I’ve known Betty Soldi, the born-and-bred Florentine calligraphy artist and graphic designer who does a robust side line in stylish accommodations (AdAstra and SoprArno Suites are two of the city’s most characterful small hotels), for a few years now, and I have always been taken equally by her eye for original detailing and her natural warmth and hospitality. So when she invited me to join her for an aperitivo at her newest venue last March, I looked forward to more of the same: good taste, warm service, and visual flourishes and dazzles.
But Regina Bistecca – Soldi’s joint restaurant project, conceived by her husband Matteo Perduca and executed by the two of them together with local caterer and events maestro Simone Arnetoli – is a next-level offering, across all criteria. And with an intriguing history to boot: it’s housed in the former premises of Libreria Antiquaria Gonnelli, Florence’s oldest booksellers, a stunning two-storey space clad in gleaming walnut panelling, where in the late 19th century members of the macchiaioli (a school of painting, made up mostly of Tuscans, which was in broad strokes Italy’s answer to impressionism) used to convene.
A stone’s throw from the Piazza del Duomo, the modest doorway belies the cavernous, elegantly lit interior: the wood panels still gleaming, tables set with simple white linens and tall candles, the original bookshelves lining the mezzanine now displaying top Italian vintages (among them some collectible Brunellos and Super Tuscans) in lieu of valuable tomes. The main dining room is a gorgeous space with barrel-vaulted ceilings and slate-grey walls hung with a mix of 19th-century portraits and cheeky contemporary works (including examples of Soldi’s gorgeous calligraphy brought to vivid life with neon tubing). The mezzanine, meanwhile, holds a jewel of a private dining alcove – a round table seating just eight or so, surrounded by shelves hung with clubby brass lamps and overlooking the American-style bar.
Fetching surroundings aside, meat is the thing here – specifically the IGP Chianina beef (€7.80 per 100g) for which Tuscany is renowned (though the chef also stocks Scottish Black Angus, €6.80 per 100g), cut into enormous T-bones that are brought to your table for inspection before they’re cooked al sangue. (Pro tip: don’t ask for well-done meat here, or anywhere else in Tuscany for that matter, unless you care to be dismissed as an utter food philistine.) Variations on sauces and sides nod to both the American steakhouse and Italian bistecca alla Fiorentina traditions: the former is represented by peppercorn sauce (€2.50) and creamed spinach (€6), the latter by white fagioli beans (€8) in exquisite olive oil and rosemary-roasted potatoes (€6). There are also burgers (from €17), meatballs (€14), some beautiful vegetable sformatini (€9) and very moreish house-made crisps (€6), served as a side and at the bar as a snack.
Regina Bistecca is one of Florence’s more sophisticated new openings, but it still manages to harness the charm of a genuine locale Fiorentino. Its proximity to the Duomo, which is especially lovely during the post-dinner strolling hour, doesn’t hurt either. I’ve sent two people there already and can’t wait to get back myself.