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Marco Stabile's guide to Florence

Marco Stabile's guide to Florence

by Pete Dreyer 14 August 2017

As the head chef and owner of Ora d’Aria – one of Florence’s best restaurants – Marco Stabile is celebrated across the region as one of the great Tuscan chefs. So, who better to show us the gastronomic sights of the city?

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Planning a trip to Florence? Great choice. Aside from being widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence is a hotbed of art, culture and history – it was the birthplace of the Renaissance after all, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a result. But when you’ve finished exploring the piazzas, the palaces and the museums and you just need something to eat, where do you go? Well, we know someone who has the answer.

Marco Stabile has amassed an entire career cooking in the kitchens of Tuscany, including time spent with the illustrious Gaetano Trovato at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant Arnolfo. Now with his own restaurant Ora d’Aria, Marco’s cooking takes authentic flavours from his home region and twists them into innovative new combinations. His modern approach to classic flavours earned him a Michelin star in 2011, and he’s held the accolade ever since, flying the flag for Tuscan cuisine in the heart of Florence.

Basically, he knows his stuff. We caught up with Marco for a day and he was kind enough to guide us around Florence, giving us plenty of recommendations along the way.

Buca dell’Orafo

Good for: typical Tuscan cooking

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Situated in an 800-year-old palace, Buca dell’Orafo is literally surrounded by history, and is named after the ancient goldsmithing laboratories that used to dominate the palace complex. These days the restaurant doesn’t look much different, instead choosing to pay homage to its origins by restoring and retaining much of the original artwork, as well as the panelled ceilings and medieval tower. The food stays similarly true to Tuscany with regional classics like Panzanella, gnocchi with sausage and black cabbage and almond biscotti with sweet wine all featuring on the menu. If you’re after a true taste of Tuscany, Buca dell’Orafo is the place to go.

Marco says: ‘When I just want great Tuscan home cooking, this is where I go. The restaurant is in an old palace from around 1200 near the historic Ponte Vecchio – it’s a beautiful spot with a lot of history, and should be enjoyed over a long, leisurely meal.’

Via dei Girolami, 28, 50122, Florence. bucadellorafo.com

Essenziale

Good for: modern twists on Tuscan traditions

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Although Essenziale only started in September 2016, the project has already been making waves in Florence. Go to eat at Essenziale and you’ll be presented all your food by the chefs who have cooked it, who can explain each dish in detail. And that’s probably a good thing, as some of these flavour combinations might need some explaining – chicken liver is paired with bread, passion fruit, basil and cocoa nibs, while beef arrives with strawberry, raspberry, wasabi and leek. Not everything is quite so experimental, but Simone Cipriani and team are clearly doing something right, already earning themselves a Michelin star.

Marco says: ‘I’m always very proud to support the new chefs in Florence who are looking to modernise Tuscan cuisine. Simone Cipriani at Essenziale has become good friend of mine – I like the way he takes traditional things and puts a fun twist on them. Fegato Passion (Liver Passion) and Panzanella of Polpo are great examples of his play on tradition. I’m so happy these guys got their Michelin Star recently, they really deserved it.’

Piazza di Cestello, 3R, 50124 Florence. http://essenziale.me

La Leggenda dei Frati

Good for: innovative, modern Italian cooking

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La Leggenda dei Frati – ‘The Legend of Friars’ – isn’t exactly the easiest restaurant to get to if you’re exploring Florence on foot – it’s tucked away south of the Arno, way up the hillside in the Bardini Gardens. But if you’re willing to make the trek there the restaurant is well worth the journey, offering some spectacular views of Florence as well as top-notch food courtesy of chef Filippo Saporito, one of Italy’s rising stars in the kitchen. If you phone or email ahead, you can even request a guided tour of the Villa Bardini museum, which is normally closed but to which Filippo has a set of keys!

Marco says: ‘I’m always keen to see what others in Tuscany are doing with the same raw ingredients that I am using. Filippo received a Michelin star last year at La Leggenda dei Frati, and what I admire about him is his attention to research and his respect for our culture and ingredients. La Leggenda dei Frati is particularly innovative in exploring new dimensions of Tuscan cuisine – when you eat here, you’re guaranteed to eat a dish or two that you’ve never even imagined before, and that you’ll remember forever.’

Costa S. Giorgio, 6/a, 50100 Florence. laleggendadeifrati.it

‘INO

Good for: amazing sandwiches with the best ingredients

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‘INO is a sandwich parlour with a difference. Founder Alessandro Frassica has toured the country looking for great suppliers with amazing products to bring to his shop, and the result is a delicatessen that is packed with the very best produce from the region. Like good restaurants with good suppliers, ‘INO is very seasonally led – cured and preserved meat and veg appears more in the winter months, with sandwich staples like mozzarella only available over the summer. The parlour is hugely popular – even the Mayor of Florence eats there – and the sandwich combinations are so lovingly put together that there’s no need to ask for substitutions or alternatives..

