Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

This week I’m in the romantic Italian city of Florence to talk Italian espressos and aperitivos with local Roberta Romoli.

So, you’ve brought me to your favourite cafe/bar – tell me about it.
This is ChiaroScuro, known for their great choice of expresso coffees. It is located on a little side street, away from the main tourist routes. It’s an elegant place and has a delightful coffee aroma in the air. They serve a great variety of expresso coffees mixed  with flavours such as amaretto, vanilla,  chocolate, cream and strawberry. I am crazy for coffee and this is really my favourite place. However, if you want to try the perfect cup of hot chocolate with fresh panna (whipped cream) then head to Rivoire – a historic bar located in the main square, Piazza della Signoria. It’s real sweet perfection!

Mmm… this is good, what are we drinking? 
Apart from coffee, I would order a Negroni cocktail, a classic pre-dinner drink which was invented in Florence in 1920. It was made for Count Camillo Negroni, a florentine nobleman who asked for an Americano cocktail with gin instead of soda. It’s made from an equal measure of gin, red vermouth and bitter Campari.

What are your favourite local dishes?
We are in Italy so of course there is a lot of choice in this field. My favourite dish though is a Florentine Crêpe (Crespelle alla Fiorentina), delicate salted crêpes stuffed with a ricotta cheese and spinach, then covered in generous amounts of béchamel sauce, a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce and grated Pecorino cheese, then baked it’s in the oven until golden brown.

Without a doubt the most celebrated Florentine dish is the Florentine T-bone steak, which must be prepared using top-quality beef (never veal) cut to a thickness of 5-6 cm and cooked on a charcoal grill, preferably using chestnut wood. It should be rare and dressed with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil after cooking.

And where would you suggest I go to find these?
I like the Crespelle alla Fiorentina made in the trattoria I’Toscano, close to the Accademia gallery and for the Florentine beefsteak, I would suggest Osteria di Giovanni, near Santa Maria Novella.

The sky is blue and the sun is shining, what’s the best thing to do on a day like today?
I like strolling around the Boboli and Bardini gardens near Pitti Palace. The Boboli Garden is a stunning example of an Italian-style garden; the avenues and vegetation are laid out in a rational order and are embellished with grottos, statues and fountains. Consequently, the Boboli Garden can be regarded as an open air museum. The Bardini Garden is a 4 hectare open space situated between the Piazzale Michelangelo (the splendid lookout over the city) and the Giardino di Boboli. The Bardini Garden is not as famous as nearby Boboli, but it’s quieter and has a romantic feel.  Depending on the time of the year the garden can be very colourful thanks to the many flowering plants, including roses, irises, hydrangeas and a beautiful wisteria pergola.

And if it rains?
Florence has so many art galleries and museums, around 60 in total. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the top attractions both in Florence and Italy and is the world’s premiere museum for Renaissance art. It covers an area of around 1800 square metres and contains  around 1,700 paintings and 300 sculptures from all of the famous artists of the Renaissance era – Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Raphael and Titian.

If there’s one thing I should do while I’m here, what is it?
You should climb the gentle hill up to Piazzale Michelangelo, from where you can enjoy a fantastic view of the city and admire the stunning skyline, dominated by the imposing shape of the cathedral and its red-tiled dome. You can also stroll around the garden of roses nearby and enjoy a delicious gelato.

Give me a local tip that other tourists wouldn’t usually know…
Italy is famous all over the world for its taste for good food and good wine, but there is something that goes beyond the classic meal time – the aperitif. Standard aperitivo time is between 7pm and 9pm and the atmosphere is social, friendly and relaxing. Every bar has its own way of fixing aperitivi, and the offerings (which are included in the price of the drink) range from little bowls of olives, peanuts and chips, to elaborate buffet spreads that can even include hot pasta dishes, potato chips and bite-sized cuts of pizza or focaccia. There are even desserts later in the night. Among Italians the winner of alcoholic aperitifs is a spritz, made with Aperol, soda, ice and an orange peel. From 6-10 € you can enjoy a full meal, a drink and socialise with local people. This can be a great thing if you’re travelling on a budget.