Florence for food lovers

Want to avoid the tourist traps and eat like a Fiorentino? We asked Sydney restaurateur Giovanni ‘Johnny’ Paradiso for the inside scoop on where to find the best gelati, panini, aperitivi... Bellissimo!

Giovanni 'Johnny' Paradiso isn't from Florence. In fact, he isn't even Tuscan. But his love of food and wine, nose for a good time and affection for the city make him an excellent guide.
He and Enrico are the brothers Paradiso who give perennial inner-urban Sydney hotspot Fratelli Paradiso its name, if not much of its heat. The boys travel to the Tuscan capital regularly, and have compiled superb notes on where the good stuff is, and been kind enough to give us a sneak peek. "There can be hordes of tourists in Florence," says Paradiso, "and parts of it can get ugly, so it's nice to be able to get off and go and eat where a lot of the Toscani and Fiorentini eat. It's easy to fall into the tourist trap of eating the same thing every day, but there are restaurants doing great, classic Tuscan food. If you're going to go upmarket, there are only two places - Cibrèo and Pinchiorri. Pure Tuscan for me is very simple and produce-driven and quite rustic, so it's all about the osteria and trattoria for me in Florence. I never go looking for anything beyond that."
He makes a point of stopping in at his favourite providores and butcheries to check out the region's produce. And then, of course, there's the wine. ''The whites are so-so, but the reds are out of this world.'' While Paradiso says it would be impossible to replicate true Florentine fare in Australia (''you simply can't find the produce here - the cheeses, cured meats, even herbs''), he is influenced by the simplicity of the food and its hand-ling. "I love the very casual style of dining, too. You can just grab a panino, sit on the street, have a glass of wine and watch the world go by.''
Johnny's picks
Giacosa Roberto Cavalli
This café is at the back of a Roberto Cavalli store, and I usually hate the whole fashion-with-food thing, but Giacosa's been there a long time. It's really kitschy, lots of men with jackets hanging over their shoulders, but the coffee's good, and it's a great place to just sit back and watch. The pastries are out of this world, too. It's a bit of fun if you want to start your day off with something a bit different. It's pretty exxy, but they've got that Florentine-chic thing happening.Via della Spada 10, +39 055 277 6328.
I Dolci di Patrizio Cosi
Not a pretty place, necessarily, with a bit of 80s neon, this pasticceria's bomboloni [doughnuts] are incredible. They're famous for their strudel and their millefoglie [made with layers of cream and puff pastry]. Borgo degli Albizi 15r, +39 055 248 0367.
The gelato at this chocolate shop is, I think, better than Vivoli and Carabé [the famed Florentine gelaterie on Via Isole delle Stinche and Via Ricasoli respectively]. Their chocolate is superb. Try either that or the pistachio-chocolate. Their gianduja [hazelnut chocolate] is also very good. You can't beat the ice-cream. Nothing's on display, either, so you order it and they go in the back and then bring it out.Borgo degli Albizi 11r, +39 055 234 0374.
I Fratellini
It's really cool, basically a shop-front window, a real hole-in-the-wall right on the street, and a counter that's big enough for two people to stand behind - the two brothers. They just do panini, some crostini, maybe 15 types, and they've got 10 or 12 kinds of wine, and you just grab it and sit in someone's doorway or stand in the street (there are no cars), and eat your panino. I like the fresh finocchiona sausage, which is uncooked, and spread on the panino with a serve of eggplant and a glass of wine. It's been there since the 19th century, something like that; it's probably my favourite paninoteca in the world.Via dei Cimatori 38r, +39 055 239 6096.
You have to have the bollito rolls - boiled beef in a panino that they dip in cooking juices, with maybe a little bit of salsa verde on there. This place is in the market - just five tables in a little tiled area, very simple food - cucina povera. It's just great to eat surrounded by those smells all coming at you at the same time. All the people at the markets usually eat there, so they're open early.Ground floor, Mercato Centrale San Lorenzo, Via dell'Ariento, +39 055 219 949.
Trattoria Mario
Mario is also in a market, and it's a great lunch place. Get there at about noon before the line starts happening, because they're always super busy - it's pretty wild. If you're in the area of the Mercato in San Lorenzo, you might as well just drop by. Again, very much like cucina povera; they change their dishes quite often, but there are some daily specials. Friday, there's always really good fish, and I've been there on a Wednesday, when they do the braciole. I love that piatto del giorno, knowing that I'll get this dish if I go on a Thursday and that dish if I go on a Friday.Piazza Mercato Centrale, Via Rosina 2r, +39 055 218 550.
