“The garlic in Italy just smells…garlickier!” My partner and I have been in Florence less than a week and are so blown away by the level of flavour in the local cuisine that we’re running out of adjectives. Not a great look for a pair of food writers but it’s certainly a good problem to have. We’ve spent the last five days hopping between osterias, enotecas and ristorantes and have just arrived at the charming Osteria Dell’Enoteca where we have what few words we have left in our mouths replaced with food that just tastes, uh, tastier (?!) than what we’re used to back home.
The restaurant is situated on Via Romana in the Oltrarno area of Florence, so to get there you have to walk over the Arno river and through winding cobblestoned roads that are engulfed in the scent of freshly prepared street snacks that attempt to derail us from arriving at our destination on time (or hungry).
We resist temptation all the way up to Osteria Dell’Enoteca and are greeted by the genial and charismatic maitre’d and co-owner Lorenzo, who explains that while the owners and staff aren’t technically related, they are all such a tight-knit bunch that it’s “like a family business”. True to his word, he points to a table occupied by his co-owners who are the same team that launched Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina in 2008, a wine bar that’s just 400 metres down the road outside the majestic Pitti Palace. If its continuing success is anything to go by then its sister restaurant is sitting pretty.
Lorenzo informs us that it’s actually the restaurant’s two-year birthday this weekend, so I deploy one of the few Italian phrases in my arsenal (“buon compleanno!”) and pray that it doesn’t lead to a song, as it would reveal not only the fact that I don’t know how to say “to you” in Italian but also that I have a tone-deaf singing voice. Both myself and my fellow diners are saved any embarrassment as we are led to our seats in the small, cosy dining area that’s bathed in natural light. The walls are chalk-white exposed brickwork and the artwork has a focus on perfectly weathered stones – perhaps a nod to the minerality of the soil and water in which their wine is grown – with an alphabet carved on individual pebbles being a particularly cute touch.
Completing the cave chic ambience, a couple on a neighbouring table are getting to grips with a bloody red steak of Flintsonian proportions. As tempted as we were by the sight of it on the menu – not to mention impressed by the caveat that they only cook up to medium rare in honour of the high quality of the meat – it’s only just after midday and if we plan on doing anything else in the afternoon then it’s prudent to forgo the (minimum order of one kilo) beef and opt for the lighter option of, um, pasta.
Not that our food doesn’t fill us up. An antipasti of octopus salad is light and delicious, its creamy potatoes shining as the star of the show; their soft texture remains consistent throughout every bite and complements the soft and supple octopus flesh to a tee. However, it’s the addition of dried ‘n’ fried capers that elevate this dish to a special level, their surprising crunch displaying a bold yet playful kitchen philosophy that is present throughout the meal.
We successfully – if somewhat crudely – translate the Macceroncetti as ‘mini macaroni?’ (“Buon compleanno! No, not appropriate again? No problemo.”) and the primi piatti arrives with fresh seasonal asparagus buried throughout the al dente pasta as well as a generous topping of shaved pecorino. With the addition of a healthy splash of olive oil that lends the food a grassy tang, it’s a hit.
Even better is the spaghetti in pistachio pesto, which is enlivened by the addition of grated lemon peel that cuts through its surprisingly creamy consistency. The marinated calamari lend it a delicate piscatorial flavour with a finish so sweet and moreish it’s almost as if we’ve ordered dolce for primi. It’s also the dish that prompts my partner to proclaim the aforementioned olfactorius garlic. In her defense, it is proper garlicky.
Lorenzo has recommended a Chianti Classico to accompany our meal and its delicate juicy flavours and dry, tannic finish is the perfect vino to maintain a perky buzz throughout lunch without sending us to sleep, a mood that’s matched by the soft yet fast jazz music that serves as an upbeat soundtrack.
Charging our glasses, we plough into the second course of a rich, oven-roasted quail that’s nestled on a bed of Swiss chard. Its crispy skin gives way to a pork stuffing; one bite into the multi-layered bird and we taste the depth of its many herbaceous ingredients, evoking festive memories of winter meals.
On the other side of the table lies the best chicken salad you’re likely to have in your life. The grilled rooster is ridiculously succulent, almost as if every mouthful will deliquesce at the slightest change of room temperature. Wild chicory offers a refreshing crispness, creating a pick-me-up of a dish that delivers on flavour and texture in spades.
After a brief pausa, we take on the dessert course; a jar of tiramisu covered with a heavy snowfall of cacao dusting proves intriguing, mainly as it has an intentional absence of coffee and an addition of crumbled cantuccini biscuits along with a splash of vin santo (dessert wine). My partner’s cannelloni are outstanding (athankyou!), their crunchy tubular pastry filled with chocolate and grappa ganache doused in pure cacao sauce that’s as close to savoury as a dessert can get while still feeling indulgent.
Draining our coffee, we prepare to say our thanks and make an exit, but Lorenzo suggests a digestif; I can’t remember ever turning down an offer like this and I’m certainly not starting today. Our host returns with not one but three bottles of homemade liqueur and sets them on the table. Challenge accepted. Made in the style of limoncello, these infusions marry the macerated skin of a specific fruit or leaf with alcohol and lots of sugar; both the orange and the chamomile are impressive but it’s the bay leaf ‘alloriocello’ flavour that packs the most decadently attractive punch, sending us pleasantly reeling out of the door and into the sun-soaked streets of Florence.
Cementing my opinion of him as the perfect gentleman (and presumably his of me as a forgetful clod), Lorenzo chases us down the street to return the scarf that I left on my chair in a limoncello haze. A classy end to what has been a perfect lunch and my partner and I bid him a grateful adieu, already looking forward to returning for another culinary adventure at Osteria dell’Enoteca, which may be even be garlickier than the last.
Osteria dell’Enoteca, Via Romana, 70r, 50125 Florence, Italy.
Tel: +39 055 228 6018
The restaurant is located in Via Romana in the Oltrarno district. The nearest bus stop is the Romana stop for buses 11 and 36. It is open for lunch from 12:00 to 14:30 and dinner from 19:00 to 22:30 every day except Tuesdays, when it is closed all day.
Type of Restaurant: Tuscan osteria specialising in steak and wine
Price Band: Medium to High
Insider Tip: Ask the bartender for his unique homemade liqueurs as a digestif.
Reviewer’s Rating: 8.5/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Osteria dell’Enoteca and Olga Makarov