Green, oh so green was my lingering impression of Florence’s newest gourmet restaurant, Saporium. Redesigned and reopened by Claus and Jeanette Thottrup, owners of one of Tuscany’s most memorable country hotels, Borgo Santo Pietro, this gourmet dining experience by the San Niccolò tower delivers considered design and dishes.
Diners are welcomed into a leafy country chic ambience adorned with ferns in glazed vases and a signature wall frescoed with a Tuscan scene, which frames the open kitchen. Inside, energetic Ariel Hagen is nimbly and expertly directing the show, an exercise in poetry in motion. Florentine born and bred, the chef explains his philosophy for Saporium. “La stagione che non c’è [the non-existent season, ed.] is my mantra to bring the finest hand-picked ingredients into dishes, while upholding seasonality and biodynamics. It’s all about fostering authenticity and quality.” Patrons can choose from three eight-course tasting menus—Proiezioni Territoriali, the fish-centric Pes-care or vegetarian option Profondità Vegetali, whereas ten-course Libera Espressione receives a guided experience led by the chef. Business lunch, Ora, is also a possibility. “We make three courses on the spot in our kitchen with the guarantee that everything will be served within an hour.”
Clad in flawless forest green suits, the maître and his duo of waiters embody the art of laidback professional service. Expect some banter with the chef and explanations that add to the meal without being overly didactic. First up is a palate-stirring beef consommé alongside a salted-caramel-like chicken liver jelly, plus truffle and mushroom shots cleverly presented in a bowl of rocks and pine cones as an acknowledgement of the chef’s mentor, Norbert Niederkofler. As I gaze into the kitchen, a vision of camaraderie and concentration, a turnip greens risotto appears. Rich and refreshing, any potential for Parmesan has been replaced by sheep milk kefir in a deceptively simple upgrade on an Italian classic. Equally game changing is the poached egg from the Borgo Santo Pietro grounds sitting in an applesauce moat and topped with an apple crisp portcullis. Reliant on the contrast between the umami of the egg yolk and the sweetness of the fruit, it’s an unusual and audacious combination. The pigeon sets my lunch companion oohing as the raw cuttlefish cushion behaves “like lardo, but behaves like the sea” (Marco’s words), while I’m in raptures over the swirl of sole perched on lentils and intoxicatingly drenched in a beurre blanc in a take on teleportation to a Parisian bistro, a nod to the chef’s Michelin-star experiences in Belgium. Another creamy concoction ends the savoury dishes: a meaty slice of John Dory resting on a cloud-like black salsify foam, shallot beurre noisette and chickpea miso. Deep and mysterious, it’s a triumph that will surely become an award-winning draw.
Dessert comes with a side of Hagen family history. (Ariel is a descendent of a Jewish Florentine family, whose ancestors were on humanitarian Oskar Schindler’s life-saving list.) “When I was growing up, my nonno would playfully add Alchermes to milk during Sunday dinners. See how the milk tries to escape the pink liquor!” And it’s true. As the chef demonstrates his childhood memory, the wash bathes the dryness of the cake named after Caterina de’ Medici. It’s a playful finish to a bountiful and impeccable meal that leaves you feeling wholesome. My advice: book now before the Michelin inspectors do. It won’t be long.
Lungarno Benvenuto Cellini 69R
+39 055 212933
Eight-course tasting menus start at 155 euro; three-course lunch tasting menu costs 85 euro.
This review was written based on a dining experience kindly offered to The Florentine.