Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alle Murate (Florence, ITALY) ★★★★☆

Months before this trip to Florence, I already started reading up on the city's dining scene. There were a number of interesting restaurants that looked fascinating from a food perspective but the moment I saw pictures of Restaurant Alle Murate, I knew it was a place I could never resist.

Alle Murate is located in Palazzo dell'Arte dei Giudici e Notai (Palace of the Art of Judges and Notaries), home to fourteenth century frescoes and archaeological excavations from Roman times to the Renaissance. Sitting here so close to the paintings on the wall, it just adds so much to the dining experience. It's like dining inside a fine history museum.

The restaurant is divided into numerous levels with the kitchen located on the ground floor. Good thing I'm not a server here coz walking up and down those stairs a hundred times everyday isn't something I look forward of doing.

At the helm of Alle Murate is Chef Giovanna Iorio, a veteran who's been here for nearly three decades. Born and raised in Southern Italy, she's best known for her unique take on creative Tuscany cuisine with a strong character.

We started off with a plate of house made bread which was still warm (forgot to take pictures of those) served with butter and was that fennel next to it (forgot to ask!?). 

Bread was then followed with an amuse bouche - a roll of some sort with crispy pork skin as the wrapper. I again forgot to jot down the ingredients in the filling.

Variety of liver - Our first starter was duck liver interpreted in four different ways, as terrine, pan-seared, marinated and last but not least, ravioli stuffed with foie gras and sweet onions. It's a bit of a heavy way to start off the meal but for a duck foie gras lover like Jelloman, it was perfect.

Celery soup with scallops and pineapple - I had a bit too much to eat this week so I was going with something much lighter (than foie gras). I like the way they've matched sweetness with sweetness here (scallop and pineapple).

Study on Lamb - Next up for Jelloman was a study on lamb with three different parts of the lamb prepared in three distinctly different ways. The leg was baked, chop deep-fried and shoulder braised. The presentation was really gorgeous like a painting and it was interesting to experience the textural contrast and different flavor profile between the three cuts. 

Roasted Pigeon - I went with the roasted pigeon which turned out to be an excellent choice. The first serving of the dish was a pair of pigeon breasts roasted to absolutely perfection. Minimal seasoning with sea salt already made it really heavenly. This was accompanied by a second serving with the legs beautifully stuffed with its liver. A superbly executed dish with great finesse and elegance.

Finally, some mignardise to wrap up our night (Yeah, we ran out of room for dessert).

A visit to Alle Murate is much more than just a dining experience, as we came to find out. The artful restaurant-cum-museum offers a unique experience of a stunning setting with its ancient walls and ceilings combined magnificently with a brand of Tuscany cuisine that is both exciting and creative. 

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: €€€€
Address: Via del Proconsolo, 16/r, Florence, 50122, Italy
Tel: +39 055 240-618

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ristorante Borgo San Jacopo (Florence, ITALY) ★★★☆☆

All these years, I have been told so many times that Paris and Prague are the most romantic cities in the world. I have just one word to whisper back after this trip. Florence.

After enjoying a slow walk along River Arno and admiring the breath-taking view at sunset, it's time to indulge ourselves into the wonderful taste of modern Italian cuisine. Our destination was Ristorante Borgo San Jacopo, a restaurant at The Lungarno Hotel owned by the Ferragamo family.

This is a tastefully designed restaurant and hotel complex, which is exactly what we would expect from the Ferragamo brand.

We asked for a window seat with a perfect view of the peaceful River Arno. Glad they had one available!

After a complimentary glass of white wine from Northern Italy, we started embarking on this culinary journey with a simple amuse bouche of burrata with a touch of tomatoes.

Chianina tartare with cucumber petals, erbs and mustard gelato was our first starter. For those of us not familiar with the Chianina breed, it's the meat often associated with the famous bistecca alla fiorentina.

I liked the interesting combination of textures and temperatures there with the mustard gelato and tartare.

Pan seared scallops were served on sautéed watermelon rind with a multi grain wafer in the middle.

I was expecting the scallops to be sweeter and seared to a more golden brown color.

Our main courses were designed to be more sophisticated and the results were slightly better than the starters. 

