Finding an amazing Italian meal isn’t always easy. Even in Italy. Some of the finest hotels are often snubbed by locals because the cucina Italiana (Italian cuisine) isn’t up to par and thought to be ‘for tourists’.
But not these three Italian restaurants! Each is a beloved favorite for locals and tourists alike where you si mangia bene (eat well). Which indeed is high praise from Italians who in my opinion are the world’s toughest food critics. Each of these top three restaurants has one very important element in common: Italian chef mastermind Fulvio Pierangeli. He is the golden thread that weaves them all together creating mouthwatering menus inspired by the purest Italian cuisine.
Irene: Hotel Savoy, Florence
A fun throwback to a 50’s retro-chic bistro, Irene is colourful and contemporary in Florence’s historic Piazza della Repubblica. The designer, Olga Polizzi, recently transformed the ambiance from a heavy masculine vibe into a feminine feel with elegant flash. Then Fulvio Pierangelini revamped Irene’s menu to perfection. “The bistro is a celebration of woman and the thousands of inextricable facets of the female universe,” says Fulvio Pierangelini, “Irene is a bit insolent, free, contemporary, charming, bold, mischievous, irreverent and cheeky. The kitchen is a part of women’s history: men walked into this intimate world and although we have been successful, we are still intruders.”
I joined the fun for Irene’s Sunday Nonna’s Lunch. Upon walking in I knew I was someplace special. It wasn’t just the divine Florentine specialties I saw before me on tables. But also the vibe.
I felt like I belonged to a swanky insiders club and considered myself lucky to be in the mix. In seconds, I was greeted by restaurant manager Paul Feakes, the ultimate social butterfly. He floated around the room making everyone feel like they were the only guest in the world. He offered menu suggestions and I went with every one. Irene’s staff creates the type of magic that you don’t want to end. If I wasn’t leaving Florence that evening, I absolutely would have booked a reservation for dinner. And lunch the next day. I still crave one last bite of the Pappa Pommordo Ravioli. I’d take a train back to Florence to work my way down the menu. Mamma mia. It was that good.
What’s also refreshing about Irene are the prices. Incredibly fair. Truth be told, I would have happily paid more. And I have paid more for dishes in lesser Italian restaurants. I’ll be back to try the lemon and parmesan stracciatella soup, tagliolini with fava bean and fresh Tillo’s sheep cheese, Mediterranean fish crudo and small vegetables. Not to mention to bask in Irene’s female universe, which only adds to the delight.
Piazze della Repubblica, 7
50123 Firenze, Italy
Le Jardin Russie: Hotel de Russie, Rome
When the crowds and chaos of Rome become too much, there is one place I always go to escape: Le Jardin Russie. A handsome doorman opens the door and I’m whisked away into another dimension of timeless elegance – a magical Italian cortile where all is right in the world again. What would be Rome without Le Jardin Russie? Between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo on Via Babuino, if you don’t know it’s there you might just walk on by. But don’t miss this luxurious chic oasis in the beautiful chaos that is Rome. It would be a pity not to succumb to enchantment.
Ready to be romanced by its menu, history, and locale.I always dress for the occasion. Service is at its finest with a casual elegance and the menu makes my mouth water every time. Chef Fulvio Pierangelini says, “The simpler the food, the more we have to pay attention because margin of error increases. You need courage for simple cooking.” You certainly don’t need courage to order. Because you can’t go wrong. Octopus and cuttlefish “Cacciucco”, tagliolini with white truffle, fresh fish crudo served on salt slabs and fig tart with Brachetto. A modern twist on the classic “focacina” bread with langoustines, zucchinis and ricotta is a must-have. And I wouldn’t leave without the peaches “Sfoglietta”.
I don’t always have time for a sumptuous two hour meal in the garden. But I always have a moment for an aperitif at the bar. Made with fresh juices by master mixologists, I can hardly walk by The Russie without at least stopping in for a Hugo spritz – St. Germain, Processo, with a splash of Pelligrino, fresh mint and lime. On a hot day in Rome, it’s the only way to cool off.
Le Jardin Russie
Via del Babuino, 9
00187 Roma, Italy
BoCConi: Hotel Amigo, Brussels
Ask anyone about Hotel Amigo and they’ll tell you it’s the best hotel in Brussels. As its name suggests, this hotel is the opposite of pretense. Instead, it’s where friends go to gather. After just one night drinking at the bar and dining at BoCConi, that’s exactly how I felt. Amongst friends.
I wouldn’t miss a before dinner drink at Bar Amigo. Especially their Vintage Negroni created by head barman Davide Trupia. It’s a house specialty – a barrel-aged cocktail that mixed Campari, Martini Rosso and Tanqueray Gin and aged at least two months. Not to mention the lively entertainment with the ever-entertaining Bruce Ellison and the Jellodies. The bar is alway host to a fun eclectic mix of local and international talent.
After dancing to a few jazzy ballads, I moved the party into BoCConi. I never thought Italian food could be so fantastic outside of Italy. But with Fulvio Pierangelini’s touch spearheading the menu and head chef Marco Visinoni at the helm, my tastebuds danced over dishes like: Seabass, Mashed Potatoes and Wild Mushrooms (recipe below), lightly fried squid with aubergine and zucchini, paccheri with tomatoes and their famous Tiramisu Bocconi.
On the table, I found their private label of balsamic vinegar and olive oil sourced from Sicily. Italians are known to travel abroad with a stash of their favorite olive oil. So it made perfect sense that the chefs would provide guests only their ‘personally approved’ best at BoCConi.
SEABASS, MASHED POTATOES AND WILD MUSHROOMS
Courtesy of Hotel Amigo, Brussels – BoCConi – Fulvio Pierangelini
2 seabass of about 1 kg
1 kg of potatoes
100 ml extra virgin olive oil “Pierangelini”
Wild mushrooms (choose them according to the season: porcini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles …)
Salt and pepper
In a pan, cook the potatoes while maintaining their peel. It is necessary that the potatoes are of the same size so that the cooking is homogeneous.
Once cooked, peel and crush them gently without letting them cool. Season them with salt.
Put the potatoes in a saucepan and mix them with olive oil to transform them into puree.
Chip and prepare the fish and then fillet it.
Season the fillets with oil, salt and pepper and fry them in medium heat to cook well inside the fish.
When the fish is almost ready, clean the mushrooms gently with a damp cloth.
Prepare them and cut them with your fingers if possible.
Toast the mushrooms in a stir-fry with olive oil, thyme and garlic
For making the dressage, place the puree in the center of the plate, add the two fish fillets and top it with the mushrooms.
Finalize with a dash of olive oil.
Rue de l’Amigo 1
1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
*Images courtesy of Hotel Russie, Hotel Amigo and Hotel Savoy
*I was the guest of the Hotel Russie, Hotel Amigo and Hotel Savory. My opinions are entirely my own.