“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
~ Julia Child, legendary American chef and cookbook author
It’s a little wet and windy today but the weather is no damper as we walk around the cobbled streets of Florence.
“I’m walking fast coz I want to work up a big appetite for that big piece of meat” I tell Mysaucepan.
“At the rate you’re walking, that piece of meat is going to be ginormous” she says.
The Piazza della Repubblica dates back to Roman times where it is the site of the city’s forum and then an old ghetto which was subsequently torn down. Improvement works were commissioned during a brief period between 1865 – 1871 when Florence was the capital of Italy.
Today, the piazza is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, shops and has become one of the major tourist attractions for the city.
One charming feature of Florence is the abundance of enoteche around the city where one can taste a wide selection of Italian wines.
Florentians are charming and immediately upon strolling into a enoteca, we are greeted by a friendly store manager with a platter of cheese and prosciutto.
It’s difficult to not fall in love with a city that is so generous with a seemingly endless array of wine, cheese, olives and cold meats from all over Italy.
We walk towards the Ponte Vecchio along Via Por Santa Maria and come across street vendors selling clothes, shoes and books.
Though the weather is a little wet and windy, the area around the Ponte Vecchio is crowded with shoppers and tourists.
Benvenuto Cellini (1500 – 1571) was an Italian sculptor, soldier, musician and artist who led the defence forces of his native city during the war with Siena.
La Ménagère, Florence
Built like an old Tuscan villa, La Ménagère houses a restaurant, bistro, florist and a casual bar with live piano music.
A long wooden communal table is the majestic showpiece of the restaurant.
We manage to score a table for dinner tonight and by 7pm, this place is buzzing with young and hip Florentians.
Mysaucepan sips on a customary cocktail before dinner.
Homemade spaghetti is tossed in a savoury sauce with nuances of citrus fruit.
Topped with crispy bits of fried bread and a sliver of anchovy, this pasta is a refreshing and delicious starter.
Roasted gnocchi with a gentle sweet crust sits on a bed of creamy sheep’s milk cheese.
Sprinkles of black pepper, lemon, green apple shards, red flower petals and crisp fried cous cous, this is yet another elegant entrée.
A 2014 Fabio Motta Pievi from the Bolgheri region is a beautiful balance of 25% sangiovese, 50% merlot and 25% cabernet sauvignon. There are hints of dark berry fruit and pepper on the nose while tannins are soft and oaky.
Thus far, I am totally spoilt by the choice of good wine at such reasonable prices in Italian restaurants compared to the exorbitant prices in Sydney.
The restaurant has a beautiful vibe when the communal table is fully occupied.
The florist and retail store selling cookbooks, modern Italian cutlery, crockery and cookware runs parallel with the communal dining area and complements the ambience beautifully.
Italian chefs and restaurateurs are proud of their food and how it is presented.
So when we request to share a slow-cooked beef cheek, it comes as two halves beautifully portioned.
The beef cheek is so tender it falls apart with a gentle yield of my fork. Potato cream, yellow pumpkin mash and red wine jus topped with toasted almonds make this one of the standout dishes of our trip thus far.
Servings are generous as we feel sufficiently satisfied with just this one main course.
We finish with a delightful dessert of pear bavarese with sweet caramel.
Beautiful live piano music tops of a wonderful evening for us.
The food is good contemporary Italian without trying too hard. Prices are reasonable and service is friendly. Throw in a beautiful ambience, it is no wonder this restaurant is popular seven days a week from 7am for breakfast right through till 2am if you’re up for a late night drink.
Trattoria Mamma Gina, Florence
Dining in an unfamiliar city can be a hit and miss and though Mysaucepan has been to Florence, we have been doing our research online to minimize the misses.
Our hunt for a good steak Fiorentine leads us to an old trattoria in the heart of Ponte Vecchio.
The matriarch of this business appears highly revered as a portrait of her hangs proudly on the wall at the entrance.
We get the feel this restaurant has been around for a long time when waiters in their white shirt and black bowtie proudly read out the specials of the evening.
When there are also age-old paintings with a decor from yesteryear to match, we psyche ourselves up for the old-world Italian food that we came here for.
Chefs from the kitchen are dishing out ravioli and pasta in a way you know they have done it thousands of times.
The menu might have graduated Mamma Gina to ristorante status though the signage at the front of the restaurant clearly shows it started perhaps as a trattoria.
One of the most famous peasant soups in the Tuscan region, this ribollita is hearty with its mix of mirepoix vegetables, kale, cabbage, chard beans, potato and cannellini beans.
Literally “reboiled”, this soup was originally made from reboiling leftover minestrone.
A 2013 Modus Ruffino is made in the Super Tuscan style combining sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Aromas of ripened plums and dark berries combine with a smooth tannins and hints of chocolate on the palate.
And at a cracker price of A$53, I savour each sip knowing this kind of wine is an impossibility in any Italian restaurant back home in Sydney.
At long last, our wait for a humongous 2-inch thick and 1.2 kilogram steak Fiorentine is over.
This mother of a steak is cut into large slices and you know it is the main act on the plate when the customary sprigs of wilted continental parsley, puny lemon slice and solitary cherry tomato look like an accidental side show.
True to tradition, this steak is charred with a generous sprinkling of salt and probably nothing else.
I tap my knife on the side of this steak and smile as each slice of meat is laced with a chunk of crispy fat.
A good sprinkling of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice is all that is needed.
Bold beefy flavours dominate a succulent piece of tenderloin that is almost rare in the middle.
Each piece of this steak has a slightly different texture and mouthful.
The charred flavours are smoky and small pieces of sinew is delightfully crispy.
It is a big piece of meat to tackle though Mysaucepan and I are sharing this steak meant only for one person.
Alas, we get through it and our meat cravings have been truly satisfied, for now. And at A$32, this must surely be one of the best-value steaks in any restaurant.
This steak Fiorentine has awakened my radar for more bistecca when we head to a farmhouse in the heart of the Tuscan wine region of Montepulciano.
Via de’ Ginori, 8/R, Florence
Opening Hours: Daily 7am – 2am Tel: +39 055 075 0600
Trattoria Mamma Gina
37/R, Borgo S. Jacopo, Florence
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday Lunch 12pm – 2.30pm Dinner 7pm – 10.30pm Closed on Sunday. Tel: +39 055 2396009