It was while enjoying some Tuscan bread at Osteria Santo Spirito last night that I wondered why on earth I’d waited 15 years to return to Florence. It’s easy to be put off crowded, touristy Florence, especially in the heat of summer but then I’d forgotten how beautiful it is – and how glorious the food.
Eight hours after leaving my home I was checking into the lovely Hotel Cellai, situated fairly centrally so an easy walk to all the sights. I’d flown into Pisa and caught a train (48 mins on the fast intercity) to Santa Maria Novella station. From there it was an easy 10 minute walk to the hotel. I’ll write more about the hotel another time but it’s a friendly cosy place to stay. I headed straight out to enjoy Florence’s most famous sights, happy just to wander in the beautiful weather. It’s crowded but nothing like July and August would be and it’s an inevitability of choosing to visit a popular city.
I’d asked the hotel for some restaurant recommendations before I came. Of course arriving on a Sunday is a bit tricky as so many restaurants are closed in the evening but I saw a couple located on the other side of the Arno river in Oltrarno (literally the ‘other side of the Arno’) were open so I headed that way. I entered the pretty Piazza Santo Spirito and was met by the sight of a market still going – food and crafts – and tables outside restaurants and cafes around the edge of the piazza. It was very attractive and despite all the people and buzz, peaceful and welcoming.
I’d intended to take a look at both restaurants as it was quite early but arrived at Osteria Santo Spirito first and it was so busy with people being asked if they’d booked, I went inside and asked if they had a table for one. I just about made it! Soon after people were being turned away.
There is a terrace but I liked the inside so was happy there. Huge fans spun above bringing welcome cool relief from the 30+ degrees heat. I didn’t want a huge meal so chose a starter and starter size risotto to follow. The waitress was really helpful and recommended a glass of local white wine. My starter was Panzanella. A lot of Tuscan dishes are based on bread and this bread salad is a classic, best made at the peak season for tomatoes for the supberb taste. It’s really just simple salad of pieces of stale bread and chopped tomatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil, and sometimes other things will be added like onions and basil.
It was glorious. This salad sums up so much of what is great about Italian cooking – using the finest ingredients, in season, and keeping things simple. A basket of bread and tapenade was brought to the table too.
Tuscan bread is unsalted. There are various theories surrounding this. Whatever the reason, it’s delicious and the tapenade that came with my bread yesterday was fabulous too.
My risotto main dish was made with courgettes and ‘heart of Parmesan’, which turned out to be chunks of Parmesan.
It was wonderful, so delicious and the smaller size the waitress thought was probably enough for me, perfect. Especially as it left room for dessert. I hadn’t planned on dessert but the food was so good and I liked the lively atmosphere and sitting there, so wasn’t in a hurry to move on. I opted for ‘Budino di panna’, a rich cream dessert a bit like panna cotta that came with peach sauce.
This was so good – rich, thick and creamy and thoroughly delicious. The peach sauce was a great accompaniment too. A nice touch was they also brought me a complimentary plate of fresh cherries while I was waiting for my dessert. I finished with an espresso and then paid. It came to €29.50 for the food and wine. I liked it so much I booked a table for my last night so will go back on Thursday evening.