- Food & Drink
Florence’s town centre is covered in TripAdvisor Centre of Excellence certificates. Thin scraps of A4 taped to cafe windows and restaurant doors, reassuring the city’s itinerant punters that this trattoria, this osteria and this gelateria have the internet’s thumbs-up. They have the confidence of the crowd. Mutually assured menus that guarantee a great night out for all.
I chafe a little against this groupthink holidaymaking, where everything has been decided on before you make it through customs. Where we all shuffle along the same route, eating, drinking and seeing the same things and agreeing with each other about how wonderful it all is.
But then I’m not brave enough to break out. I like the certainty of a good time someone else has already tried, tested and reviewed. The internet is my safety net. By abandoning myself to it, I get an endless series of reassuringly nice meals. No disappointments, no upsets, no strangeness. I am the internet’s pet and I cannot give up the luxury of it.
Not that ShedLikesFood and I relied on TripAdvisor for our meals out. Good grief, no. We’re foodie wankers, so we had a spreadsheet of recommendations culled from Twitter and the occasional real life friend. And as if the universe wanted to prove a point, the only time we ignored the list and tried somewhere we’d liked the look of, it was a disaster. So this is the path we trod in Florence. You should walk it too.
(For something slightly different, this is where we ate in the Oltrarno.)
Gelateria Della Passera
Via Toscanella, 15/R. 12pm-12am
Near the Ponte Vecchio, but tucked in a tangle of streets on the Oltrarno side of the river, this little ice cream shop sells gelato by the €1 scoop. There was always a queue whenever we went, which moved as quickly as the customers’ Italian ordering allowed. Pistachio was a deliciously muddy-looking spoonful of delight, the coffee an eruption of caffeine. The nougat was a little timid, but you can’t expect perfection every time.
Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento. Downstairs: 7am-2pm; Upstairs: 10am-12am
A market of two halves. Downstairs is the food market, selling fruit, veg, meat, fish, and the kind of multicoloured pasta that only tourists can want. There are also a few coffee bars, where the espressos are €1 and taste like being slapped, and Da Nerbone, one of Florence’s better known lampredotto stands.
Upstairs is a swish new food hall, opened in 2014, where you can cruise between pasta, pizza and truffle stands or take a cookery class. We ended up at the market a couple of times, not least because I quickly become dependent on the weapons grade coffee.
Favourites from the first floor included gnocchi with pesto (€10) and tagliatelle with fresh figs and fennel salami (€12) from La Pasta Fresca; a plate of crisp battered fritto misto (€8) from Il Pesce Fresco; ragu-stuffed arancini from the bar in the middle whose name I missed; and glasses of chianti from L’Enoteca because we were in Tuscany so had to drink chianti constantly.
Via dell’Ariento 85. 12pm-10pm
A sandwich shop and pizza stop right next to the market. The small space has tables and benches lining the sides and a queue in the middle, which gave me time to read the enormous board of sandwich fillings and practice my Italian.
Want a piece of focaccia filled with potatoes and pesto? They can do it. How about tiny squid in tomato sauce? On the menu. Cheese, ham, all sorts of roast vegetable muddles, even Philadelphia cheese. They have it and can put it in a toasted sandwich for you.
We had melanzane parmigiana sandwiches (aubergines, tomatoes, SPREADABLE MOZZARELLA, and presumably parmesan), which could have done with a bit more salt, and glasses of sturdy red wine. I regret not going back for the pizza.
Tisaneria di Santa Maria Novella
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala, 16. 9am-8pm
This probably counts as off the beaten track. Certainly, no one else came in for tea when we were there, although plenty of people were buying perfumes and elixirs in the graceful collection of rooms that make up the oldest pharmacy in Europe.
Having spent the morning sweatily walking between disappointing perfume shops, the genteel tearoom was a balm to our grumpy souls. We had white teas and green teas, little chocolates, and tiny glasses of fortifying booze. I had the rose one, ShedLikesFood opted for something that’s been going since the 14th century and probably did wonders for her digestion or lymph nodes or feet.
Afterwards, I bought a perfect jasmine perfume and spent the rest of the holiday smelling like a summer night. Side note for perfume lovers: one of our holiday highlights was the two-hour perfume masterclass at AquaFlor. If you’re remotely interested in things that smell beautiful, go do it. Book here.
Via de’ Macci, 122r. 1pm-2.30pm; 7-11:15pm
More informal than Cibrèo Ristorante but a smidge smarter than Caffè Cibrèo, Cibrèo Trattoria is, like Goldilock’s porridge, just right. It has the dark wood room, the jumbled collection of pictures and the paper placemats of a classic tratt, but the food is just glorious.
Somewhere in their kitchen they have a master of gelatine hard at work, turning out gently wobbling savoury puddings. We started with a refreshingly sharp tomato pudding and a lactic yogurt version that were as much a pleasure to scoop up as eat. I had a minestrone soup, cloudy with veg and little chunks of white fish, followed by vitello tonnato, dotted with mouth puckering capers and a served with a potentially shirt-ruining beetroot and potato salad.
I can’t remember what Shed ate, but I remember she liked it. And although we were at capacity, we ordered dessert: a flourless chocolate cake that explained what all the fuss over chocolate nemesis is about, and a panna cotta with the bitterest of caramel sauces.
They also brought us a slice of orange cheesecake as a freebie – we suspect that free desserts is their thing because everyone was being given a little piece of this or that, whether they wanted pudding or not. It was delicious (more gelatine artistry). It was also the killing blow. We had coffee and goldfish bowls of grappa afterwards, but it wasn’t enough.
The only solution was sleep. So we walked across the river to the rose garden and fell asleep there. A few hours and a little rain later, we got up and went for dinner. Well, we were in Florence.