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Florence's Greatest Treasure
Il Latini (Florence, Italy)
Member Name: grahamt
Il Latini (Florence, Italy)
Date: 28/10/09, updated on 28/10/09 (52 review reads)
Advantages: Unsurpassed food ; extraordinary prices ; amazing atmosphere ; very friendly
Disadvantages: Noisy ; "cosy"
Think of Italy and your thoughts turn naturally to those Italian specialities, pizza and pasta. True, these can be found in abundance in Florence and whilst we certainly took in both of these dishes, we always look out for something a little different as well. What we found was pure serendipity and reminded us that Italy has another speciality: cured meats.
We had been viewing the places for which Florence is famous and on this occasion it was the Ponte Vecchio. Our return to the city centre was along the Arno river and, purely by chance we decided to cross back again down-stream of that famous river crossing. It was about lunch time and so we had our eyes open for somewhere interesting.
We almost passed by Il Latini; no, strike that, we did pass by, having briefly looked in. What didn't cause us to stop there and then was the absence of any sort of menu to indicate just exactly what the place had to offer. OK, the dozens of hams hanging from the ceiling gave a clue. Having walked on a little further, we decided to take a chance and walk back. It is probably the best decision we've made in years.
The restaurant was pretty full but there were still spaces left, so long as you didn't mind sharing a table. The restaurant is a little warren of rooms and we were led up a short flight of stairs. The table we were given was a long wooden one, capable of seating eight people and with plain wooden chairs and benches. Two other customers sat at the other end.
The table sported a 2 litre bottle of the local Toscana wine, similar in appearance to Chianti in that it was in a glass flask with a wrapped raffia base. The waiter soon arrived and reeled off a list of dishes that they were serving that day. Now we realised why there was no menu.
Looking puzzled, he suggested a starter of a selection of their cured meats, including the incomparable Parma Ham, sliced so thin you could see through it! Sounded good to us so that was the starter sorted. The wine was apparently charged on a glass by glass basis but as no one was around to see how many glasses we poured, who was to know?
The cold meats were superb, and came with a salad which included tomato, lettuce and mozzarella cheese, which we shared. In addition to the Parma Ham, which we could see being sliced on the counter in the next room, was a selection of salamis and sausages.
Then for our main course a similar arrangement, a list of dishes from which I chose cheese filled ravioli in a tomato sauce and my wife chose a penne pasta dish, which she declared excellent. We finished off with a chocolate flan for myself and a cup of coffee for my wife. The whole meal for the two of us, including uncounted glasses of wine, came to just 45 Euros. We decided to go back for dinner the following day (Sunday).
We didn't book and that almost turned out to be a big mistake. We had to get directions from the hotel as we hadn't returned direct and so couldn't quite remember where it was. However, it turned out to be just under a ten minute walk. As we approached we were alarmed to see around a hundred people congregated around the entrance! The restaurant opens at 7.30pm on Sunday evenings and it was just before that as we arrived.
Some groups, the larger ones, had taken the precaution of booking and they were let in first. As they were we edged forward ourselves until finally we were by the door. We indicated two and soon were lucky enough to be let in. We were shown to a table we shared with another couple but almost all of the other tables were already full. There were undoubtedly those who didn't get let in with the first wave. They faced a long wait or an alternative restaurant.
Dinner followed pretty much along the lines of the previous lunch; we once again chose the starter dish of their delicious cold meats, including the unsurpassed Parma Ham but this time with a different selection of sausage. Next we selected their soups, my wife the vegetable and for myself their bean soup. Mine was so thick you could almost have stood the spoon up in it! Once again, delicious.
For the main course I chose one of my favourites, roast rabbit, whilst my wife chose a lamb chop. It turned out that her dish was actually boneless and the meat so tender that it almost dissolved in the mouth. My rabbit was perfectly cooked: tender but not too dry, as rabbit often can be when roasted. This was all served with a selection of vegetables.
All the while we were helping ourselves to the wine, along with our table neighbours and by this time the bottle was practically empty, all 2 litres of it! Still, now it was time for dessert.
Once again we chose a couple of their dishes we hadn't tried before. Again, they proved excellent. We followed that with coffee for my wife and, as I am not a coffee drinker, a grappa for me. To be honest, by this point I couldn't have eaten another mouthful anyway.
The bill was presented - 85 Euros. I don't know how it was arrived at but it was one of those occasions where you think you've probably been undercharged, especially in a city like Florence and particularly when you compare it with the meal we had the evening we arrived, at a different restaurant, which cost half as much again and wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable.
Il Latini is undoubtedly one the best restaurants in which I have eaten, in the World. It isn't "romantic": don't come here for a quiet candle-lit dinner, it's quite noisy, an inevitable consequence of the smallish rooms, close tables, the bare décor and the mostly Italian clientèle. The furniture is basic but very clean; the food is to die for; the staff are very friendly; the prices are unbelievable.
As we left to go back to our hotel a couple of hours later we were astonished to see still around 50 people waiting patiently outside the door just hoping to get a table. A restaurant has to be *very* good to enjoy that sort of dedication.
Il Latini is probably the *only* reason we would consider returning to Florence as otherwise we found the city quite disappointing. When next you are in Florence, be sure to visit. Best you book though!
Summary: One of the World's truly great family-run restaurants
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