got there…there was one table with two Japanese tourists, another with two American tourists and a table with a local family with a baby. But the place was very cosy and it seemed like the guy who was running the place was doing everything - he greeted us when we came in, took our orders, made and served parts of the food etc. - no wonder he forgot to give us the standard bread basket :-) The night before we had seen people eat the bistecca alla Fiorentina…a Florentine t-bone steak. Both Nikki and I wanted to try this and the waiter suggested that we share a larger portion. While Nikki was in the bathroom he came to show me the steak and the thing was HUGE…but he was like “No, this is small…only 1.3 kg” (46 ounces!). Based on the previous night’s experience, I asked him if we could get it done medium and he said that it was not a problem. We started with an appetizer - I had various versions of pecorino cheese, served with a full bodied Borgo Scopeto Chianti. The cheese was served with some kind of jam that has a bit on a spicy zing to it. I’m not sure what this was but it was great in combination with the cheese. Nikki had the more standard bruschetta.
It got pretty quiet in the restaurant after a while, as the Italian family and other tourists left. Eventually another American couple came in and they were oddly quiet. Of course we had a Norwegian discussion speculating about their quietness - travelling together can be hard on couples but then again getting up earlier than normal to be first in line at the Florentine sights can be draining and there’s always the jet lag factor … whatever the reason, they didn’t say a word to each other when they were sharing their meal - a salad :-). We ended up quite speechless ourselves when the biggest hunk of meat we’d ever ordered was presented to us. Our waiter sliced up the meat for us and I’m not sure that he had listened to my “I want it done medium” comment because it was quite a juicy red. But it was not a problem…the meat was tender and tasty :-) We rounded off the meal with me having a panna cotta with a berry sauce and some limoncello. The meal cost 115€ (about 50€ for the steak, about 25€ for the red wine). This place was simple and cosy and I would not mind dining there again.
Amazingly enough we saw the same quiet couple again after a visit to the Academia. They seemed to have a lot more to say to each other so I guess it had been a very long day indeed. Please visit the restaurant homepage for more information.
On the last evening we had a bit of a problem: plan A was closed and plan B was full. As we were getting quite hungry we went for the last resort - to just wing it :-). We ended up at a place called Osteria del Caffè Italiano on Via dell'Isola delle Stinche 11/13r near Vivoli gelateria. When we asked for a table and said we didn’t have any reservation they seemed to frown a little bit but I’m not sure why as there were lots of available tables. Nikki’s theory is that they were probably concerned we’d order a lot which would mean keeping the kitchen open longer than necessary. But we got a table and it was soon clear that this place was a bit more formal than the other places that we have been to; extensive menu, well decorated table and décor etc. We were a bit late out this evening and we only got started on the antipasti around 21:30. I had a classical combination to start out with: a sumptuous, fresh buffalo mozzarella with sliced tomatoes and basil on the side. I guess this is an example of the Italian cuisine: simple but with good quality ingredients the flavours were amazing. Nikki went for a platter of Italian meat (prosciutto, salami etc) with some mushroom and artichoke. Again simple and simply delicious. The main meal was beef in a thick sauce based on Chianti wine for me and Nikki had some lamb meat. The meat I had was very succulent and tender and the sauce was dark and full of flavours. The dessert on the other hand was a bit of a letdown. Nikki’s chocolate cake was not a huge success and my Tiramisu was just OK. The bill came to 110€ including a bottle of wine (25€). Please visit the restaurant homepage for more information.
Let’s talk lunch
I just want to mention some memorable lunch places too. While we were in Oltrarno, en route to Palazzo Pitti, we used the opportunity to walk around a little. The place seemed a bit quieter compared to the buzzing streets around the Duomo, Uffizi etc. We stopped for lunch at Trattoria Angiolino on Via Santo Spirito 36r. The place was small and informal and we could see right into the kitchen where the chef was sweating. I think I had ribollito to start with. This was described as a soup on the menu but it is more like a mashed stew of old bread, tomatoes, herbs etc. I found it quite enjoyable :-) Nikki had a huge ravioli, stuffed with cheese and spinach, with a sage sauce. The sage sauce was tasty indeed. As we were not that hungry we shared a risotto with gorgonzola and spinach. We rounded off with some ice cream and Tiramisu and we paid 45€ for the meal, including a house wine. The waiter at this place was a lot of fun. As we asked for the bill we tried to speak some Italian. So we said “Il conto” - but then we got a long lecture about how we didn’t say it right. We tried to repeat after him but he was not impressed. When he tried to display what we sounded like, it was like listening to Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. The American couple next to us also cracked up and they said thanks as they had now gotten the right “instructions”; but they got the same lecture when they tried to ask for the bill :-) We also had some coffee and Nikki was undecisive - you could see the waiter was just waiting for her to say cappuccino so he could bust her by saying that Italians only drink cappuccino in the mornings. But when she said macchiato he was like “Yes, yes...that is no problem” :-)
We went back to Trattoria Mario on Via Rosina 2 for lunch after we had been to Galleria dell'Accademia. Mario is located close to the Mercato Centrale and it is a tiny place with only a few tables and simple stools. When we asked for the menu we were told that the English version was hanging on the wall over by the cashier. Nikki had spaghetti with octopus and garlic and I went for the seafood risotto. It was not a gastronomic experience...just a nice and simple lunch in fun surroundings. We paid 20€ for the meal including some house wine. Please visit the restaurant homepage for more information.
For a snack or sandwich, Mercato Centrale seems to be a good place to go. They seemed to have freshly made everything - from pizzas to steaming hot stews and I think it is also in this area you can get lampredotto - the Florentine tripe sandwich! Unfortunately I never did get around to tasting it but there were lots of raw cow stomachs for sale in the market :-) Remember that tasting the local specialities is an important part of the experience.
The Italian ice cream ‘gelato’ is famous all over the world. When we came to Italy for the first time (see Venice and Milan trip report) we immediately fell in love with the gelato made in the various gelateria (ice ream shops) in the cities of Italy. But with only 4 days in Florence it was limited how much gelato we could try out without spoiling our main meal appetites :-) We tried out places like Vivoli, Perché No etc. and it was great to taste the real stuff again. But if you want to get a better overview of the ice cream parlours of Florence check out this page.
I like the coffee in Italy. There are lots of small places where you can get a tiny cup of strong coffee. If you want an espresso this is known as just caffe in Italy. You can also order cappuccino (normally just consumed in the morning), macchiato etc. Most Italians consume they’re morning cappuccino or midday caffe standing at what basically resembles a bar - only the focus is coffee. If you prefer to sit and have your caffeine shot brought to you, you’ll have to pay extra for that :-)
It was hot when we were in Florence (30 to 35 degrees Celsius / 85 to 95 Fahrenheit)). You can buy water in bottles at small grocery stores around in the city but another option is of course just to have a bottle with you that you can fill up as you go along. There are many drinking fountains around Florence and the water didn’t taste all that bad. The water fountains was also used by people to cool down…it is always nice to splash a bit of water in the face when you have been walking around all day. The only problem was that there pressure in these fountains were quite low so it took some time filling up a bottle.
There are a miriad of excellent and not so good places to eat around Florence and the trick is of course to find the places that are worth visiting :-) Taste is a very subjective thing and I guess food that we enjoyed maybe not be to everybody’s taste. But I hope that this has given some sort of indication to what Firenze has to offer. Please get in touch with me if you have any questions or comments :-)