Osteria dei Benci
This is one of my favourites, a place you can go two or three times a week and have a lot of fun. It has a really great atmosphere, with a younger crowd at night. It's a place with a lot of vibe to it, it's been there a hundred years. The guys that own it, Marco, Niccolo, all the boys there, are young. The meats are fantastic - they do them over wood - and I think their bistecca alla Fiorentina is one of the best in Florence. Their pastas are also very good. They do a maccheroni e pepati - maccheroni done with black pepper, ricotta, cherry tomatoes - really good. It gets busy, but if it's full, they'll give you a bottle of wine and you can hang out in the piazza and they'll call you over when your table's ready. Weekends, it's really tough to get in, but I always go around 10 -10.30 for dinner in the Italian summer. Highly recommended.Via de'Benci 13r, +39 055 234 4923.
Vino e Carpaccio
I've only been here once - last year - but I thought it was great. It's a little place, a tiny enoteca, but they have about 200 wines on their list. They specialise in carpaccio, everything from Tuscan beef to ostrich. When I was there they were doing carpaccio zucchini, and a lot of other vegetable carpaccios, a lot of them with bottarga on them - the guy that owns it is Sardinian. It's a bit of fun.Via Pier Capponi 72/A, +39 055 500 0896.
Enoteca Pane e Vino
There's not much modern food worth eating in Florence. This one is sort of a poor man's Enoteca Pinchiorri. It can be hit and miss; I've had a great meal here, and I've had a crap meal here, but the wine list is great.Via San Niccolo 70r, +39 055 247 6956.
Teatro del Sale
From about 7.30-9pm, Fabio Picchi from Cibrèo cooks, and as he lays out the dishes on the buffet table outside the open kitchen, he calls out their names, and you just go up and help yourself. The last dish comes out at about nine, and then a show starts - some kind of avant-garde poetry reading or a play. It's a private club, but you only pay $8 for membership. The food's quite similar to what they do at Cibreino, though simpler, standard Tuscan fare, with stufati and sformato - all served in this old 14th-century convent.Via die Macci 111r, +39 055 200 1492.
Fabio Picchi's Cibreino is the less expensive, casual version of its neighbour Cibrèo. It doesn't take bookings, but the food is similar to Cibrèo, and Picchi is famous for never doing pasta. It's nice to be able to experience something like this - you can go in and just get some well-executed food at a good price. Sometimes Tuscan food can be over the top, and it can also get a bit brown, but this is really fresh. You might get some zucchini flowers, not stuffed with anything, just simply battered. They're not scared to do simple, and they've got a great cheese list, which I really like. In fact, I'd rather go to Cibreino than Cibrèo.Via Andrea del Verrocchio 8r, +39 055 234 1100.
Enoteca 'Fuori Porta'
They opened around the late 80s, and they've got a wonderful wine list. It's just near the San Niccolò gate, and is really good in summer because they've got heaps of outdoor seating. The kitchen is quite good, if fairly limited, but I think they run about 700 wines on the list, and their by-the-glass goes up to about 40. If you want to go drink wine on a summer's afternoon or night, this is pretty good. Very, very simple food, a couple of pastas, maybe a couple of meat dishes, crostone. When you're drinking Italian wine, too, the prices are quite good.Via del Monte alle Croci 10r, +39 055 234 2483.
Enoteca Pinchiorri
If you can afford it, go. I haven't been yet, but I'm planning to. Annie Féolde was the first woman in Italy to be awarded three Michelin stars [her signature dishes include quail porchetta and an haute rework-ing of papa al pomodoro, the classic Tuscan peasant bread and tomato soup], and the cellar holds more than 150,000 bottles. With wine, you're looking at something like $700 a head, so you want to be committed.Via Ghibellina 87, +39 055 242 777.
Il Latini
I think everyone who's been to Firenze has been to Latini, and if you haven't, you should. They do two seatings, one at 7.30pm and one at 9.30pm, and you have to book ahead because at 6.30pm there's about a hundred people waiting outside the restaurant. You go in and the waiters just starting bringing out food - prosciutto e melone done by hand on a big old slicer, plates and plates of crostini, then bollito and zuppa di farro, a choice of three pastas, the meats - do you want veal? Roast beef? A shoulder of roast lamb? If you can get a group of people together and book the table for 10 down in the cellar - that's just mind-blowing. When you sit down, tell the waiter to bring you the wine list, otherwise they'll just bring out big raffia bottles of Chianti. I should warn you that it can get a bit touristy, it can get a bit American, but do the 9.30 sitting and you'll be with more Italians. You'll have to stay up until seven in the morning after eating that much, of course.Via del Palchetti 6r, +39 055 210 916.
Lampredotto stands
The lampredotto stalls are classic Tuscan fast food on the street - big rolls filled with braised tripe. I go to the one near the Mercato Centrale - that's pretty good. For me, the difference between good lampredotto and great lampredotto is colour and smell. You can get those really greyish ones that have been sitting there, but I've always found this one really good.Various locations.
Florence isn't really a bar town, so there's only one bar that you always end up at. Formerly known as Capocaccia, Noir is best at two o'clock in the morning, when you can grab a beer or a very large vodka tonic and go and sit on the banks of the Arno and have a drink. Lungarno Corsini 12-14, +39 055 210 751.