Eating Florence

You don’t go to Italy for a salad. I certainly can vouch for that- this is a country where diets come to die.

Rich, deep meat dishes; cheesey, meltingly decadent pastas; crisp, bite-me pizzas. Italy is the land of sexy food and exciting dining, and I am here to take in the throes of Florence’s food, a willing servant.

THAT buttered chicken.

Down a side street- as so often the best restaurants are- you will find a bustling trattoria filled with wise Italians and lipsmacking tourists. As you queue, waiting for your seating session, waiters will shimmy past you with freshly slit Tuscan hams and cheeses, American tourists will call out asking to book a table for the same time next year, and your anxiety about being tantalising late for the last portion of the infamous butter chicken will reach dizzying heights.

Then, breathe, you are seated on a shared table with two bickering elderly Italian men, who spend the entire unaware of the delighted glances you keep shooting them. Order the butter chicken.


Enjoy the table entertainment of other diners arguing with each other over the final bites of shared food, sip in the Tuscan carafe, wave to the chefs through the open partition to the kitchen.

When it arrives, sizzling in the pan, doused liberally in butter, cut a portion off- crisp, crunch of the skin- and take a moment to be grateful for all the life decisions you have ever made leading you to this moment. Bite, make eye contact with your companion, smile. Devour the entire thing in about 6 seconds.

Gusto, gusto!

There’s no real knack for finding the best pizza in an Italian town. Follow your nose down various ambling alleys and sidestreets until you find a place with a queue.

We waited patiently outside Gusta Pizza, alongside half of Firenze. A moment away from Santo Spirito, the Shoreditch of Florence, we were in a queue that acted as a cross section of Florence on a warm, April day: Lonely Planet clutching Americans, hungover students, beautiful Italian girls calling to their friends on the passing Vespas, a gaggle of schooltrippers; and us- a couple hunting for romantic moments via pizza.

gusta pizza

Once we snaked round the door ordered in terrible Italian (they responded in English), we were handed a slip of paper. Jonathan slipped off to the shop round the corner for a beer to go. I stood and watched pizzas kneaded, flung into ovens and scooped out for a few minutes clutching my slip until- hurrah!- my number was up.

Gleefully prepared with pizza box and drink in hand, we squatted down on the steps of the Basilica di Santo Spirito and fished out a pizza slice each. Mine, a Calabrese (spicy salami, mozzarella, tomatoes), Jonathan’s a Gustsapizza (rocket, parmesan, mozzerlla), both topped with a beautiful tomato base and finished with perfectly crisp crusts. Hoovering up any melted cheese and joyously feeding each other mouthfuls, we surveyed the Santo Spirito square livening up for the evening and checked off ‘Romantic Pizza’ off our to do list.


A Florence foodie’s worst kept secret.

Mercato Centrale is an edible treasure wonderland. While the system isn’t particularly clear- not least to two hangry tourists- I can quickly forgive any misgivings. Split over two floors, the Mercato brings together producers and kitchens into one beautiful hall. Light refracts into colourful soft sheets covering the dining tables, with ample people-watching spots going.

We toured once, then doubled back to our selections. Aranci was excellently executed (and novel to Jonathan; ‘deep fried pasta- this is a fucking genius idea‘), wine was sharp and clean, sandwiches so wonderful they felt decadent, cannolo sweet and messy.

Mercato wine

Pasta la vista…

In a stroke of genius, Italy invented the four course meal (don’t fact check that).

As someone with intense food envy problems, primi and secondi are an answer to all my restaurant prayers: antipasti to warm things up, primi to satisfy cravings, secondi to seem a touch more elegant and dolci to get the sweet spot.

The best course- I think everyone agrees- is primi a.k.a. your chance to also eat pasta tonight. God bless Italians for finding a way to elbow in a good old bowl of the good stuff into even the finest of dining experiences.

I can recommend the Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò for their excellent value, bustling vibe and sweet waitresses, but truly, this is a glory Florence-wide.


Fresh, al dente, surrounded by warming and deep meaty sauces- and, naturally, topped in a mountain of parmesan cheese. Now, if I can come up with a way of incorporating this into a daily routine…

Diets a long forgotten misery, settle into a scoop of gelato and wander off into the playful Florence streets, looking for your next meal.


Borough Market Restaurants for Sharing Plates

Once upon a time, Borough Market was unknown. Unless you were looking for food wholesale, there were much cooler places to be. Traders would arrive long before dawn for the day’s work, and the local pubs would open from 4am to serve the first pints of day to those clocking off from a hard slog. As the name ‘Borough’ became a destination for the savvy foodie, traders turning over small fortunes would clamber to rooftops for end of the day drinks together, breaking bread and putting the world to rights.

Admittedly a romanticised version of events, this image of a community of once under-appreciated food lovers turned much-hyped tourist attraction, makes for one of my favourite places in London. The spirit of Borough Market- sharing successes over good wine and food- feeds my love of two restaurants there in particular- Arabica Bar and Kitchen and Boro Bistro. To me, these small-plate-style spots hark back to the days of clearing down stalls after the day’s trade to join your competition over a bite to eat.

Arabica Bar and Kitchen

Arabica is home to a worldly menu inspired by much loved delicacies (falafel, hoummus, pide) and  ’”Levantine with London swagger’ new delights (Fosse Meadow chicken in Lebanese seven spice, Roasted pumpkin freeke).


Pour out a good Turkish red, choose from a list of mezze divided by cooking method (Clay Oven, Josper Grill, so on). Snack on ras el hanout popcorn while you wait.


