RISTORANTE L’INCONTRO, HOTEL SAVOY
The Hotel Savoy occupies a privileged position on the piazza della Repubblica in the very centre of Florence. This should not surprise us, for the hotel is part of the Rocco Forte Collection, and Sir Rocco is renowned for acquiring only those properties which have the very best locations. The building is Classical and elegant, and its interior decor is modern but in sympathy with the architecture. I have yet to stay at the hotel, but good reports of its dining room drew me to dinner there. And even before I entered the Ristorante L’Incontro, I found myself impressed by the friendly and helpful attitude of those members of staff I encountered at the door and in the reception hall. Clearly, I thought, the General Manager, Mr Edward Leenders, must be a good captain of his ship.
L’Incontro is a small, high room, pleasantly lit by a crystal chandelier, numerous spotlights and small candles on each table. There is hint of the Viennese Secession in the grey walls with their painted red poppies. I liked these, and I liked the air of relaxed sophistication – reinforced by the uniforms of the waiters (black shirts and blue ties) and by (laus Deo!) the absence of canned music. I sat on a grey banquette, my back made comfortable by an added cushion, and noted the good Schott glassware and the off-white napery. I also noted, with approval, that the napkins of those diners who left their places for a moment were replaced. I will never tire of pointing out how important this is for any restaurant which aspires to offer a high quality of service. And the service at L’Incontro was certainly good. I was looked after exceptionally well by the smiling Isabella Andreini, Assistant Restaurant Manger.
The famous Chef, Fulvio Pierangelini (pictured), is the consultant ‘Director of Food’. The Executive Chef is Remo Vannini. I found the cuisine of Chef Vannini approachable, intelligently conceived and skilfully executed. I do not often mention the amuse-bouche, but here I must, for it was so good. Surprisingly, this was the first time I had ever been served foie gras together with chicken liver mousse – each on toast and each delicious. (“Compare and contrast”, as the instruction used to say in the school examinations.) This is a combination I must seek out again.
My first course was marinated salmon, with beetroot, orange and dill, served on a rectangular white plate. This was subtle and satisfying, with an effective balance of flavours and textures. The next course brought a trinity of joys, for I like pasta, I like tomatoes and I like pecorino cheese. Ravioli of ‘pappa al pomodoro’ with shavings of pecorino was well done. Then sea bass with sautéed artichokes and mashed potatoes brought a super piece of fish with luscious mashed potatoes (made with extra virgin olive oil) and, at my request, a dish of gorgeous sautéed onions. (I have become such a fan of the humble onion that I often wish to see how well a kitchen can deal with it.) I ended with a crispy millefeuille, with Bourbon vanilla cream and raspberries. (These four courses were 84€.)
The wine list offers 84 bottles, 4 half-bottles and 23 wines by the glass. All, except the champagnes, are Italian. Prices run from 30€ for a 2012 chardonnay from Lake Garda to 680€ for the 2008 vintage of Masseto. Other bottles to catch my eye were: Krug Grande Cuvée (240€), 2003 Franciacorta Annamaria Clementi Cà del Bosco (120€), 2010 Tignanello (110€), 2008 Solaia (260€) and 2008 Gaja Barbaresco (280€). I drank that always reliable white from Tuscany, Cervara della Sala by Antinori. This was the 2011 vintage (65€), one of the best I have tried – big, buttery and vanilla-laden. Splendid. My red, sadly, was disappointingly tannic and woody – a 2007 Brunello di Montalcino (Col d’Orcia – 25€, half). Perhaps it might be better in a few years.
But the Ristorante L’Incontro is good right now. I have no hesitation in recommending it to you.