Florence – Palazzo Castri 1874

Richard was leaving Florence on Monday afternoon, so we thought that we’d go for one last meal in this quite lovely Italian city. The Fork booking system had worked well for us this afternoon, and the Palazzo Castri 1874 were offering 50% off food and drink for diners who were willing to have a late lunch at 14:00. This restaurant is located within a hotel, which had a beauty to it and a real sense of calm.

Richard broke the automatic door when we went in, so that wasn’t the best of first impressions, but fortunately no lasting damage was done either to the door or Richard. Such a relief that the door was free from any permanent damage. Anyway, we soldiered on and the welcome offered by the staff members was authentic and engaging.

There were gardeners in the hotel’s courtyard, which looked inviting, as well as a cat who seemed to have taken up residence. The restaurant was around half-full, having that air of being professionally run but still wanting a level of informality. I don’t like pretentious places, although Richard does, as the charm of a restaurant is it being all about the customers, not the staff acting like they’re judges in some talent competition of the diners.

Sparkling water was swiftly brought to the table and I, unusually for this weekend, decided against a drink. There was no drinks menu, although a wine list was offered on request, which seemed an omission. The hotel also calls its restaurant boutique, which the dictionary suggests is sophisticated or fashionable. I do judge restaurants on their craft beer selection, but this is Italy, it is perhaps a little unfair to dwell on that. So, I didn’t. I’m prepared to agree with the hotel though, their restaurant is boutique.

As we were waiting for the meals to arrive, Richard commented that someone’s food arrived in a plastic bag. I had a strong suspicion that he’d be getting a close-up of a similar meal shortly afterwards, which he did, as it was the sea bream fillet that I had ordered.

The sea bream was served en papillote and the cooking was perfect, even if the presentation didn’t perhaps look entirely elegant. The fish was moist, tender and oozing with the flavour of the tomatoes served underneath it, without overpowering the meat. The capers, which are one of my favourite things and I’d have them served with nearly anything if I could, added texture and the black olives were soft and rich. This was one of those dishes that I didn’t want to stop, not because I was necessarily hungry, but because it was delightful.

The potatoes which came with the sea bream were soft (bar one which was a little hard, but I won’t dwell), perhaps slightly buttery and they had a crisp edge to them.

Richard’s antipasti of cured meats, cheeses, honey, jam and walnuts. He was pleased with this selection, although I suspect that he was right about the lack of sun-dried tomatoes being unfortunate, but everything on the plate was of a high quality and had a richness of taste. The honey, which I think it’s fair to say that Richard was moderately sceptical about, was a delight with the cheese.

My caffe latte, which I think was served too hot, it’s rare to get it so hot on mainland Europe (it’s very easy to find that in the UK) that it’s hard to even hold the glass, but this one was. The richness of taste wasn’t there, but it tasted fine and Richard enjoyed his first experience of an Italian coffee in Italy.

Then the bill came, which was just under £19 for one wine, one bottle of sparkling water, two mains and two coffees, with the restaurant generously not charging a coperto (a cover charge) despite providing two baskets of bread. I think that’s it fair to say that this is excellent value for money, making it just a little unfair to even mention any negatives. I left being reminded that there’s a world of hotels other than Accor and just a little disappointed that I had to leave.