Emily O'Hare gives her verdict on Essenziale
A new restaurant opened in the centre of Florence last October, promising to revitalise Tuscan tradition. It has created quite a buzz.
Because of the high level of tourism in this city, and thus the guarantee of walk-in trade, many restaurants have settled on formulaic menus revolving around typical Tuscan dishes such as ribolita, crostini with chicken livers and bistecca alla Fiorentina. These comfort the tourists but do not challenge the locals and, if you are staying for longer than the weekend, it can become rather repetitive.
Essenziale is no typical Tuscan trattoria. Though relaxed and informal in ambience, it is unusually spacious, with high ceilings and plenty of room between tables. You can either dine à la carte or choose from two tasting menus, at €35 for three courses or €55 for five.
It is carnival season during my visit and head chef, 32-year-old Simone Cipriani explains that the appetiser of warm cenci – deep-fried pastry puffs – is a typical speciality of the month. The baccala carbonara and spaghetti con pomodori and prosciutto that follow were outstanding. Baccala and carbonara feature on every menu in the city, yet never have I seen them together. They entirely complement each other: sweet, juicy, salty flakes of cod are served in a bright yellow, glossy sauce of egg yolk and parmesan with slivers of crunchy pancetta. Rich, intense and heavenly.
The spaghetti does not come as expected, in a tomato sauce with pieces of ham; rather the pasta is boiled in water previously used to boil a shoulder of jamon Iberico, and then fresh tomatoes are squeezed over the top. Cipriani says he uses the famous Spanish ham for its depth of flavour and unique sweetness and nuttiness; Italian hams he finds ‘too porky’.
The wine list comprises a mix of French and Italian wines – neat and clear on vintage, producer and variety, and extremely fairly priced. There are some really exciting choices from tiny producers and lesser-known regions, such as Cave de Morgex et la Salle’s Glacier, a sparkling Prié Blanc from Valle dAosta (€35); Pierre Gerbais’ Cuvée de Reserve Extra Brut Champagne (€65); Damiano Ciolli’s Cesanese from Lazio (€24); and Domaine de la Borde’s Ploussard from Jura (€50). For those with a less adventurous palate, there is also a good selection of wines from big names that are safe bets.
Revitalising Tuscan traditional cooking is exactly what Cipriani is doing at Essenziale, and the buzz he has created is well deserved.
Essenziale, Piazza di Cestello 3R, 50124 Florence, Italy
Tel: +39 (0)55 24 76 956
Open Tuesday- Saturday for dinner 7pm-10pm, and Sunday for brunch 11am-4pm.
Emily O’Hare is a freelance wine writer based in Florence, who runs a wine and yoga retreat at www.potentino.com
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