Top tables: Antica Trattoria da Tito dal 1913, Florence
Art fixes aren’t limited to the Uffizi, says Lee Osborne, as he feasts on T-bones in an edgy graffiti-emblazoned trattoria during a visit to the capital of the Renaissance
The name gives no indication whatsoever of what lies within this rather unassuming ristorante located in the San Marco quarter of central Florence, a 10-minute stroll from the Duomo on via San Gallo, within earshot of Piazza della Libertà. Neither does the exterior, although, in all fairness, it’s in keeping with the two-a-penny traditional family-owned neighbourhood trattorias the city is renowned for. Serving up unpretentious, flavoursome local fare, with a Stanley Tucci doppelgänger front of house, da Tito epitomises the difference between dining somewhere whose USP is to seduce the tourist hordes and one that focuses on winning the loyalty of the neighbourhood first, topped up with a smattering of overseas visitors. Dining here, you feel as if you’re in on a secret locals would rather keep to themselves.
The decor is decidedly Williamsburgesque grunge: da Tito’s walls are daubed floor-to-ceiling with graffiti. It resembles the kind of place whose once-white interiors were suddenly set upon by a gang of marauding art students, armed with multi-coloured Sharpie pens and spray cans, in a Jackson Pollock scattergun approach, obscuring paintings and drawings of past patrons in their wake, be it mere mortals or famous actors. But don’t let that deter you: it’s just the canvas on which a strong food game plays out. Besides, there’s method behind the madness: on its Facebook page da Tito describes itself as an historic and goliardic place (to mortals like you and me, goliards were those wandering medieval student-types who earned money by singing and reciting poetry and quotations). So, it all begins to make sense: the wall-to-wall gung-ho scribblings are a contemporary interpretation of that. Eating here is not just about savouring excellent dishes, it’s about the whole 360-degree experience. There’s an air of irony and sarcasm, not lost on the convivial tongue-in-cheek staff, all sporting T-shirts with propaganda slogans emblazoned across their backs.
Do as the locals do and order a succession of side dishes for primi piatti, the first course in any self-respecting Florentine meal – anything from crostini with erborinato blue cheese and chestnut honey to ribollita, a typical Tuscan soup prepared with seasonal vegetables, and to-die-for pappardelle with wild boar or rabbit cooked the medieval way with cabbage and raisins – both so good that it would take a photo-finish to separate them. All are to be enjoyed alongside the main event – and what pretty much everyone beats a path here for – the bistecca alla fiorentina T-bones. For those yet to be introduced to the delights, the bistecca is an inordinately large steak from the prized Chianina beef herd, famed for its tenderness and flavour and best shared among friends, as ours was. It’s simply grilled over a wood fire and seasoned with nothing more than olive oil, rosemary and salt, and served rare – for rare, read “bloodied”. Not for the faint hearted; it’s the way it is here. Ask for well done and you’ll be shown the door.
The wine list offers up a veritable assortment, catering for every budget. The house chianti is not to be sniffed at, but if you fancy changing it up a bit, I rather liked the Carmignano DOCG Villa di Capezzana, another local delicious blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon from the Contini-Bonacossi organic estate, north-west of the city, close to Prato.
As uncouth as it may sound, finish it all off by dunking crunchy cantucci (almond and orange biscuits) into vessels of sugar-sweet Vin Santo dessert wine, as well as ubiquitous shots of limoncello. They don’t hold back on the stuff, and are even known to leave whole bottles of the liqueur on your table, trusting as they are (I did spy a few, let’s say, well-inebriated funsters, who clearly should have known better, smuggling bottles out). And if you can still stomach it, it’s hard not to nip into Finnegan Irish Pub just down the road for a cleansing Guinness – just the one, mind – before you wobble back to your apartment.
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