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Italian cuisine has far more to offer than just pizza and pasta, and these restaurants are here to prove it.
By Chris | December 18 2017
The philosophy of traditional Tuscan cuisine relies on is fresh, local ingredients. As a result, you’ll often find that the best restaurants in Florence, which is the region’s main city, primarily feature traditional meats and vegetables cooked in the simplest way possible – believe it or not, Italian cuisine has far more to offer than just pizza and pasta.
T-bone steak prepared on chestnut wood and served with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil is a Florentine specialty, as well as a number of other hearty meat-based dishes, including ones that use less popular off-cuts of meat. With a series of Michelin-starred establishments, Florence’s restaurants use the finest Tuscan artisanal ingredients accompanied with velvety Tuscan wines. See our picks of the best restaurants in Florence below.
French chef Annie Féolde and sommelier Georgio Pinchiorri began their collaboration in 1972 at the esteemed National Wine Cellar where Féolde crafted light dishes to complement Pinchiorri’s coveted wine collection. Féolde’s cuisine became increasingly complex and by 1993 the pair were running a three-Michelin-starred restaurant (the only one in Florence) with a renowned wine cellar. Pinchiorri keeps 120,000 bottles of the finest wine in the restaurant’s basement. Enoteca Pinchiorri emanates character and charm with mosaics, parquet floors, a pink marble chimney and antique furniture, but it is the restaurant’s cuisine rather than its decor that is the true show stopper. Born in Nice, Annie Féold applies French techniques to Tuscan gastronomy. Dishes at Pinchiorri celebrate local, traditional ingredients elevated to fine dining standards; the restaurant is not to be missed.
For five years Ora d’Aria was situated opposite Le Murate, a former Renaissance women’s prison. Ora d’Aria, meaning ‘hour of air,’ refers to the prisoners’ mandatory exercise hour. The restaurant has now moved to a more central location behind the Uffizi Gallery, and has reinterpreted its original namesake to reflect time spent with its guests. The minimalist grey and white decor of the restaurant is complemented by contemporary artwork from the Galleria Bagnai. The à la carte menu changes frequently, but always champions the local flavors and ingredients of Tuscany. For a discrete dinner, request the chef’s table in the cellar for up to four people. With one Michelin star, Ora d’Aria is run by chef Marco Stabile from Pontedera.
For the freshest flavors, one-Michelin-starred Il Palagio sources seasonal ingredients from artisan producers throughout Tuscany, cementing its status as one of the best restaurants in Florence. The restaurant occupies the former stable block at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze’s Renaissance Palazzo della Gherardesca and boasts distinctive period vaulted ceiling and columns. The interior is embellished with pale silver and rose accents, with generous French doors opening onto a summer terrace and offer scenic views of the Four Seasons’ private garden. Chef Vito Mollica’s menu includes unique creations with a contemporary twist on regional classics. In the heart of Il Palagio, guests will find the Winery Room with around 400 bottles on display. Select from a menu of small dishes designed to complement exquisite vintages, which can be tasted by the glass.
One-Michelin-starred La Bottega del Buon Caffè is renowned for its farm-to-table experience. Here, dishes are comprised of fresh ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden, with seasonal menus honoring the restaurant’s Florence address. Options include the likes of agnolotti pasta stuffed with rabbit, and risotto with wild herbs, sheep kefir, lemon sauce, almond and parmesan cheese. Designed by Jeanette Thottrup, the interior is muted and elegant, with space to dine alfresco. Reserve the private dining room for access to the boutique collection of wines.
In the St. Regis Florence, executive chef Gentian Shehi crafts fine Tuscan cuisine with a refined approach at the hotel’s Winter Garden restaurant. A gourmet dinner menu takes a modern twist on traditional fare, with dishes like risotto with green tea ‘matcha’ as well as fish and meat courses. The menu includes classics such as Caprese salad and beef tartare with black truffle, as well as more unusual dishes, notably the ‘garden on the plate’. The Winter Garden’s setting is just as impressive as its menu, with the colored glass ceiling casting an intriguing light across the entire restaurant.
In Villa Bardini near the Palazzo Vecchio, La Leggenda dei Frati is housed in a 1600s villa, giving the restaurant an ancient Italian feel. La Leggenda dei Frati’s vegetable garden overlooks Florence, while inside the restaurant merges with the museum, hosting the works of art of the Galleria Continua of San Gimignano. With one Michelin star, the restaurant offers a series of tasting menus in addition to its a la carte. For the full Leggenda de Frati experience, opt for the Gran Menu Dei Frati Per Noi: a nine-course surprise chef’s choice tasting menu. As expected of a restaurant merged with a museum, each dish that leaves the kitchen is a work of art itself.
Owned by Marco and Martina Baldesi and Stefano Sebastiani, Il Santo Bevitore serves Mediterranean-inspired, locally sourced menus that change regularly depending on seasonal availability. Chef Claudio Salvadori selects fresh fruit and vegetables from greengrocers in the Santo Spirito and San Frediano areas of Tuscany. Ingredients are hand-picked from high-quality artisan food producers for scrumptious dishes including wild duck with artichoke and grapes, and tangerine crème brûlée served with a delicious dark chocolate ice cream. Famous guests include actresses Jessica Alba and Monica Bellucci, and film director Bernardo Bertolucci, paying testament to the caliber of food served as Il Santo Bevitore.
Above the Arno, the Michelin-starred Borgo San Jacopo offers a unique vantage point of Ponte Vecchio. Experimenting with local cuisine to give it an edge, chef Claudio Mengoni prepares sophisticated dishes with hand-selected fresh produce. As one of the best restaurants in Florence, Borgo San Jacopo offers two tasting menu options: Summer is in the Air and the mysteriously named Experience. Each begins with a personal welcome from the chef, who will give guests an insight into his dedicated cooking philosophy. Sommelier Salvatore Biscotti has also curated an excellent wine list of more than 900 labels, ranging from well-known favorites to a few more unusual bottles.