Marco says: ‘Yes, it is close to my restaurant but I have to admit, I always go here for lunch and I always recommend it to my visitors. They use very high quality ingredients and their shop is also a meeting point for all the top artisan producers in the region, so I come here to listen into the conversations. Alessandro’s project is so much more than a sandwich shop – you can make your own sandwich, but also create your own picnic to take over the river Arno to the gardens. It’s a perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of Florence.’

Via dei Georgofili, 3r/7r, 50122 Florence. inofirenze.com

Enoteca Pinchiorri

Good for: a dining experience of a lifetime

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Enoteca Pinchiorri is a three-Michelin star institution, and has been the standard bearer for Italian haute cuisine for decades. Original founders Annie Feolde and Giorgio Pinchiorri are both still involved with the business, and guests can expect the highest attention to detail in every area. Dishes such as John Dory bits in squid ink dough, with spinach sprouts, Bearnaise and lemon chamomile jelly, and agnolotti filled with white polenta in a stew of local snails are perfect examples of Enoteca’s mix of traditional Tuscan food and thoughtful cooking techniques, but dinner at the restaurant doesn’t come cheap – you’re unlikely to leave without parting with €200, and that’s not including wine from the cellar, quoted by Michelin as being one of the finest collections in the world. Definitely worth a visit if you love high-end dining.

Marco says: ‘Enoteca Pinchiorri is a golden symbol of Italian cuisine, and Annie Feolde is a great mentor and inspiration for all of us here in Italy. If you are looking for classical, glamorous Italian high cuisine and superbly cooked dishes, this is the place to go. Enoteca Pinchiorri also has arguably one of the greatest wine lists in the world too. The cantina is a very exclusive tourist attraction and should you have the chance to go, you can count yourself very lucky.’

Via Ghibellina, 87, 50122 Florence. enotecapinchiorri.it

Carapina

Good for: the best ice cream in Florence

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If you’re in Italy to sample the country’s gastronomic delights, you’d be making a big mistake if you skip gelato. Richer and denser than normal ice cream, artisanal gelato is a big deal in Italy. If you’re after a taste of the good stuff in Florence, Carapina is the place to go. Don’t expect your bog standard vanilla and chocolate, though; founder Simone Bonini started this project to push the boundaries of Italian gelato. Give his basil gelato a try instead, or perhaps the Pachino tomato sorbet!

Marco says: ‘Florence is full of gelaterie and it’s so easy find a good one. I have a few I like, but Simone Bonini’s Carapina is a particular favourite, mostly because he uses natural flavours and he is more of a chef than an artisan. His gelato is the real deal! His work and teachings have been inspirational around Italy let alone Florence and I always enjoy taking time out to visit him and talk about ideas and life over a great gelato.’

Piazza Guglielmo Oberdan, 2/red, 50136 Florence. carapina.it

Il Locale

Good for: a quick drink or aperitivo

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Although Marco prefers to head to Santa Rosa – a pop up on the south side of the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci – for a summertime aperitivo, the onset of winter means plenty of visits to Il Locale in the historic city centre. The palatial interiors and indoor gardens hark back to the building’s significance during the Italian Renaissance, and with a grandiose black zinc bar in the centre, Il Locale is an imposing and impressive place to sip on a negroni or enjoy a glass of wine.

Via delle Seggiole, 12/red, 50122 Florence. localefirenze.it

Ditta Artigianale

Good for: a great cup of coffee

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Ditta Artigianale is the creation of Francesco Sanapo, one of the world’s best baristas, as evidenced by his sixth place finish at the World Barista Championships back in 2013. That competition turned out to be Francesco’s last, and he returned to his native Italy with the goal of bringing Florence’s coffee culture out of the dark ages and into the twenty first century. Ditta Artigianale is a modern coffee house in every sense of the word – they sell a huge variety of their own beans, roasted on-site and sourced from farmers from around the world. They even hold classes, as well as making the best coffee in the city.

Via dei Neri, 32/R, 50122 Florence. dittaartigianale.it

Sant’Ambrogio Market/Mercato Centrale

Good for: market produce

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When you think of Italy, you think of sprawling, multicoloured food markets packed with beautiful fresh produce. Marco recommends the Sant’Ambrogio Market in the Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti if you’re looking for any fresh produce, from meat and fish to fruit and vegetables. Or there’s the Mercato Centrale on the other side of the city, near the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which hosts market stalls downstairs and a huge food court upstairs, in the beautiful renovated iron and glass building.

Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 50122 Florence. mercatosantambrogio.it

Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 50123 Florence. mercatocentrale.it

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