En route to Villa San Michele, A Belmond Hotel just below Fiesole for our anniversary meal, my hubby and I were having a varied conversation. The end of the summer’s like that: plans for the months ahead, home improvements, the forthcoming general elections… Winding up the verdant curves of via San Domenico is a romantic homecoming for us; our first dinner date was at the village pizzeria, with its glowing amber signage and simple, well-cooked food. (I wanted to go with pasta al pomodoro as Giovanni was still a student at the time; he encouraged me to splash out into at least adding prawns.) Twelve wedded years on, gainfully employed and—let’s be honest—privileged to eat at restaurants “for work”, the graceful hillside avenues feel like a full circle. We’re beaming, and we haven’t even arrived yet.
Villa San Michele is a place for special occasions, for women to finally wear that dress they bought and stored away in the wardrobe, for men to don artisan footwear and perhaps indulge in a barber’s shop shave beforehand. Crossing the threshold of the sixteenth-century monastery is spellbinding: the graceful arches entice and the reception glows with reverence, rightly so as the friars’ former refectory is adorned with Nicodemo Ferrucci’s mesmerizing Last Supper fresco. The welcome is warm and dependable. After all, Belmond is the Michelangelo of the hospitality world: details are never left to chance. As we’re ushered through the historic halls, the past pervades our every thought: what a gift to humanity the Davanzati family made when they enlarged the property in 1600 and what humanity (from Napoleon Bonaparte to the British royal family) has passed through this place down the centuries. Filled with awe, we wander the manicured perfection of the gardens, taking in this year’s addition of the garden bar, the illuminated woodland trails and the high-impact Window and Ladder installation by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich, which seemingly encourages us to look deeper and be more appreciative of our surroundings.
Soft beats are playing live in the lounge where we’re ensconced on the sage and lemon sofa, gazing at the pietra serena pillars entwined with vines. A couple is framed timelessly by the centuries-old doorway, the low lights crafting a Hopper-like painting across the indigo night sky. It’s 8.30pm and our table is ready. Just eight tables comprise La Loggia, Villa San Michele’s fine dining restaurant. (On the other side of the heavy drapes, diners indulge in the delights of the San Michele restaurant with more casual fare still befitting the five-star luxury setting.) The maître pulls out the gunpowder metal chair and I find myself gushing at the seagrass glass vases, undoubtedly handspun by a local artisan. The vibe beneath the romantic arcades is formal, hushed yet hospitable: the white-jacketed maître and sommeliers introduce themselves by name, providing tidbits of information that turn a gourmet experience into a moment of edification. From the aperitif menu, we both choose a non-alcoholic Garden Spritz (“the signature drink for 2022”), whose refreshment is ruled by the elderflower cordial and Seedlip Garden infusion. Between sips, oohs at the design and ahhs at the loggia, Giuseppe is guiding us through the textile-clad menu interspersed with stylish illustrations. “There’s Intrecci, which is the chef’s biographical tasting menu displaying his origins and experiences; Visione Fiorentina, which reflects our extraordinary views over Florence, inspired by the city and its many nuances; and vegetarian menu Epicureo, a tribute to local farmers.” Intrigued to learn more about Alessandro Cozzolino’s culinary life and times, Intrecci (190 euro per person), is our choice. After placing the order, a slight chant can be heard from the football stadium down in the valley, for the floodlights are in full force on the occasion of the Fiorentina-Napoli match. It’s one way of making your other half happy on your wedding anniversary, I suppose. “I can just about glimpse what’s happening on the big screen,” Giovanni enthuses, before herb grissini, a whole Tuscan loaf and a pecorino-loaded bao-like bun firmly regain his attention.
While a trio of amuse bouche titillates the taste buds, especially the carrot-bergamot coil, the Sparnocchio pastrocchio simply delivers. Sweet Viareggio prawns and Oscietra caviar sit contentedly beneath edible flowers, scooped up with tiny chips. Playful and sustainable, it’s an exciting entree. Next is a beguiling sight. Passion and seduction in the form of warmed oysters flavoured with chamomile are sought beyond a rice flour veil. We’re also doing the five-glass wine flight (tomorrow might be tricky) and the sommelier does this saline creation justice with a bone-dry, chamomile-nuanced Arneis from Piedmont. Amid all the sensory happenings, the sky has turned darker, the ochre walls are glowing and the glasses are reflecting on the linen tablecloth. It’s still 0-0 down in the stadium, but it’s win-win at La Loggia as the risotto is served from a bell pepper dish atop a plate dotted with fennel-infused Casentino sausage meatballs. Subtle and moreish, Giovanni happily accepts the last spoonful of the chef’s nonna-inspired rice dish. For me, the standout is the perfectly cooked pigeon breast served with smoked aubergine and peach sauces, the volatile’s fried leg and a taste-popping peach on the side. “We only use female white pigeons and they’re all reared by Laura Peri in the Valdarno,” Chef Cozzolino explains. “She prepares their feed, so the traceability is complete.” It’s an exceptional dish, which embodies the chef’s vision: locally sourced quality produce, international experience (he’s worked in Hong Kong, France, and even Finland) and masterful technique.
Dessert is playful, a game of “guess the sauces” and dipping doughnuts as a cheer travels up the hill. Damn right, we think. This meal deserves a round of applause. Happy anniversary, amore mio.
La Loggia at Villa San Michele, A Belmond Hotel
Via Doccia 4, Fiesole
Open every day except Monday, dinner only.
Tasting menus start from 140 euro; two courses + dessert 120 euro; wine flights start from 60 euro.
Reservations +39 055 5678200 / firstname.lastname@example.org
This review was written based on a dining experience kindly offered to The Florentine.