After a wonderful skiing trip to Chamonix over Easter, I was very excited to be heading to a new city I have never been to with Y – Florence! Our best pals – YW, AL, Baby G and TW was very sweet to join us on this short adventure to this lovely capital city of Italy’s Tuscan region. Known for the birth of Renaissance architecture and home to some of the world’s most impressive art galleries, no wonder it’s always so buzzy with tourists even when we were there in early April (technically not the peak season yet). Florence is really best explored on foot which we did a lot of. I could just feel its own magic and charm as i walk down the narrow pathways or along the Arno River which feels different in the day versus night.
Florence’s Duomo – the most iconic landmark.
A typical view of Florence narrow streets and old buildings.
Of course, being the glutton bear that I am, my main focus in Florence other than to soak in the gorgeous architecture was to eat! Given Y and I had Milan as the next stop after this, we figured we should conserve our shopping $ till then, so food was our focus. I discovered that I really enjoy Florence food, probably more so than Milan as I can find a lot more casual eateries, priced superbly well, with fantastic home style cooking that’s just pure comfort and taste. So read on here for my favourite eats I discovered.
Trattoria Mario Via Rosina, 2r, 50123 Firenze, Italy, Tel: +39 055 218550. Open for lunch daily 12 – 3.30 pm. No reservations (but a tip is to go early at least at 11.30 – 11.45 am to try to be in the line). Can’t remember if they take credit card, so bring cash.
When in Florence, you must definitely try Florentine steak and look no further than Trattoria Mario. Don’t expect some nice comfortable restaurant with beautiful ambience here. This place, run by 3 generations of the Colzi Family since 1953, doesn’t take reservations, you sit elbow to elbow with your neighbours in a rather loud atmosphere. And yet it’s got its own character, it’s got its own soul with just some amazing home style cooking. We started with the vegetable soup – heartwarming and is such a great option for an affordable “worker’s lunch”, and we ate through of course some pastas like the Spaghetti el pomodoro and Ravioli which was also really delicious. It’s a fascinating sight to stand and look into the kitchen which runs along the length of the restaurant, and try to peek at the secret behind the much awaited Florentine steak, known as bistecca alla fiorentina! Charred on the outside but rare on the inside, it was suprisingly tender and juicy even when we bite into the rare parts especially close to the bone.
We paid 116 euro including a 35 euro wine for 5 persons + Baby G.
Trattoria Sostanza Via del Porcellana, 25/R, 50123 Firenze, Italy. Open for lunch and dinner. Reservations a must. Tel: +39 055 212691. Accept cash only.
This is definitely my favourite restaurant in Florence and probably Italy even, thanks to AL’s recommendation from a friend. We were really lucky to score a booking so last minute. It’s apparently THE place that Florentines go, so one can be rest assured it’s not a tourist trap. Yeah I know how ironic it is that I am a tourist but don’t want to go to tourist traps, yes but am sure many of you foodies out there think like me. Located across the Arno River from our hotel, it was located in a street with a nondescript entrance bearing their name on top. Once we entered, it was heaving with people already. The interiors were simple but it had a nice cosy atmosphere, with tons of pictures adorning the walls. We were seated almost at the end of the restaurant, and could peek at the kitchen which really wasn’t very big but noticed how the meats were all cooked over charcoal.
We started with the parma ham and for my first time tried head cheese, which essentially is made from the head of a pig or sheep or cow, I think the one at Sostanza was done with cow. Honestly if I didn’t tell you, it looked just like some other cured terrine and was pretty tasty. It’s worth a try honestly. The liver pate on toast looked simple but the texture was really good and flavourful. We dug into homey pastas like the pasta with meat sauce, as well as the tortellini with butter sauce – and I loved how they just put a dollop of butter served with the pasta for us to mix it in. The exciting meats came next, and I have to tell you how you MUST order the chicken breast in butter sauce. I have never tasted chicken breast this tender and flavourful, of course the amount of butter in it with the charcoal cooking clearly has a strong part to play, but wow, it tasted more like some juicy chicken thigh. The veal steak was also quite good, although the chicken breast was the winner for me for the meat selection. For veg, we had the artichoke pie, which was a really nice rendition of my favourite vegetable. It looked almost like a creamy mash potato on top, it was delightful! When we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, the wait staff said we had to try the house desserts, and he brought out 2, one was like a lemony almond sponge cake, the other which was a meringue like texture with fresh strawberries, which was both sooo good!
Bill for 4 persons was 183 euros including a bottle of wine.
Menu with decent prices
La Giostra Borgo Pinti, 10, 50121 Firenze, Italy. Tel: +39 055 241341. Reservations better. Open for lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinners only on Sat and Sun.