First up was a veal done three ways which they called "Study on veal" here. Tongue millefeuille, round with tunafish and Maurizio's Simmenthal represented the three different techniques (5/10).

Less successful was the deboned rabbit stuffed with basil escalibada.

A touch of sweetness before we left courtesy of this cantaloupe mousse with pistachio crisp, milk and ginger gelato.

After dinner, we took another slow walk, this time past Ponte Vecchio before going back to our hotel. This is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. I am definitely going to miss Florence.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Hotel Lungarno, Borgo San Jacopo 14, Florence, Italy
Tel: +39 055 281661
Website: Link

NH Collection Firenze Porta Rossa (Florence, ITALY)

NH Collection Firenze Porta Rossa was one of my favorite hotels on this trip to Italy. I have always liked restoration projects on historic architectures and this is a prime example of that (12th century building), and a pretty successful one too I might add.

The hotel has a nice mix of modern elegance and classical design. The designers did well to keep a good chunk of history intact including the old lanterns, sculptures, glass windows and even an ancient elevator (which probably did not work anymore) from the renaissance times.

The hotel rooms were spacious in Italian standard. They managed to throw in a contemporary design and made it work to perfection. 

Breakfast was just adequate but it was the breakfast hall that created all kinds of buzz. What a magnificent place they've got here for breakfast and it has certainly put a smile on our faces every morning when we had breakfast here during our stay!

The location however was the main reason that we picked NH Porta Rossa in the first place. It's just steps from the Arno river and Salvatore Ferragamo Museum; and the rest of the tourist attractions were not too far off.


As much as we love this place, there were still some shortcomings that should be noted in case one's considering staying here:

For one, Wifi connection - internet passwords are given out at the hotel reception for 30 minutes free of charge. Then you need to ask for another password again and again. (That's why you see all these people wandering around the reception area at night.). For unlimited access in the rooms, it is chargeable. This is a bit annoying, why not simply make the wifi free to everyone?

Secondly, some of the rooms including ours, are facing a back alley and it could get pretty noisy in the morning when the garbage truck came to pick up rubbish from the night before.

Just a word of advice if you are arriving by car: There's a valet parking service at €25 per night which isn't bad at all. BUT do not attempt to drop your car in front of the hotel because you may never find it! The hotel is located in a pedestrian area with restricted access (and too many one-way roads in the proximity). Simply drop the car near the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum by the river and let the hotel know (the license plate number) so someone will come and pick it up.

Rating: ❤❤❤❤
Price: €€€
Address: Via Porta Rossa, 19, 50123 Firenze, Italy
Tel: +39 055 271 0911

Pizzeria Ristorante Victoria (Bologna, ITALY) ★★★☆☆

We were just looking for a real quick bite on our way to Florence and thought Bologna would be a great place for a short stopover. Our first stop was at Pizzeria Ristorante Victoria near the centre of Bologna. At first, I was a little shocked to find the restaurant to be entirely full on the terrace, after all, it's already 2:30pm!

I was craving for some scampi so this risotto with scampi cream was a no-brainer.

Pasta Bolognese is a definite must in a city where the famous meat sauce was originated.

Still got time to check out the fountain of Neptune which was just stone's throw away from the restaurant.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: €€
Address: Via Righi Augusto, 9, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Tel: +39 051 233548

Thursday, August 11, 2011

i-Fame (Rimini, ITALY) ★★★☆☆

I joked with my friends and told them I checked into this clinic in Rimini. It's not really a clinic but it sure looked like one.

I-Suite - that's the name of our seaside resort in Rimini, Italy. It's a beautiful 5-star hotel created by new design concepts which may set a new trend towards the way we build our resort hotels in the future. The interior of the room is flooded with brilliant design ideas including jacuzzi in the middle of the living room, TVs mounted to the ceiling above your bed...the list could go on and on. And did I mention that most rooms come with a balcony view of the Rimini beach?

By the time we arrived at I-Suite from San Marino, it was already 8pm. Rather than going out to explore Rimini under this extraordinarily hot August night, we decided to just hang around the hotel and enjoy the facilities.

I-Fame is the one and only restaurant at the hotel. Can they think of a better name than that? I-Food or I-Gourmet would have been a better choice, one would think.

