Asian food is on the up in Florence. San Lorenzo is blooming into something of a little China Town and Korean and Japanese restaurants have been popping up like wildflowers all over the city for years. Kome in Santa Croce is one of the latter – a two storey Palazzo containing, on one floor – sub-par, slightly overpriced Kaiten Sushi (there’s better in Florence) and on the top floor under arched stone ceilings – a Japanese -style Yakiniku or BBQ restaurant. I can’t recommend the sushi when places such as Yagura and the excellent Fusion Bar (in the Gallery Art Hotel) do a much better job but the Yakiniku is wonderful.
Yakiniku is a simple affair – one orders from the meat and fish menu a selection for the table and it’s served raw for you to cook yourself over a table BBQ along with a selection of vegetables and whatever sides you desire. It’s incredibly similar to Korean Bulgogi – likely due to the Koreans bringing Bulgogi to Japan sometime after the second world war – though others attest that Yakiniku is simply a Japanese way in which to eat western style food, as would seem to be the case as the word was first used to describe exactly that in Kanagaki Robun’s ‘Seiyo Ryoritsu’ (Western Food Handbook), in 1872. However, the apparent argument on the subject is unimportant so long as the food is good.
We ordered the mixed meats and everything was excellent – a good selection of choice cuts of beef, along with chicken and pork which came with several sauces and glazes including a decadent oily chilli which was surprisingly delicious. Along with that we (over) ordered a collection of rice noodles served cold (good for the palette), a far too large and delicious basket of tempura and a small salad. Appetisers are a nice touch and slightly above expectations – on this occasion a small slab of seasoned white fish served over a blanket of spinach and lettuce and on the table moments after ordering. The wine menu however is a list of white Italian “Asian pairing” clichés (we ordered a decent bottle of Gewurztraminer – nothing to write home about) and a good few bottles of Sake and other rice wines. I can’t complain because this is the kind of place we go to over indulge in meat – and at that – KOME wins.
The dessert menu is much the same as the wine menu – a glimpse of Asian flavours combined with European clichés – Green Tea Ice Cream and Green Tea Tiramisu – certainly tasty and interesting but uninspired all the same. Perhaps this is the curse of the Asian restaurant in a country such as Italy, where people are still only taking baby steps towards the acceptance of Asian (read: other) cuisine? Though saying that, the new Sichuan place over in San Lorenzo is mouthwateringly authentic – so perhaps it’s just down to lazy dessert planning. Either way – the lack of choice only affects on a minimal level – as the real beauty is getting dirty with the Yakiniku – experimenting with charring the chicken and quickly grilling the beef exactly how one likes it – it’s a fun way to eat… occasionally at least.
Service is hit and miss – our waitress for the evening seemed alert enough and was much more pleasant than the vacant waiters we were used to from the sushi restaurant below. But then what does one really need after the table is filled and ready to be devoured, but a calm polite person to later take away the shame of empty plates?
KOME’s palazzo lends a certain charm to the experience. There aren’t, after all, many places in the world where one can eat Yakiniku in a 300 year old Florentine palazzo down the road from Santa Croce – one of the world’s most inspiring and beautiful cathedrals. The arched ceilings hang a little low – but don’t fear – the grills are smokeless – certainly the most high-tech appliance of any in Florence.
If you still need an excuse to try it out then wait ’till August 29th which is the official “Yakiniku Day” in Japan – surely that’s as good a day as any to eat Japanese cuisine in Italy? If you prefer the Korean experience then try Goong on Borgo Ognissanti which has a couple of Bulgogi tables – though be warned it is an ugly, whitewashed little restaurant with a minimal menu. Personally I’d recommend KOME as the better option – if for nothing else, then for the sheer fun of getting ones hands dirty tugging cuts of beef to and from the grill.