There’s a new Mediterranean wave in piazza Ognissanti—and it’s not Italian. Famous for Sesto sull’Arno, the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant with fine dining and even finer views, now The Westin Excelsior Florence has introduced some Spanish flair.
I remember having drinks at the Westin Excelsior’s lobby bar just once in my 15 years in Florence: a swift Campari aperitivo when my American flatmate’s grandparents were guests at the hotel prior to dining out at an overly priced and disappointing ristorante in borgo Ognissanti.
Those times have changed. Walk through the revolving door and turn right into Andalucia. Sit outdoors on the restyled Arno-flanking terrace with views of the showstealing San Frediano in Cestello church dome or inside the intimate and leather-lined nineteenth-century ORVM bar.
QUISITAPAS is a brave move by The Westin Excelsior, motivated by a desire to inject some international colour into the city’s food scene as well as a young vibe into one of Florence’s most decadent hotels. 29-year-old award-winning chef Manuel Sanchez Jimenez, transplanted from Seville’s Hotel Alfonso XIII, belies his youth with mature, stylish and appetizing dishes.
Begin with a grazing board of delicate acorn-fed jamón ibérico (19 euro), served in the Andalucian way with a simple tomato sauce and toast, and a perfectly chilled, tastebud-tingling gazpacho (6 euro). Opt for classics such as a tortilla with padron peppers (7 euro) and Valencia-style seafood paella (7 euro). Move on to more complex tapas like the intriguing salt cod with black rice and squid air (9 euro) and the cappuccino truffle aroma (9 euro) for a fuller dining experience.
There’s also a Tuscan tapas menu, prepared by executive chef Giuseppe della Rosa, featuring local, but international, classics such as pappa al pomodoro with burrata, oven-roasted tomatoes with grilled squid and an ideal-for-summer avocado, cucumber, feta and almond dish.
Spanish wine lovers will be in their element. (Let’s face it, up to now it’s been nigh impossible to locate high-calibre Spanish labels in Florence.) Start with a sangria that begs for a refill and then be led and educated by the expert sommeliers. I tasted the ever so slightly smoky yet high on acidity Ossian 2006 Vinas Viejas Verdejo, with grapes sourced from 180-year-old, organically farmed vineyards; the Bodegas Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Crianza 2012, a 100% Tempranillo, opulent, juicy and far older than its years due to 18 months in American oak; and a mind-blowingly energetic, bright and seductive Bodegas Roda Sela 2012, an award-winning wine that will see me returning to the new lobby bar at the Westin Excelsior ASAP.
QUISITAPAS: “here you tapas”. My opinion: yes, you do. Very well.
Lobby bar at The Westin Excelsior Florence
Piazza Ognissanti 3, Florence
Open from 1–11pm
Dishes start at 6 euro; expect to pay 30 euro for a light meal