*This post now serves as an archive as unfortunately, as of Easter 2016, and after 32 years, Alle Murate’s owner and chef, Giovanna Iorio has retired. The restaurant has been handed over to Fishing Lab by San Francisco who already have a restaurant in Montecatini. Address details for the former Alle Murate are still at the bottom of this post for those interested in seeing the building – which, if nothing else, will still be home to the earliest known portrait of Dante as well as a series of beautiful frescoes and architectural intrigues.
The small arched glass windows that serve as entrance to Alle Murate offer a glimpse of the playful restaurant-cum-museum that one will find within. On the window is a large sticker, right now a large bear adorns it, where as in the past there have been peacocks and whales amongst other things. The touch presumably reflects the changing menus aligned to the seasons. On the inside however, things change pretty quickly. On entering, you’ll stumble into a small bar-like area that leads swiftly to the main dining area, and to some of the finest frescoes on show anywhere in Florence. The building has Roman excavations viewable one level down as well as cave-like chambers and exposed ancient stone walls, but the colourful renaissance frescoes steal the show, especially as they’re so perfectly off-set by minimal modernist touches including cube wine racks, glass windows in the floor tiles to view the excavations beneath, subdued lighting and white, light wood tones, grey and glass finishings throughout.
When one eats at Alle Murate – they do so in good company – company which everyday of the week includes the oldest known painting of Dante and an intriguingly eclectic mix of locals.
We were running late for dinner when we first visited Alle Murate and were afraid we might not catch the kitchen open – though were pleasantly surprised when we were ushered into a relatively busy (for the time and season) evening at the restaurant at just past 11pm – a rarity in Florence’s better restaurants – though it doesn’t appear to be regular as the website advertises the closing time as 11pm. As our table was prepared we were handed a glass of Prosecco each before taking to a table on the ground floor with a view to the glass windows of the kitchen across, and the exquisite 12th century frescoes above.
Alle Murate claims to serve traditional Tuscan food, though there are many modern twists, slight touches of southern Italian influence and intriguing additions that easily set the restaurant apart from others in Florence. After ordering both our food and wine, some tasty but forgetful appetisers were brought out, which were quickly followed by our starting dishes. We shared a plate of pasta with anchovies and a starter of grilled peppers and mozzarella. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the anchovies, served as a crumble atop the spaghetti, were surprisingly delicate on the palate. The starter plate of peppers and cheese was light and topped with a few leaves of fresh and aromatic basil -making it a good dish to cleanse the palate after the heavier flavours of the pasta.
We decided on Alle Murate’s take on the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina for our main, which was served in a copper serving plate with cannellini beans, roast potatoes and spinach, and sliced and served at the table which gives a pleasant visual aesthetic to the experience. The thick cut of T-bone steak, which was simply divine, is served rare as is traditional, the outer crust heavily charred, and in Alle Murate’s variation, covered in rosemary and other rustic herbs and spices to create a wonderfully aromatic and deeply flavourful bite. The meat was perfect, tender and a deep fleshy red in the middle. However, I have to confess that my favourite steak in Florence, at Trattoria Pallottino is a much more traditional, laid back affair – a thick T-bone grilled with high flames to a heavy char and thick with a divine oily flavour and that “straight from the gill” appeal.
The wine list is extensive enough – with a good, albeit small, selection of French wines. However, as most will know, wines are a bit of a problem in Florence, unless you’re happy drinking Chianti 24/7. We opted for a simple though sublime 2003 vintage Château Labat from France’s Médoc region, whose hints of dark berries and dry finish, paired perfectly with the steak.
For dessert I had a cheesecake topped with yoghurt and berry sauces which was tasty though nothing special, while my dining partner, opted for a dark chocolate square served with a side of berry ice cream – which provided a nice contrast of flavours and paired equally well with the wine.
Of course many visitors to Florence decide on Alle Murate for the ambience alone – which is wonderfully unique, but it’s the food and wine selection that begs you to stay once seated. It is however, incredibly surprising that a cursory internet search mostly brings photographs of the exquisite interiors – along with selfies of couples with half a Dante face peering out behind them. So do be prepared for an eclectic mix of locals – there for the food and romantic ambience, and for the travellers in search of the museum restaurant experience – which many choose to enhance yet further by taking a tour of the building after dinner. We though, were pleasantly drunk and preferred, at least on this occasion a stroll through the streets and a few after dinner cocktails in one of our favourite backstreet haunts, to a tour of the quickly emptying embellished ruins of the restaurant.