One early morning car journey, a sunrise flight and a scenic double-decker train ride later, we’re in Florence. Hungry!
Italy is pretty famous for its food, which is great when you’re settled in a restaurant, reading a menu you know is going to deliver and salivating uncontrollably as plates of gorgeous food float on by. Not so great when you’re a few steps prior to bums in seats, overwhelmed by the choice of trattorias and osterias, getting hangry!
How on earth are we supposed to choose..!?
Alex and I are passionate foodies and didn’t want to waste our time (and hard-earned money!) on a disappointing meal. That might sound a little snobby, but we’d flown across Europe for this and didn’t want a dinner we could’ve had at the Prezzo down the road.
We were armed with guide books and a spreadsheet of recommendations from others, (yes, I’d made an Excel spreadsheet, what are you gonna do about it?) but even then our ‘approved’ list was 15 or so restaurants long. We only had three dinners in the city; that’s 5 dinners a night if we wanted to try them all!
In the end it was a simple question, asked of our Airbnb host, that got us out of the spreadsheet and into that first restaurant:
“Where’s the best pasta in the city?”
Once we got going, we really got going. I can’t say I had a single disappointing meal for breakfast lunch or dinner for the entire time I was there (bar the four-finger kit kat on the plane)!
DISCLAIMER: if you’re looking for a traveller’s guide of Florence, touching on the cultural delights and architectural wonders of the city (of which there are many!) then I must admit, this review is not for you.
If, like me however, you’re partial to a coffee, a pastry, a plate of freshly made pasta, a traditional Italian wood fired pizza, some gelato, a cream-filled cannoli or a lip-smackingly good panini and want to find all of these in the beautiful city of Firenze, then holy shmoly this is DEFINITELY the review for you!
Let’s get to it!
- SimBIOsi – for the best pasta (and pizza) in the city
Instagram: @sim_bio_si or click here
This was the recommendation from our Airbnb host and the answer to our question above. They pride themselves on their freshly made pasta and pizza dough, using only organic ingredients (that’s the BIO bit) all made to order right in front of your eyes. My pomodoro e basilico (tomato and basil) spaghetti was not only the best pasta I’ve ever eaten, it was one of my favourite meals to date.
Alex had the lasagne and said the same (although we’re not allowed to tell his Dad!)
We also sampled the wood-fired pizza on our first night in the city. I went for the chicory, mushroom and broccoli pizza (again all organic) and Alex had spicy nduja sausage sauce with a huge ball of fresh burrata in the middle, topped with basil.
One thing to note: the pasta restaurant and pizzeria are separate – you cannot order pasta in the pizza section and vice versa. Which of course meant we went twice.
- Trattoria ZaZa – for the best overall Italian experience
Instagram: @trattoriazaza or click here
This one was on the spreadsheet! Recommended by both TripAdvisor and our friends and family. It’s located in the square outside the Mercato Centrale and has been around since 1977, serving good-quality traditional Italian food. Their T-bone steak, served on a wooden board as a sharing plate for two, is famous in Florence and is where they get their name. When asked ‘How do you cook a T-bone steak?’ the chef would reply “ZA-ZA!’ meaning ‘just like that!’
We had cannellini bean bruschetta to start, followed by their homemade pesto pasta and a large salad for me, and truffled duck pappardelle for Alex.
- Don Nino – for the best cannoli and gelato
Instagram: @don_nino_italia_ or click here
My oh MY was this place delicious! Located on the outskirts of the Duomo square this wonderful little bakery and gelateria was surrounded by happy customers. We picked up a mango sorbet from their gelato stand and then headed to the sweet-treats section, marvelling at the intricate pastry work and gorgeous looking cannolis. We’d already sampled a gelato and had a table booked for dinner, so we popped a couple of treats in a bag for later.
I had two mini cannolis – one filled with pistachio cream and the other filled with chocolate cream – and Alex had a pistachio sfogliatelle (yep, that’s the one they attempted on Bake Off Week 7)!
- Panini Toscani – for the best paninis
Just trust me on this one.
This place was an absolute GEM! I cannot tell you how pleased we were with the whole experience. It was a teeny tiny sandwich bar, wedged between others in the Piazza del Duomo and had a small, unassuming sign that read Panini Toscani (duh). There was a pretty hefty queue outside (which is always a good sign) and the paninis looked incredible, so we committed. And WOW are we pleased we did!?
Once we were in, a white-haired Italian man gathered a few of us together and introduced himself. He then lead the most incredible tasting session, allowing us to try the 4 different types of cheese and 3 different types of cured meat they had on offer. He told us where they sourced their ingredients, where the product was made and the seasoning that was used in each one. We then built our own panini, using our preferred meat and cheese and choosing our bread and other toppings. We sat in the shadows of the Duomo, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, munching away on two sandwiches we hoped would go on forever.
I had cheese number 2, a strong but creamy cheese (similar to emmental) with traditional salami, roasted aubergine, roasted red peppers and rocket in a multi-seed wholegrain bread.
Alex had cheese number 1, a mild, softer cheese, with fennel salami, roasted aubergine, fresh chilli sauce and rocket in an olive focaccia.
- Mercato Centrale – for the best breakfast (and produce!)
Instagram: @ilmercatocentralefirenze or click here
The Mercato Centrale is the best for pretty much anything! From 8am until 2pm on the ground floor is a huge produce market, with vendors selling everything from delicious truffle pesto to tripe (we steered clear of the latter)! On the top floor, open from 8am until midnight, is an incredible array of mini restaurants selling all kinds of different dishes using the fresh, local produce from below. You can get pizza, pasta, meat dishes, vegan dishes, breads, pastries, arancini and so on – you can even join a past making masterclass if you so wish! Alex and I tended to head here for breakfast as it was often quiet and offered the largest selection of breads and pastries, alongside a coffee.
We visited twice for breakfast – I had an apricot pastry the first time and a raisin swirl the second. Alex had olive focaccia with mozzarella and tomato and a parma ham and truffle cream panini. With a coffee every time, obviously.
Note: if visiting the top floor (the restauranty bit) don’t go any earlier than 9:30am as the Italians aren’t awake yet.
- La Ménagère – for the best coffee
Instagram: @la_menagere or click here
This place was en route to the Duomo from our apartment, so we walked past it every day. The menu was amazing, but a little too expensive for us, so we decided to go for a coffee one morning instead (*cough* cheapskates). They do pretty much everything though – breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks etc.
However, it was the interior that was most impressive. Think rustic brick walls, gorgeous wooden furniture and hanging lamps. They also have a wall of vintage mirrors on the way to loos and a florist within the restaurant, so there are plants everywhere you look. Oh, and a white grand piano, because why not?
We both had the same: a cappuccino and some fresh orange juice.
And that’s a wrap!
Now you know where the best food in Florence can be found, so if you haven’t already, book your flights – your belly with thank you for it!