Just outside the city limits, the winding road around the wooded hillside leads up to the grandiose Villa Il Salviatino. Once home to the Rucellai and Salviati families, art critic Ugo Ojetti, and even the headquarters of Stanford University in the 1980s, the 15th-century Il Salviatino has just emerged from a two-year makeover that has brought the imposing edifice up to contemporary five-star standards without losing any of the inherent charm.
Fiesole alive, eternally alive is the name
of good Salviati and his beautiful Maiano
-Francesco Redi, Bacco in Toscana, 1685
History rules in the decadent library lined with archaic tomes, where Salvador Dalì and Gabriele D’Annunzio are said to have held their cultural salons, and in the ballroom, which boasts a striking vermilion and gold canopy, plus an outdoors-indoors theme that is a hallmark of the Tearose Group, helmed by art director Alessandra Rovati Vitali.
The grounds steal the show, however. Ojetti had the original Italian gardens replanted in the 19th century (a stone inscription dates them to 1913) and they continue to beguile today. We sit down for dinner on the pebbly terrace atop the symmetrical rose beds, terracotta vases and pietra serena fountains. The scene is as pretty as they come: sage-toned tables, graceful wrought iron chairs, pink-striped cushions, raffia chargers, and an exceedingly elegant gold and green lamp that I have to resist stashing in my purse. (Don’t worry, Il Salviatino, I refrained.) Not only is the setting appealing, so too are the waiting staff with their impeccably groomed facial hair, twinkling eyes and laidback yet adept approach. Maybe that’s a Giacomo Milano trademark, the renowned catering chain founded by Collodi-born Giacomo Bulleri back in 1958, although—full disclosure—I couldn’t possibly say, having never eaten at the Milanese haunt. The restaurateur died in 2019, yet his legacy lives on with sophisticated outposts at Lake Como’s Grand Hotel Tremezzo, on the Italian Riviera in Santa Margherita Ligure and in a gorgeous garden in central Pietrasanta.
“Giacomo Milano is famous for its fish dishes.” And so, we entrust our order to the maître. First comes a surprise for a Giacomo Milano novice: the signature mini pizza, deep pan, lavished with mozzarella and bejeweled with capers and anchovies to jolt the taste buds into wakefulness. Next to arrive is a quartet of succulent oysters, served in a copper cocotte and gorgeously garnished with wild fennel, alongside one of the most poised and exciting raw fish dishes I’ve ever enjoyed: a langoustine; salmon tartare and peach; swordfish carpaccio with a candied Tropea onion; an intense Mazara del Vallo red shrimp; and slivers of tuna topped with half a caper like a flavour bomb. I’m wowed; unfortunately, the season’s wasps are equally drawn to the smorgasbord of the sea. That’s no reflection on Giacomo Al Salviatino as every alfresco meal this summer comes with a side order of potential sting; apparently, burning coffee grounds helps). Our pasta course is just as toothsome: clam linguine with a grating of tuna bottarga and black truffle, a reminder of the delicate versatility of the summer tuber. Turbot’s the main, resting on a seaweed base and jazzed up by a summery tomato, fennel and cherry salad.
A duo of desserts—Bomba di Giacomo, a strawberries and cream confection, and a chocolate and hazelnut profiterole—sends me floating back to Room 26 on the piano nobile. Occupying one of the six arches of the loggia, the Duomo shimmers like a beacon within touching distance through the floor-to-ceiling window. It might be on the bijou side (the wardrobe capacity is next to nothing), but this jewel with hand-painted trompe-d’oeil of the billowing canopy on the terrace below entices me into the sweetest slumber. I dream of languishing summer nights—and langoustine.
About Giacomo al Salviatino
Open every day from 7.30 to 10.30pm. Pasta courses start from 28 euro, mains 36. Note that Il Salviatino also serves lunch, but this is not catered by Giacomo Milano. Reservations +39 055 9041111
This review was written based on a dining experience kindly offered to The Florentine.