If you’re touring the sights of piazza Santa Croce and looking for a very Florentine bite to eat, Bisteccheria Santa Croce is the place for you.
Tucked to the left of the basilica, opposite the entrance into the final resting place of Italy’s greats such as Michelangelo and Machiavelli, the simple outdoor seating area delights by having Enrico Pazzi’s Dante statue as a dining companion.
The speciality of bistecca alla Fiorentina is no secret here: a fridge full of succulent T-bone steaks welcomes us as we walk into the attractive restaurant. Checked red-and-white tablecloths, cork-lined walls and an attention-grabbing wine wall rustle up an appetite, while details such as a fireplace inlaid with commesso fiorentino decorations convey the building’s centuries-old origins. Modern flourishes include the filament bulbs dangling from a medieval beam and the polished copper piping.
We sit down at one of the central tables, a couple to our right tucking into a generous bowl of pappa al pomodoro and a truffle topped steak fillet, while a trio of customers’ faces light up at the sight of a beautifully presented platter of Tuscan antipasti. Meanwhile, a group of Italian students have filed into the cavernous rear dining room of this deceptively spacious trattoria for a quick lunch: not a word of their conversation reaches us. It’s a hallmark of the professional service led by the restaurant manager.
“Is the steak Chianina?” we ask as the maître shows us the T-bone. “What we’re grilling for you today is Limousin that’s reared in Italy, although we do also have Chianina. All our steaks are hung for between 40 and 60 days. The longer the meat is hung, the better the flavour is. What’s important is that bistecca alla Fiorentina includes the fillet.” Off he goes to hand the steak over the chef to begin the grilling. While we’re waiting for our pasta course, a pretty Chianti Classico from Cinciano is poured into our glasses from the proprietor’s own selection. It’s the perfect choice for lunchtime: a light and lovely Sangiovese wine that pairs with pasta and the grilled meat to come.
Lunch gets underway with wild boar pappardelle, whose sauce has been marinating and stewing for several hours. Popping with juniper berries, the cinghiale is chunky, flavourful and exceedingly moreish. Tagliatelle with spring truffles is the other primo: softly scented, nicely buttered and a sign of the season.
Our minds are meat-bound: just bloody enough by bistecca alla Fiorentina standards, the steak sits on a circular wooden board already sliced around the T-bone, the succulent fillet on one side and the loin on the other. Generously seasoned with coarse sea salt, it’s a joy to sink a fork into this cared-for local specialty in between bites of nicely prepared spinach.
Thankful for a tender steak lunch, back out in the sun-splashed piazza, Dante almost changes his frown into a smile. So it seems anyway.
Largo Piero Bargellini 2, Florence
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Reservations: +39 055 2638701