Friday 24 March 2017

Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Da Buzzanca, Osteria dell’Ignorante and Tripperia Bella Ciao

The courtyard at Da Buzzanca
The courtyard at Da Buzzanca

My daughter and her fiancé Simon Boudard live in a very beautiful Tuscan farmhouse about 30km from Florence.

The house has one of those iconic Tuscan views -- you look over a valley filled with vineyards and olive groves to a hill upon whose crest lies the Castello di Poppiano, the seat of the Guicciardini family. It's the sort of view that you'd see in any painting of the Italian Rinasciamento.

Both the castle and the farmhouse are in the town of San Quirico, which, to give you its geography, is in the Val di Pesa -- or put another way, smack in the middle of the Chianti Classico area.

Recently, I went to visit Simon and Isabella and even got a chance to see Simon's first exhibition of paintings in Italy, in the rather handsome Castello del Corno in San Pancrazio.

It won't come as a surprise to learn that one of things we did to pass the time of day was go out to eat. Our first visit was to a restaurant on the outskirts of San Quirico, on an untarred road that leads to Cerbaia, which we could see on a hilltop in the distance.

Leaving a huge cloud of dust behind the car as we travelled, we arrived at Da Buzzanca, an old farmhouse that has been sympathetically converted into a restaurant.

It was a balmy evening, so we sat at an outdoor table in the courtyard. We had been joined by an artist friend of Simon's called Daniele, so we were four. The three artists at our table eat in Da Buzzanca quite often, as the owner is also a sculptor and his papier-mâché creations are all around the restaurant. Some are bizarre, some are unusual and some are very funny.

The house wine was a very acceptable Chianti at €10, so we drank that. If you should go here, ask to see the wine cellar -- it's down steps cut into the rock and, at the bottom, there's an artesian well and lots of elderly bottles of wine. Definitely worth seeing.

We didn't go for a full three-course Italian dinner, instead we went straight for three main courses -- all €9 -- and one pizza, for Isabella.

All very simple and very good: some grilled lamb, grilled beef, some Tuscan side orders and, of course, unsalted Tuscan bread. And even though we were far from Naples, the pizza was very well done -- a thin crust, crisp and well-filled.

We finished up with fruit and ice creams, followed by coffees all round. Good food, good service, pretty surroundings and all for €20 a head.

Another day, we set off southwards from San Quirico to San Pancrazio, then on to Fornacette, and lastly from there on the Via Certaldese towards Lucardo. That might sound like a long way, but it was only about 20 minutes by car.

The countryside as you drive these byways is simply stunning. The Florentine Hills are almost manicured, with groves of olives and endless lines of vines ripening in the sun.

We found the Osteria dell'Ignorante. This translates as the 'Hostel of the Ignorant', an unusual name in either language. It has a large outdoor patio with amazing views over the hills, so naturally we decided to eat outside. In Italy that means in the shade -- no one ever eats in full sunlight.

The owner, a man called Stefano, welcomed Simon as an old friend and showed us to a table. "Before you read the menu," he said, "you should know I've got a good pasta dish on today with anchovies and raisins.

"And also," he continued, "since it's a hot day, I'd suggest that you try the beef salad, as the other main courses might be a bit heavy on the digestion."

With all this advice to hand there was no need to read the menu, we simply took Stefano's suggestions.

I'll admit I was less than sure about pasta with anchovies and raisins, it seemed like such a peculiar combination. But I have to say it was rather good. Maybe not for every day, but as a one-off it worked quite well.

You've probably heard of bistecca alla Fiorentina, or Florentine steak. Florence is probably the only part of Italy where beef is aged before being eaten. Everywhere else it's eaten very fresh, and consequently is as tough as shoe leather. Not only do Florentines age their beef, they like it rare, again unlike the rest of Italy.

Our beef salad was thin slices of beautifully cooked rare beef, served on a large platter with Parmesan and rocket and plenty of tangy olive oil. Simon and Isabella shared a bottle of local Chianti and I had a litre bottle of artisan beer, the most expensive item of our lunch at €10.

We finished up with ice creams and coffees and got a bill for €20 a head.

Now bear with me on this. On the road to Florence from Cerbaia is the Tripperia Bella Ciao. A 'tripperia' serves tripe.

Before you go 'yeugh', let me say right away that tripe boiled in milk with onions is not on the menu. They do tripe maybe a dozen ways and, trust me, they're all delicious.

Between Isabella, Simon and myself we tried at least six variants and enjoyed them all. I do understand that tripe is only for the adventurous foodies among you, but it's worth discovering that tripe boiled in milk is not the only recipe. This meal too worked out at under €20 a head.

Da Buzzanca, Via Lucciano 31, San Quirico in Collina, Montespertoli, Florence. Tel: 0039 571 670267. *****

Osteria dell'Ignorante, Via Certaldese 6/8, Lucardo, Montespertoli, Florence. Tel: 0039 571 669017. ****

Tripperia Bella Ciao, Via Volterrana, Giogoli, Florence. Tel: 0039 552 15732. ****

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