Florence, Florence, oh how I’ve neglected you over these years…
The last few trips I have made to Italia have not included Florence and I can’t remember why…It’s so close to Rome, less than two hours by train.
Travelling with the Greek who has never been to Italy before means we are doing a lot of touristy things that I have already done, one, twice, or more times. He wanted to see Florence, I want to explore Toscana, or Tuscany. We booked a cheap hotel on the internet after finding the hotel my work mate Sam recommended too expensive at 130 euro per night. The cheap Hotel Toscana was in an excellent central location and was cheap for 59 euro per night. It included breakfast and wifi. Yay! It was a different story when we arrived there though. The room was shabby, which I can tolerate. The bathroom was the size of a cupboard, which is not ideal, but I can tolerate that too. The internet was not working (grrrr) and the bed was not a proper bed, rather two fold up beds put together with foam mattresses. You have got to be joking. With both of us not having the best backs, there was no way we were going to spend two nights here. Zorba hated it and wanted to move.
We set off out the hotel and called into a near by 4-star hotel around the corner. The room we were shown was beautiful, like a palace, but the cheapest rate he could give us was 130 euro per night – a bit more than we wanted to pay. The next hotel we called into, a 3-star hotel on via Tornabuoni, 8 (tel 055 218684) called Hotel La Residenza, was perfect. Big spacious palatial style rooms, big bathroom with decent shower over a full size bath, internet that worked, breakfast included, huge solid proper bed, and on the same street at Roberto Cavalli and across the road from Prada. Ahhh, yes. We couldn’t get out of the scuzzy cheap hotel immediately and had to stay one night there, before checking into our new Florence home the next morning.
We were both delighted with Florence. It really is a beautiful city with interesting churches, great shopping, good food and importantly great wine too! And it was hot. OMG Italia was going through a heat wave with Florence reaching 35 degrees, with no wind or relief, Rome was even hotter. We walked for ever. Duomo, Piazza Maria Novella, Piazza Maria Santa Croce, Ponte Vechhio, Central Markets, everywhere.
Our first dinner was an awesome experience. The trusty Lonely Planet came good and we picked a restaurant it recommended that was over the other side of the Arno River called All’Antico Ristorio di Cambi on via S. Onofrio, 1 (tel 055217134). It was renowned for it’s bistecca fiorentina, or florentine steak, which is a big t-bone steak, super thick, about 1kg to 1.5kg, cooked for carnivores, with a crusty outer and rare inner, served on a big board and sliced. Don’t worry – we didn’t have one each! We shared one. We had our bistecca fiorentino served with white beans, one of Zorba’s favourites. The steak was so tasty and so so so tender. Oh my God, I was in a meat lovers paradise and I have to say it felt really good to eat red meat again after eating loads of Sicilian food consisting of fish, pasta, pizza..the only meat we ate in Sicily was what we cooked at the apartment, one meal of chicken (Palermo) and one meal where I had rabbit (Noto). Every mouthful was a delight as the succulent steak melted in my mouth. Zorba and I both wanted to pick up the bone and chew at it, but you couldn’t do that! We did though use our knife and fork to cut every last bit of meat off the bone!
That delicious meal was kicked off with two delicious starters. Zorba had one of his all time favourites, Pappa al pomodoro, a Tuscan bread and tomato soup – so nice, and I had mixed antipasti with proscuito, finocchino salami, salami, mixed vegetables, and lardo, or a very thin slice of cured lard. Sounds off, but it was very tasty and paper thin, so it just melted onto your tongue. The Florentines famously love offal – tripe is sold at the markets and served in sandwiches from roadside vans. I couldn’t go there…not my thing… Dinner was washed down with a litre of house wine that cost 8 euro and was a chianti. Perfecto! Full and happy – that meal kept me smiling for two days. One of the best I’ve had in Italia.
The next great meal we had was a recommendation some Australian students gave us. I was sceptical since they are young and I wasn’t sure their palates would be developed nor experienced in what really is good food. I was glad to find that my scepticism was unfounded. The Trattoria l’Raddi via dell’ardiglione 47 (tel. 055 211072), again, on the other side of the Arno River from the main centre was easy to find – look at the river, take the second bridge on the right after Ponte Vecchio, and keep walking straight for a few blocks until you see a big ‘Foto’ neon sign in yellow on the right hand side of the road, take the next right and it’s there.
At 8.30pm, the place was half full and we had no problems getting a beautifully set table for two. Long stemmed wine glasses, cloth napkins, posh looking fizzy water, candles – they did it well. The building and room were quite plain, but the table settings looked just lovely. The students recommended the home made ravioli and the tuna. The menu was both modern and traditional which featured under headings of ‘Traditional’, ‘My cooking’, ‘Sweets’. The My Cooking menu looked really interested and not your stock standard Florentine fare. Good! I was really up for something different. By 9.15pm the restaurant was packed and had to turn away a couple of people. Not bad for a Thursday night…
My starter was faultless, round zucchini stuffed with caponata and served with balsamic and tomato jam. Perfection and so prettily presented on the plate. Zorba’s traditional tomato and bread soup was not much good though, which was a shame… His main however was a different story – tuna cooked in a crusty sesame seed pasty served on a bed of caramelised red onions and beetroot. Heavenly. At 15euro, it was great value. My homemade giant ravioli stuffed with velvety smooth cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes were a taste sensation and went so well with the red house wine, a Brunello from Montepulciano which was only 4 euro for a half litre. Limoncello made by the restaurant capped up a really fantastic dining experience, that only cost 48 euro! That’s about A$65. Where in Perth would you get that quality including drinks at that price for a two course meal? No where. Perth restaurants have a lot to learn….
Our fab hotel agreed that we could leave some luggage there so we can take just small bags with us for an overnight in Venezia.
More to come! Ciao ciao!