|Pollo in Burro, at Trattoria La Sostanza|
Hello! You might have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front lately – sorry. The truth is that I was a tiny bit busy… getting married!
Our wedding day was completely perfect – lots of lovely friends and family, a beautiful service, plenty of scrumptious food (of course) and dancing all night long. And afterwards we went on the most amazing honeymoon to Florence.
As the chief list-maker in our new family of two, I was in charge of all the planning. Now I did, of course, have a list of gorgeous sights I wanted to see, but I’m sure you won’t be surprised, dear reader, to hear that I spent even more time planning exactly where we were going to eat – after all, surely the food counts as a pretty major tourist attraction when it comes to Italy.
I did some serious reading, scouring guide books, blogs, and websites for the inside scoop. Everywhere, I read of Florence’s famous queues – of waiting days for service at a café, weeks for a table at a restaurant, and actually settling down, raising children, and then peacefully passing away in the queue for the Uffizi Gallery. Of course, this is during the summer, when temperatures and tempers soar – in December, all was beautifully peaceful, and we had no trouble at all. I would still definitely recommend that you reserve things in advance, but we got away with doing it just a few days before.
We did do the Uffizi, but stuff that – what you want to hear about is the food. Oh, the food. I hardly know where to start.
When I started making my list of places to visit, I decided that I’d only pick restaurants that at least two different websites or guidebooks recommended. Il Cibreo popped up all over the place – and several people went so far as to say that it was the best restaurant in the whole of Florence. I knew we had to try it.
Unfortunately, Il Cibreo itself is more than a bit pricey – a minimum of about €120 per person – but they also have a little trattoria next door, affectionately known as Il Cibreino, where you can get a reduced version of the same menu, for a reduced price (about €40 per person). The stand-out dish here was the ribollita, a soup of white beans, cavalo nero, celery, courgette and bread cooked slowly over two days. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But somehow those fairly humble ingredients were transformed, with enough love and care and attention, into the most delicious thick combination of soup and stew. I also loved the veal casserole here – again, cooked really slowly, with sweet onions and plenty of parmesan. Forget macaroni cheese, this is proper stick-to-your-ribs comfort food, for when the snow is up to the tops of the windows and you haven’t seen the sun in weeks.
Another place that kept appearing in the ‘Florence Top Ten’ lists was this humble lunch counter in the Mercato Centrale (a must-visit for any foodie, you won’t get out without seriously lightening your wallet), serving a short menu of traditional Tuscan favourites. We had the most amazing porchetta sandwiches here – tender, melting pork, a soft freshly-made roll, and a splash of the fragrant cooking juices. Nothing more fancy required – this was scrumptious.
Most lunchtimes, as above, we grabbed a sandwich – the enormous, lavishly stuffed foccacie and panini put our limp triangular sandwiches in their plastic packets to shame. But one lunchtime it was cold and rainy, so we went in search of Il Buongustai. From the outside, it looks like the tiniest stand-up sandwich bar, with barely room to squeeze along the counter and choose your food. But for the initiated, there’s a cheerful little yellow dining room out the back, crammed with plain wooden tables set with pretty mismatched china. I had the most amazing risotto here – simply cooked with butter, gorgonzola and a pinch of saffron, it was the perfect wet-weather food. In case the mention of expensive ingredients puts you off, I should also say that a large, generous plateful and a glass of wine cost less than €10. Amazing!
Trattoria La Casalinga
Literally ‘The Housewife’, this bustling trattoria in the Oltrarno area of the city was another place that was recommended over and over again. We went here on our last night and ate such a feast that we had to walk all the way back to our hotel (a slightly rambling, tipsy journey of about 40 minutes) to recover. I started with gorgeously tender tortellini in a rabbit sauce, which had that amazing slightly bitter, gamey taste that goes so well with a rich dish. For our main course, we both chose the roast pork with rosemary and garlic, a fabulous fragrant slab of meat that came to the table unadorned except by its own delicious juices. There was a lot of this, actually – when the food’s this good, the chefs feel absolutely no need to mess around presenting it on pieces of slate or ‘deconstructing’ it. We both kept saying ‘I can’t eat any more’ and then picking our forks up for just one more mouthful. By the time we got to dessert, our belts were uncomfortably tight, but we knew we had to try a final house speciality – the panna cotta, which absolutely did not disappoint.
I confess – I’ve saved the best til last. When we arrived, a few minutes before the restaurant opened at 7.30, there was already a crowd waiting, some of whom were subsequently turned away as it turned out La Sostanza was fully booked for both sittings – on a cold and rainy Wednesday at the beginning of December. We knew straightaway that this place had to be something pretty special.
Inside was a narrow whitewashed room, with long shared tables and a view through to the kitchen, where we could see cooking fires blazing in a single large hearth, with an ancient blackened grill propped over one of them, to cook the famous bistecca (more on that in a minute) and bricks at each end on which massive cooking pots were set, to keep the broth and sauces warm.
I started, as instructed, with the tortelloni in brodo – delicate pasta parcels of chicken in the most amazing clear, amber-coloured chicken broth. For our main course, we shared the two specialities of the house – pollo in burro, chicken breasts dipped in egg, then parmesan, and then fried in the heart of the fire in a saucepan swimming with melted butter – and bistecca alla fiorentina, a huge chunk of steak about the size of my head, grilled to perfection over the fire. I cannot possibly pick a favourite from these two – they were both swooningly fabulous.
|Now that’s how you cook a steak!|
Mike couldn’t face dessert (to be fair, he’d eaten more steak than me) but I just had to try the dolce della casa, an amazing confection of soft, crumbly meringue, whipped cream, pieces of dark chocolate and plenty of tiny, sweet wild strawberries – my absolute favourite dessert of the week.
Phew. Are you still with me? Feeling full? I’ve got a notebook full of scribbles (and food stains) about all of these fabulous dishes and over the next few weeks I’m going to be doing my damnedest to recreate them, so watch this space for some seriously good food. Buon appetito!
As promised, I’ve been working away on recreating some of these fabulous recipes, so click the links below to find them: