Restaurants where they forget what you ordered, sleek eateries with toilets with seas for floors and toilet paper as islands, osterie with noise levels so deafening you can’t hear yourself speak: all aspects that put me off reviewing a new place. None of these faults apply to Essenziale; the reason why I don’t want to review Simone Cipriani’s new pad is entirely a selfish one—I want to keep it all to myself.
A loft in the Oltrarno
Once a garage in piazza di Cestello, the techno chic frontage leads you into a vast industrial-style open space, wooden beams, metal skylights and a raised dais on which the chef presides over the proceedings, selecting his tunes as he cooks. There’s a grittiness to the locale, a determination to succeed that is swiftly softened by the low leather sofas and bookcase that testifies to Cipriani’s cerebral approach to cuisine. Any chef with Colman Andrews’ biography of Ferran Adrià on his shelves is a chef with a masterplan. In fact, the overriding feeling at Essenziale is like walking into Cipriani’s Oltrarno loft, just dropping by to see what’s up, how’s it going and what’s for dinner. It is all painstakingly considered, yet casual. The covers are few and the atmosphere is laidback, upbeat; there’s an energy that emanates long before the food hits the purpose-designed tables, complete with a built-in drawer for every diner that seems to replenish itself with cutlery as the meal progresses.
While you can go à la carte, the tasting menus glitter like gold—and repay your taste buds, too. Conoscersi, 3 courses for 35 euros, La persistenza della memoria, 5 courses for 55 euro, or Insieme, 7 courses chosen according to your preferences cannot be faulted as a way to experience Essenziale’s genial cuisine. The Lingua alla Pizzaiola (tongue, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, spring onions) is a triumph of consistency and taste, making a talking point of an all-too-often unspeakable piece of meat, while the Pappa Mary is a flavour-packed substantial retake on the famous Tuscan bread soup, aerated with a vodka spray by the chef himself at the table. Because Simone and sous chef David Chen serve and explain the dishes themselves, interspersed by conversation with restaurateur Massimiliano Vitali. Such a basic concept that makes one wonder why other restaurants don’t do the same. Here, there’s no barrier between kitchen and dining room, the “secrets” are explained, the myths debunked.
“The centre of the beef is cooked to 51.2 degrees so that it doesn’t ‘bleed’ on the plate, the perfect way to stabilize its coagulation,” explained Simone as he brought us the Carne e Brace, a perfectly cooked chunk of bistecca served with the blackest of bread charcoal and a pot of beans.
Curated is the word to describe Essenziale’s wine list. It isn’t long and it isn’t ostentatious; it speaks of a passion for niche, mostly Italian, some French, producers who love to make wine which people love to drink. Wine is served to enhance the cuisine, not to overpower or diminish it.
Anyone who was entertained at Il Santo Graal in via Romana, the chef’s previous post, will embrace the evolution at Essenziale. The playfulness is still in place, but the flavours have intensified and generosity has been injected into the portion size. This is Cipriani Mark 2: amusing, audacious and accomplished.
piazza di Cestello 3R, Florence
essenziale.me (currently only in Italian)