Stalking a chef might sound like a sin, but when the “crime” was paired with the impossible-sounding announcement that Locale had made the 51st spot on the acclaimed World’s 50 Best Bars 2021 list, it felt like the harassment had been written in the culinary stars.
The building that Locale Firenze is housed within dates to the 1200s. This lavish venue contains multiple dining rooms, both upstairs and in the cellars. A noteworthy art-themed cocktail list is divided by drink style, with the ‘Scultura’ section inspired by famous sculptures of the Renaissance and containing strong, intense drinks, while ‘Pittura’ is all about the paintings with more floral and fruity combinations. ‘Canto dei Bischeri’ is emblematic of the latter, with tequila, mezcal, bitter melon, peas, matcha, agave, nettle and orange liquor.
As described on www.theworlds50best.com
Simone Caponnetto’s soulful creativity was revealed when Nugolo first opened in Sant’Ambrogio; I still remember oohing over the Pollock-esque splashes of sweet and salty squid ink and black salsify in the urban garden surroundings. Trained under the Roux brothers at three Michelin star wonder, The Waterside Inn in Bray, England, alongside experiences in Tokyo with two-star chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, and with Heinz Beck, the 31-year-old now faces the complicated challenge of aligning the culinary expectations with some of the best drinks in town, helmed by longstanding barman Matteo Di Ienno.
Entertaining and erudite, dinner at Locale is like a night at the theatre. Lodged along a darkened backstreet between via Ghibellina and via dei Pandolfini, you step over the threshold into the thirteenth-century Palazzo Concini. The sense of past doesn’t hit home at first due to the fabulously hefty backlit bar, lined every which way with bottles of liquor, and the vertical garden topped with a retractable glass ceiling for the promise of carefree summer nights. My companions are fashionably late, so I hop up onto a cozy stool for an alcohol-free, root-based drink that refreshes the taste buds, plus a trio of palate-pleasing antipasti. The history of this former Medici residence (Giovan Battista Concini apparently became Cosimo’s right-hand man for everything to do with foreign affairs) makes its presence felt under the pietra serena arches, in the various sumptuous lounges and the bowels of the very medieval basement. An impressive coat of arms and age-flecked mirrors surround our black lacquer table as a trio of gold-trimmed Renaissance chargers arrives bearing a selection of amuse-bouche: the mussels and caciocavallo spark the senses with their salty richness. Meanwhile, the softest of gimlets infused with lemongrass and Kaffir lime are slipping down rather too nicely. Things become playful with grouper, raw and cooked, plus a miso-flavoured caramel that elevates the consistency before moving on to delicate deer tartare scooped up with subtle vinegar chips. Next is a signature dish with some culinary sleight of hand: a savoury samphire risotto stands up to the sweetness of the slow-cooked wood pigeon, while nitrogenized grapefruit is sprinkled on top in a show of hot and cold theatrics.
The antics continue with a daring entrée of BBQ sweetbreads, a shallot and three studied dots of black pear, whose concentration levels prove stratospheric. “We cook the pear at 70 degrees for 12 days to increase the sugar,” explains the chef. “Meanwhile, the shallot is peeled and cooked in aromatic bay leaf water, and served topped with a cleansing leaf of wood sorrel.”
A perfectly smoky bergamot-based pisco sour makes an appearance as the desserts are set down: a mandarin and persimmon sorbet, crackling like popping candy, followed by a toothsome yet not too cloying tarte tatin that I instantly remember from Caponnetto’s Nugolo days. It’s nearly 11pm on a weekday, but the meal’s not yet over as petits fours are presented on pedestals like the ones at the start of the evening. There’s one more act of wizardry involving liquid nitrogen and sugar, but I’m not going to be the one to spoil the surprise. Let’s just say it’s like being transported to Willy Wonka land. Pleasantly full, challenged, but lighter in mood, we leave Locale with smiles on our faces.
Via delle Seggiole 12R
+39 055 9067188
Prices start at 120 euro for a five-course tasting menu; main courses around 40 euro. This review was written based on a dining experience kindly offered to The Florentine.