I donned my “shark” mask to visit Prato. Hand-stitched from Pucci silk castoffs with a jagged azure on sky blue pattern, the RN reuse of fabrics seemed appropriate attire for lunch in the (more than) textiles town.
There’s another, more idiomatic reason why I went with the predatory fish theme. Il Dek Prato shares the same owner as Shark Bottega di Pesce, a homely wine bar right next door that is rapidly achieving cult status among locals and Tuscan foodies for its fish charcuterie. Tuna Bresaola, Roastfish, Smoked Swordfish Loin, Octopus Soprassata and Fish Sausages are among the unusual offerings presented on grazing boards at the bottega and featured in flavourful dishes at the casual dining restaurant.
Prato’s industrious types flock to Il Dek and Shark out of a sense of civic pride too, and rightly so, since both eateries occupy pride of place on the architectural jewel of piazza Santa Maria delle Carceri, the basilica’s green and white marble façade topped with a distinctive Brunelleschi-esque drum spaced with twelve portholes, if we’re reaching for nautical symbolism. I’m there for lunch (the sun’s baking the pietra serena), but my sources at TF’s sister channel Visit Prato say that Antinori’s Calafuria rosé is the piazza’s chosen poison on breezy summer evenings, ostensibly for the IG impact in the scenic square.
Restaurateur Francesco Secci beckons us inside, a colourful character with his long dreads, lime green linen shirt and asymmetric red glasses. Energetic and astute, Secci explains the seven-course tasting menu, chats enthusiastically about the wine list (he’s bang up to date, having already acquired the just-released Ornellaia “Solare”, and embraces French pinot noir as well as bright whites from Alto Adige) and openly discusses the challenges of home delivery and takeaway options for citizens unaccustomed to ordering in anything other than pizza. Franciacorta fizzing away in our glasses, the chirashi antipasti is served, a rousing umami bomb of marinated salmon scattered on a miso and rice lining as chef Giulia Talanti pours over a soy-rich sauce. The swordfish loin refreshes with in-season courgettes and reboots with unctuous mayonnaise, while the tuna bresaola is a masterpiece in fishmongery, marinated like prosciutto crudo and zinging every which way with pepperiness. Dish number four is pasta (this is lunch, and we are in Italy after all), but it’s not any old pasta as Puglia’s fat Benedetto Cavalieri paccheri tubes are presented in a sweetly piquant tomato sauce—a tribute to Secci’s successful sister restaurant in Ibiza—topped with fried pressed octopus and diced polpo beneath.
Restaurateur Francesco Secci | ph. @marcobadiani for The Florentine/VisitPrato
We switch to the afore-stated rosé (“just to try it,” says Marco, my comrade in forks; I’m unfussed by the fruitiness after the yeast of the bubbles, but see the summer easy-drinking appeal) as the first piatto principale arrives. One bite and you’re toast, as the club sandwich reels you in with the meaty consistency of the fish sausage made from cuttlefish and octopus, lavished in mustard mayo. Last up is Giulia’s glorious take on vitello tonnato, a triumph in flavour and freshness, warmth and chill, sweetness and bitterness.
Francesco tells us about his plans for Sunday brunch and singalong Fridays as I gaze, slightly squiffy, at the hip urban jungle ambience: a vertical garden wall, wooden Lego-like wine bricks in primary colours cladding the main bar, Pop Art-style paintings and playing card suit-shaped mirrors. Crema gelato with do-it-yourself toppings, including must-eat-in-Prato cookie crumbs, brings this carefree yet considered lunch to a close. I popped my shark back on my face, stocked up on Mattei cookies in the historic centre and floated home on the train.
Il Dek Prato
Piazza Santa Maria delle Carceri 1, Prato
Open daily for lunch and dinner
The Florentine’s editor in chief Helen Farrell and Visit Prato’s Marco Badiani were guests of Il Dek Prato. The seven-course tasting menu is available at lunch (and dinner by prior reservation) for 55 euro per person.