Il Santo Bevitore is typical of the nuovo of Florentine restaurants. A large, dimly lit open space with a few nooks and a couple of long tables to satiate the Italian love for eating together in large – often gigantic – groups. This, by the way, is why one should always take Tripadvisor reviews with a teaspoon of salt. Especially reviews that sell restaurants such as Il Santo Bevitore as romantic and charming. It’s a pretty restaurant, but it’s focus on group and family dining strikes it from the lofty heights of romantic as soon as one crosses the threshold – if patient enough to stand the queues, that is. Of course if you find a candlelit dinner with the endless cacophony of children and the intriguing though chaotic discordance of 10 different languages shouted and guffawed throughout the night romantic, then by all means, whisk, wine and dine your way through it all and buy a rose when the sometimes inattentive (though generally rather good) staff let in a middle-aged Bangladeshi to sell it to you. For the rest of you I suggest that you go when in need of a good, accommodating restaurant for your family or group, or when you’re in the mood to share a few plates of delicious, thoughtful and modern Tuscan fare at a very modest price.
We began our endeavours with Il Santo Bevitore with a last minute reservation for outside that almost landed us in a puddle from the leftover summer rains that left their reflections on the Via di Santo Spirito. There are a couple of nice al fresco tables here but the ones next to the door aren’t included. However, the restaurant kindly accommodated our decision to move to the busy interior. The menus on first glance are what one would expect – steak here, gnocchi there, but the plates are a little more involved with light touches that elevate each dish away from the cliches of Italian cooking and into young, playful modernity. These elements are though only elements – such as experimental ingredients and light deviations from what is considered normal Tuscan culinary practise. For example – we’ve had, after 12 months in Tuscany, just a handful of dishes that included dill as an ingredient – one of them was here at Il Santo Bevitore (another was the wonderfully charming Gurdulù) and it was a pleasant, unexpected (in Florence) surprise. The mains unfortunately don’t share this brave step into the unchartered territories of alien herbs such as dill. Instead head chef Pierluigi Campi, seems to play it safe – though the menu at Il Santo Bevitore is ever-changing so by all means let me know if you’ve had better experiences.
We skipped starters and moved straight to our pasta dishes. The gnocchi, served with aforementioned dill and a little mint, were of a delightfully fluffy texture and the accompaniments were light and fresh to the taste. The handmade riccioli was simply wonderful with spicy, Calabrian ‘Nduja and a generous topping of aged Pecorino. I believe it’s here in the pasta dishes, that Il Santo Bevitore shines – so pay particular attention here when ordering.
For mains we enjoyed a lamb shank, served in a gravy of its own juices and a steak. As with many of the more modern restaurants in Florence, the steak isn’t generally dressed up as a Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Here, it was served a beautifully tender medium rare. Charcoaled, though not as heavily as the traditional Florentine steak of course, and pinkish red in the middle. The accompanying mushrooms and potatoes were doused in the meat’s gravy – creating a delicious, though rather simple, and possibly too safe a take on the mighty Florentine steak.
The restaurant pins much of its focus on carefully-sourced and healthy seasonal produce – perhaps an odd thing for a restaurant called The Holy Drinker, that, for much of the interior seems to be modelled after a slightly eccentric drinking den – bottles of wine covering almost every inch of each wall, but alas – it is true. I for one prefer my desserts to be slightly less conventional. Less fresh fruit and more of an unholy matrimony of cream, (more) fat and alcohol, but the offerings here, though typical, or actually quite good and aesthetically pleasing, which is always nice after a bottle of local red. We shared a couple of desserts, one a forgettable iced offering, and the other a mascarpone cream topped with strawberries – which, though slightly too sparing on the mascarpone, was a good end to a well-rounded dinner.