Today, chefs are courting younger diners beholden neither to the city’s traditional meaty ingredients, nor to its classic antipasto-pasta-main course pattern of eating. At La Ménagère, an Instagram-friendly restaurant, flower shop and bookstore that opened last December, diners can eat sea bream ceviche, served with sweet potatoes, lime, coriander, red onion and chili aji amarillo, followed by a classic plate of spinach-ricotta gnudi (the Tuscan version of gnocchi). It’s a Florentine-South American mashup anathema to traditional Tuscan dining, but one that encapsulates the city’s growing culinary diversity.
When cookbook author Emiko Davies moved to Florence from Sydney, Australia nearly twenty years ago, she recalls that “there was one fish restaurant. It was really expensive and saved for a special occasion.” She’s watched as Florence has become a vibrant place for fish and seafood, with many options beyond the fancy white linen institutions such as Fuor D’Acqua, a revered precursor to today’s more accessible restaurants.
One of the most dynamic of this crop, Vivo in Padella, opened in May 2016 in Florence’s Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. Part of a small chain of restaurants founded in Capalbio, on Tuscany’s Argentine Coast, Vivo employs its own fishermen, has an oyster farm in France and buys the remainder of its fish from the daily auction at the port town of Santo Stefano, 120 miles southwest of Florence. Devoted to ecologically friendly practices, the restaurant chain rigorously traces every item of fish and seafood on its menu, and waiters’ uniforms are made from plastic recovered from the ocean.
COVID lockdowns presented an unexpected opportunity for Gianmarco Innocenti, the restaurant’s manager. He and his colleagues began an online delivery platform—something relatively uncommon in Florence—and found themselves with a new group of clients: local professionals nostalgic for the coast, and young people committed to sustainability.
“We have clients now who discovered us in lockdown, and come in once a week,” Innocenti says. “They’ve made eating fish a habit.”
That enthusiasm for new ways of eating also inspired Nerina Martinelli to open her restaurant, Nugolo, in late 2019, a restaurant named for one of the 200 varieties of tomatoes she cultivates on her family’s 50-acre property in nearby Settignano. “I wanted to cook the way I want to eat, and to make a restaurant for my friends who were tired of the typical Florentine trattorie.”
In her cheerful dining room near the University of Florence’s architecture school, Martinelli is featuring local ingredients—fish comes from Viareggio, about sixty miles west of Florence—with a modern, international spin. “We travel so much more today, and this is affecting our food culture,” she says. Martinelli’s menu features spaghetti with a saffron red mullet sauce, and a sumptuous egg and pecorino cheese foam, with crunchy celery and bottarga, that suggests El Bulli by way of a Tuscan farm.