This restaurant which is also somewhat of an institution here in Florence. It has noble connection, opened years ago by the Hapsburg Lorena prince – Dimitri d’Asburgo Lorena, who had a passion for gastronomy and decided to open a restaurant to showcase recipes from his family till his passing. Presently, it’s run by his sons – most distinctively it’s hard not to miss one of them Soldano who has a penchant for 80s – 90s rock style fashion, very obvious from his attire and chunks of bracelets on his arm, which is his signature look. And the walls are adorned with some pictures of him and his late father who looked like a rockstar in his heydays rather than a noble prince.
We arrived here for lunch and we were the first table for the restaurant as they were in the midst of a TV interview of Soldano. They served us an antipasti to start which included liver pate, tomato bruschetta, mortadella, ricotta and spinach croquettes, peppers and eggplant, which well helped to cushion our hunger while waiting for Chef to cook our meal. Key highlights that I particularly loved was the Stracciatella Burrata served with fig and orange jam, this was really appetising and the cheese was so fresh. Only in Italy, I find I can get Stracciatella that taste this good. I enjoyed in particular the fried artichoke (yes, if you haven’t realised I really love this vegetable, I can order it everyday when I am in Italy). The Bottarga and vongole pasta was a standout, along with the ravioli with ricotta. Interesting dishes we had was the fish with red wine and tomatoes, a rather unlikely combination pairing a white fish with red wine, but it strangely worked together and was quite aromatic. And yes we clearly can’t get enough of our veal, and had to try the veal here as well. We were too stuffed to have any desserts unfortunately.
We spent for 5 persons and Baby G : 250 eur including 1 bottle of 25 euro wine.
Fuor D’Acqua Via Pisana, 37R, 50143 Firenze, Italy, Tel:+39 055 222299. Open Mon-Sat for dinner only. Reservations a must.
Probably the ‘fanciest’ looking restaurant of the our eats in Florence so far, this place was highly recommended by our pals AL and YW who said it served the freshest seafood! After indulging in Florentine steak and veal for the last 2 days, this was a welcome change for dinner – seafood centric! Here, the fish arrives every day from the fish market in Viareggi and the fish and seafood is prepared simply and elegantly. The food was definitely a perfect complement to our company – we were graced by the company of famous Chinese contempary artist – Liu Xiaodong who was in Florence prepping for his upcoming show at the Palazzo Strozzi. We pretty much left the menu to the restaurant to decide but definitely said we wanted lots of seafood including prawns and lobster! We started with the seafood crudités which was a perfect harmony of my favourite prawns and different fish for the day. This was followed by the warm appetiser – grilled squid with rucola and tomatoes, I really enjoyed this warm appetiser, the squid was especially tender. They served us a small portion of pasta to share for the table before we indulged in the finally of Crustacean platter a medley of langoustine, lobster, prawn. The meat for all of these shellfish were so sweet and succulent! We couldn’t say no to dessert of course and the restaurant arranged a platter of chocolate fondant, tarte tatin, Mille-feuille and my favourite Tiramisu – and they do a really good one here, you’ve been warned. The restaurant really indulged in us and gave us a complimentary prosecco with vodka and lemon sorbet, which was a really refreshing way to end of this elegant meal.
We spent for 6 persons – 660 eur including 3 bottles of wine (25 euros, 25 euros, 35 euros). I think it’s really decent considering the amount of seafood we had. There’s no way we could have eaten at this price if we were in Singapore, nor even get such fresh catch.
One of the typical night views walking along Arno River after dinner.
When in Italy, it’s a sin not to eat gelato, and my favourite place is Gelateria La Carraia (Open daily from 11 am – midnight, Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25-red, 50124 Firenze, Italy, located 2nd bridge west of Ponte Vecchio Arno River). Perfectly creamy, rich without being too sweet. And we had to walk back to our hotel to at least make ourselves feel better for the additional calories consumed.
If you like to lug food back like me when you visit countries, don’t miss out on a visit to Mercato Centrale, which is the largest central market in Florence selling lots of local produce. Of course, I had to load up on some of the dried mushrooms (which the stall holders can vacuum pack for you) and truffle oil.
Amazing selection at Gelataria La Carraia
My choice selection which I couldn’t finish
Mushrooms, truffle oil – quintessential Italian products at Mercato Centrale
I also highly recommend to stay at the Ferragamo family’s owned hotels – Portrait Firenze (where my pals stayed at), and Gallery Hotel Art (where Y and I stayed as it was more budget friendly). The best part of the stay is when you include breakfast with your stay, you can choose to dine at any of the hotel group’s restaurants, which was just perfect for me, as I loved the breakfast buffet spread at Portrait Firenze. See the hotel group’s website here.
Exterior of arty farty Gallery Hotel Art
Lounging in the verandah at Portrait Firenze
Florence was a nice break in between skiing and heading off to Lake Garda and Milan next. I had a perfect 3 days indulging in some amazing trattorias, enjoying day and night walks along the Arno River, and admiring the old building architecture common as we meander through the small streets and shops as much as the majestic Renaissance architecture of the Florence churches and museums. Y and I also made sure we made a visit to Pisa for the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa given it’s close proximity to Florence. Look out for my next post on that.