Flavours and Favours of Florence – Part IV – Finishing Off – Il Portale, Florence – 2nd Visit

We all know what they say about all good things: they must come to an end. In the week I had been in Florence I had perhaps consumed half my body weight in pasta, pizza and parmesan. As cliché as that might sound, I cannot help but admit to it being true. Mind you, it is not their fault they are all so delicious! I learnt only a few days ago that parmesan was introduced to England in the seventeenth century, favoured by men such as noted diarist Samuel Pepys, who was reported to have buried a case of it in his garden lest his house be destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The cheese itself was considered an exotic rarity, and in England it was spelt originally with a ‘z’.

Well enough history for one day, the final full day in Florence was spent circulating the city to do or redo anything that took our fancy. Segueing is a particularly popular activity, and many a tourist can be seen riding the roads on their two-wheeled electric pogo stick, which they hire for an hour for so-many euros. While a couple of my party took to this, and many others made another attempt at climbing the great many steps to the top of the Duomo Cathedral‘s belltower, I – fearing the worst on both activities (call me a pessimist at your leisure) – did what I have always wanted to do in a Mediterranean country. That is, to sit outside a tiny café with a glass of wine. So I did, or rather I was dropped there with a five-euro note for a drink.

café dell'operaThe establishment in question was named Café dell’Opera (see pictured), situated literally behind the Duomo Cathedral at the same point as the queuing spots for entrance to the Basilica, as well as many caricaturists and other buskers.

The waiter who served my every whim was a kind and patient Italian with an extreme competence of English. He offered me a seat in the very small but comfortable al fresco dining area, only capable for accommodating a dozen people. As I had no idea what to expect, I only purchased a large coke with the five euros I had been given, but when it only came to under two euros I decided I would once again sample Florence’s delicious ice cream. Served in a shallow dish, three generous scoops of chocolate ice cream cost me another five euros so it was lucky the money I had been given was not all I had.

All the waiting around for the rest of my party to return from the Segue centre or descend the belltower steps was tempting me more and more to the wine menu, and as this would have been the first proper drink I had had during my stay in Florence, I felt I had a better excuse than any. The café’s sweet white wine was an Asti Dolce (a sweet sparkling wine) served to me in a champagne flute. And naturally, as soon as it had been brought to me, my party reconvened in unison and they found me with my glass of wine laughing raucously. As payback for keeping me waiting, I made sure I took the time to enjoy my beverage, in the process allowing my critic mind to analyse it. For a sparkling wine, I felt it was not that bubbly, especially within the mouth. Either it was mild in terms of sparkling-ness or just flattened very quickly. Whichever, I was quite glad: I find too many bubbles causes unhealthy repercussions in me. Also I cannot fault it on the flavour: it was not by any means a cheap Brut. For seven euros, I had been given a well-sized glass of a genuinely sweet drink.

Feeling satisfied after that experience, I waited for dinner time to come round once more. Like the night before, there were only three of us for dinner – me, Marvin and English Ryan – (the others were settling for supermarket food in their rooms!) And we were returning to Il Portale, as we had decided the best of the three restaurants we visited would be the one we would go back to on the final night. Knowing it was our final night, I wanted to go all out: especially to have a dessert!

Aware that it was good here, I started with my usual Chicken Liver pâté, the details of which I will not bore you with again. The oysters were once again tempting but offputting at the same time with their price. The main course was where it got more interesting.

FETTUCINE WITH LOBSTER

Fettucine with Lobster alla Pantelleria
Photograph: Marvin Dibbern

Rarely comes the opportunity for me to indulge in the luxurious reality of lobster: one of the few shellfish I have only ever eaten once before. The dish was named Fettucine with Lobster alla Pantelleria (see pictured), wherein I was served in a shallow bowl half a lobster completely covered in pomodoro-drowned fettucine pasta. It was difficult to remember how lobster truly tasted. The succulent meat-esque texture is appealing to the palate, but the taste is unique and indescribable as anything other than “just lobster”. However, compared to the mass of pasta, the lobster tail and the amount of edible flesh on it was quite disproportionate, and slightly dissatisfying. That is to say I would have readily paid five euros extra for an additional portion of lobster.

However, the smaller size of the main course meant that – at last – I had room for a dessert. On the menu, my choice was referred to as Crema Bruciata with Port wine. As this literally means Burnt Cream, I was expecting a Crème Brûlée or its Catalan variant the Crema catalana, both of which also translate to Burnt Cream, and a glass of port on the side.

CREMA BRUCIATA

Crema Bruciata with Port
Photograph: Marvin Dibbern

What I was presented with was what looked like a plate of custard draped across into the shape of a flower, shaded with what looked like chocolate sauce. There was no port to be seen, so I presumed they had forgotten it and would bring it later. The waitress had a cigarette lighter in her hand, and I thought to myself: “How unprofessional; getting ready to go out for a fag are we?” Rather, she took the lighter to my dish and it burst into a bright blue flame (see pictured), not unlike my Courvoisier-soaked Christmas puddings.

Taking my first spoonful to my lips, I was suddenly thrown backwards by the unexpected, almost vitriolic flavour of the custard, wherein I had found the port. I discovered only seconds afterwards that the chocolatey-looking decoration was actually the Portuguese liqueur burnt with the cream. It was obvious after that: one could actually see a slight purple tinge around the custard in the spoon. Needless to say I was loving it. However, the best was still to come for under the creamy-custardy draping was actually an amaretto biscuit also soaked in the lethal ruby liqueur. As much as I like port, I do not think my Christmas puddings will ever be the same again.

Alas, the day after got off to an early start and so there would be no time to sample any cafés for a spot of lunch. Indeed, my series has to end with the group photograph taken outside the Basilica di San Lorenzo near where we were staying.

FLORENCE group photo

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