Florence leaps into the 21st century

The city now hosts brilliant arts and superlative dining opportunities

Florence seems for the past few years to have been quietly but systematically shedding its fusty Renaissance mantle and joining the ranks of 21st-century Euro capitals. The signs are citywide: there is the vanguard Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi (www.palazzostrozzi.org), which is currently hosting the brilliant exhibition Money and Beauty: Bankers, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities (until January 22 2012), and which only seems to get more impressive both as a first-rate arts venue and as an ad-hoc social epicentre, with its contemporary courtyard installations and lovely café; and the new Museo Gucci (second picture, www.gucci.com), which opened last month in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia on the Piazza Signoria – a sleek, three-floor, 1,700sq m paean to a brand whose roots are an intrinsic part of Florence’s own early 20th-century history.

And there are new restaurants that turn the expected on its head; these include hole-in-the-wall Zeb (www.zebgastronomia.com) – it stands for “zuppa e bollito” and serves no-fuss, deliciously rustic standards but foregoes the usual hokey rickety wooden tables and candles-in-chianti-flasks decor for slick, marble-and-chrome bar seating; and iO Osteria Personale, in the trendy San Frediano area (third picture, www.io-osteriapersonale.it), whose affable, handsome owner, Matteo Fantini, left a career in veterinary medicine to pursue his dream of opening a local (his 23-year-old chef is one of Florence’s most-watched), and whose menu is organised by ingredient rather than by course.


But it’s a true hero of the Florentine restaurant scene (and of Florentine society) who is biggest news-maker following the opening of his new venue on October 6: Etichetta Pinchiorri at St Regis (first picture, www.stregisflorence.com, from €330) showcases the talents of Giorgio Pinchiorri and his French wife Annie Féolde, chef de cuisine at Enoteca Pinchiorri, their elegant palazzo restaurant across town on the Via Ghibellina – tied for decades (with Fabio Picchi’s Cibrèo) for the title of finest dining experience in Florence, which makes it one of the finest in Europe.

The St Regis outpost’s menu reprises the tradition and the elegance that are hallmarks of an evening at the Enoteca, but in a decidedly different atmosphere: low-slung chairs surrounding large, convivial round tables, integrated with the hotel’s uber-chic lobby and reception, so as to fully leverage the people-watching potential. What it doesn’t reprise, to the relief of legions, are Enoteca Pinchiorri’s gasp-inducing prices (appetisers that start at €55, pasta courses at €70-€85). Etichetta offers full multi-course bespoke menus ranging from €80-€90 per head, and a wine list of more than 1,000 bottles, hand-selected by Pinchiorri and his team. Like the surroundings, a worldly, understated, pitch-perfect entree to the heart of what Florence is all about.