Alle Murate Florence
*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 – home to the earliest known portrait of Dante as well as a series of beautiful frescoes and architectural intrigues – or visiting the new restaurant.
The small arched glass windows that serve as entrance to Alle Murate offer a glimpse of the playful restaurant-cum-museum that one finds within. On the window is a large sticker, depicting a big bear, where as in the past there have been peacocks and whales amongst other things, each reflecting the changing menus that are aligned to the seasons. On the inside however, things change rapidly. On entering, you’ll stumble into a small bar/lounge area that leads swiftly to the main dining room, and to some of the finest frescoes on show in Florence. The building has Roman excavations viewable one level down as well as cave-like chambers and exposed ancient stone walls, some painted with renaissance frescoes and bookended by minimal modernist touches like cube wine racks, glass windows in the floor tiles to view the excavations, subdued lighting, light wood tones, grey features and glass finishings throughout.
When one eats at Alle Murate – they do so in good company – with the oldest known painting of Dante looking on, and an eclectic bunch of locals and travellers.
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 evening at the restaurant at just past 11pm. As our table was prepared we were handed a glass of dry 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 so many modern twists and refined techniques, slight touches of southern Italian influence and other intriguing additions that elevates the cuisine far above simple tradition. 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 plate of grilled peppers and mozzarella. The pasta is served al dente, and the anchovies, crumbled atop the spaghetti like a salty batter, 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.
For the main, we decided on Alle Murate’s Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, 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 hint of that traditonal service and a nice visual aesthetic to the overall dining experience. The thick cut of steak was divine, 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.
The wine list at Alle Murate is extensive – with a good, albeit small, selection of French wines. We opted for what turned out to be a sublime 2003 vintage Château Labat from the Médoc, whose hints of dark berries and dry finish, paired perfectly with the steak.
For dessert we had cheesecake topped with yoghurt and berry sauces, along with a dark chocolate square served with a side of berry ice cream, which was the better of the two and provided a nice contrast of flavours that paired well with the wine.
Many diners flock to Alle Murate for the ambience alone – which is ornate yet refined and quite relaxed, but it’s the food and wine selection that begs you to stay once seated. As a result the tables are filled with an eclectic mix of locals – there for the food and romantic ambience, and a diverse set of travellers in search of the museum-like restaurant experience – which many choose to enhance yet further by taking a tour of the building after dinner.
We however 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 (Mayday Club on the Via Dante Alighieri).