After a rather simple and largely forgettable amuse bouche, here came the rest of our dishes.

.....Starting with a wheat tagliolini with glasswort, sea urchins and lemon foam. The plate itself scored a lot of points but not taking anything away from the tagliolini, it's firm to the bite and a perfect match with the sea urchin.

Next up was a cuttlefish ink oyster tempura and vegetables served with a sweet and sour sauce. This was an Asian inspired dish that was cleverly designed to incorporate a little bit of Italian twist (cuttlefish / squid ink) to it.

Not as great as the previous dish but nevertheless adequate.

Disappointingly, our last main course turned out to be the least satisfying dish. It was a yellow-fin tuna in a herb pastry crust that was served with mashed potatoes and dried cherry tomatoes.

I would rather have my tuna steak undercooked than overcooked.

One last view of the beach from our balcony before we said goodbye to Rimini and hit the road again. Ciao~

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: €€
Address: Viale Regina Elena 28, 47921 Rimini, Italy

Tel: +39 0541 386331

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Gelaterie La Scintilla (Rimini, ITALY) ★★★☆☆

What looks like a chemist here is actually a gelateria serving gelatos and ice cream bars of a wide variety of flavors.

We came across this place almost immediately after our arrival in Rimini. After a brief stop at Piazza Cavour, we found this gelateria called Gelaterie La Scintilla just around the corner.

There was a fairly long lineup but we made it through and had one of the best pistachio gelato ever. Thank you, Rimini. That was beautiful.

Isn't gelato the greatest invention of mankind?

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: €€€
Address: Corso d'Augusto, 148 47921 Rimini, Italy
Tel: +39 0541-22358

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Muro Venezia Frari Ristorante & Pizza (Venice, ITALY) ★★★☆☆

After a full day of "work-out" on the island, we decided to return to our hotel for a short rest before heading out again for a quick dinner. There was a number of options in the proximity of our hotel but we ended up choosing Muro Venezia Frari, a very popular pizzeria in the touristy area of the island.

Grilled eggplant, zucchini and mixed peppers - This is pretty big for the size of a starter. Not bad as we desperately needed some veggies after having way too much meat the last few days.

Pizza with mozzarella cheese, shrimps and zucchini - It was decent but unspectacular and I chose not to finish it at the end.

Time to go back and pack our bags coz Rimini is up next tomorrow.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: €€
Address: Sestiere San Polo, 2604, 30125 Venezia, Italy
Tel: +39 04 1524-5310

Caffè Florian (Venice, ITALY) ★★★★★

Caffè Florian is a Venetian-style coffee shop situated in the historic St Mark's Square in Venice, Italy. It was considered as one of the oldest coffee shops in the world having opened for business in 1720.

I first learned about this place about a year ago from a local TV programme that featured different famous coffee shops from around the world. Caffè Florian caught my eyes big time and I decided to pay them a visit.

After a tough day of driving from Milan, we decided to sleep in the following morning and before we knew it, it's already 3:30pm when we arrived at the crowded St. Mark's Square. And there it was, Caffè Florian.

Despite the fact that we were starving, we just couldn't help ourselves from stopping here and admired this beautiful architecture.

In the summer, they have al fresco seatings extended onto St. Mark's Square for anyone interested in enjoying the sun while spoiling themselves with a nice cup of coffee. An orchestra will also be providing live entertainment (from April to October) though it comes with a price (a music charge will be automatically added to your bill.).

This was too much to pass up so we decided to skip lunch and have a coffee here instead.

Instead of sitting outdoor, we took a retreat from the bustle and indulged ourselves in a bit of history inside one of their dining rooms. The frescoed walls and ceilings, glittering neo-baroque decor brought us back in time to the 18th century Venice.

Patience was a very important quality to have when you plan to have a coffee here. The service was very slow and even getting the servers' attention required a bit of skill.

Cappaccino was a definite must here. On top of that, we had a tiramisu parfait and salmon quiche which was okay too. All in all, we had one of the most memorable experience ever.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: €€€€
Address: Piazza San Marco, 56, Venice, Italy
Tel: +39 041 520-5641