Chatter with friends as you dip, scoop, nibble and tear your way through a mix of authentic, carefully spiced mezze.


Life-changing onion rings. Bit, beefy onions surrounded in tarator (basically cream cheese), deep fried. So bad, but so, SO unbelievably excellent.


Let the hours slip by as you pass around plates, clink glasses and revel in the convivial spirit and happy din of this small restaurant with a lot of soul under the railway arches.

Boro Bistro

Ever French, the menu is divided into lovers. Meat lovers, Veg lovers, Seafood lovers, Charcuterie lovers. I am all of those lovers, so I order everything.


Smearing terrine and potted meat onto toast (and a little over my face, an inevitability), slicing beef onglet to share, picking out red wine with the joyful waiters. It’s an authentic little bistro- designed with both candle lit dates and hungry group reunions in mind.



Each mouthful a delight, each plate carefully distributed between everyone for a fair share. Order more wine, endeavour to reach the dishes placed at the other end of the table, and catch up on holiday plans, work dramas and existential questions between bites.


Through to dessert, where the small plate philosophy sensibly ends (catch me sharing my creme brûlée), and makes way for a few more glasses of heady French wine before heading back out into the night, home.


Winchester Rain

Lowered heads, cameras stowed away safely. When it rains on a daytrip, bleh. I’m out of natural position- looking up and around and through a lense. Instead, shuffle me off into the nearest cafe or pub, so I can wipe down my glasses on my sleeve and explore a city from within. It’s no blaring sunshine vibes, but in a place like Winchester, it will do nicely.

After buying a much needed hat (who needs umbrellas these days) from the high street and with time to kill before lunch, we ended up in a National Trust museum dedicated to the old Winchester Mill. We quizzed the volunteers on the workings and mechanics in front of us (a little too intensely, given neither of us could feign an interest in a flour mill at any other occasion) and optimistically paused by the live otter-cam in vain.

In any case, wine. Tucked away by the fireplace of the hopelessly idyllic Chesil Rectory, we saw off the set course menu and plotted our next move with recommendations from the staff. The food was delicious and the surrounding a perfect setting, a previous Mary Tudor hotspot, for piling up jumpers and pondering the weather. If it’s good enough for royalty it’s certainly good enough for me.


On the advise of the chatty staff at Chesil Rectory, with heads bowed under hoods we tottered up the hill towards The Black Boy. A trove of tinkling bottles, board games with bits missing and local paraphernalia, we settled in with the Trivial Pursuit cards and eavesdropped on the local’s conversations.



Steadily more tipsy, we minded our heads and took to Winchester streets. Our intention was to see the Cathedral (I love a bit of church architecture, me), and got distracted on our way by a very inviting bookshop.


Seeing double from our wine and local ales, we spent a good hour or so sniffing in the old-book smell and craning our necks to get a look at the higher shelves. I picked a book, the lady behind the till said nice things about my bag, all round success. Beaming (me) and eye rolling (Jonathan), we left in search of the Winchester cathedral and college which we forgoed in the drizzle for a brownie and final gin and tonic on the way back to the station.



Converting London Apathetics, Eating All Day.

Have you ever brought someone to London, or a town you love, and you can just tell they hate it? They make all the right noises, but their eyes linger on the overflowing rubbish bags rather than the mishmash of architecture and people? They say they like it too, yeah, it’s nice… But deep down you just know that they didn’t quite get it- get why you write home about this place all the time?

Well, that’s how I feel about my mum and London. She’s always thought it was a great town for me, but she just couldn’t see it for herself. The crammed in coffee spots I try to convince her are all the rage, the buzzing parks that are on main road roundabouts, the eclectic markets you have to clutch your handbag through. I felt like no trip to visit me ever really gave her the ‘wow’ London had given me when I first visited (emerging from Leicester Square station like the doe-eyed nervous wreck with big dreams I was).

Regent Street

It became my mission to make her love this place as much as I did. Sure, her liking London had no impact on how much fun we had together, but I became a dog with a bone- constantly extolling the values of no-reservations-restaurants and the Oxford Street Primark (if you go midweek, duh).

Well, I think I cracked it. If you need a foolproof plan for convincing your nearest and dearest of the virtues of London, feel free to use this as a guide. Mum left town with that spring in your step that helps you navigate the tube system like a pro.

Nata tarts and two flat whites from the Soho Grind, drank and eaten in the glory of Kingly Court.

Soho Grind Nata

Soho Grind, Kingly Court

Meander through Carnaby Street boutiques through to Soho- get to the restaurant you’ve been lusting after (no bookings policy, obv) at an earlier lunch. This week’s restaurant crush was Hoppers.

Ramble on about the delights of London food scene as you gnash your way through mutton rolls, chicken heart, lamb kari, dosa and egg hoppers (or similar).

Hoppers London

Chicken heart, Hoppers

Egg Hopper London

Refuse dessert when the waitress offers, instead head to Crosstown Doughnuts. Don’t let your mum see the price list, just buy one and get out. She’d rather not know.

Crosstown Doughnuts

Go to an understated London icon- i.e. give B’ham Palace a miss, go to Liberty instead. Spend forever pointing at designer retro clocks shrieking ‘I had one of those in the 90s!’ and balk at the price tags of hand cream. Buy trinkets. Get samples. Take selfies.




Head home, nip into your local boozer for a swift half and lounge by open fire. Decide on cooking an elaborate Italian meal and venture to three mini supermarkets and a deli. Head home, eat, wine, fall asleep on the couch.

Trust me on this- the conversion rate is so far 100%.