Tuscany was one of the first places I visited as a young chef. It’s among the most picturesque places in Italy.
The food is very good, too: hearty rustic dishes that are full of flavour. That’s thanks in part to the region’s famous olive oil, which is the most complex in Italy: first-pressed olive oil is dark green and should be used sparingly, as it is very strong.
When you visit Tuscany, you have to go to Florence. The architecture and galleries are spectacular, with the most amazing piazzas where you can watch Tuscans go about their daily routine.
When in Florence, stick to dining in the many trattorias. I always say if you walk a few hundred metres from the touristy areas, you will find great food that is not overpriced. There are exceptions, but that strategy has always worked for me. Here’s a selection of my favourite restaurants in Tuscany.
La Taverna Della Berardenga, Castelnuovo Berardenga
This is a very simple trattoria next to the village bar – if you want to feel like a local, this is the place. The carne crudo (charcuterie) is delicious, as is the duck with pici pasta. This is classic Tuscan food using the best local ingredients. tavernadellaberardenga.it
Osteria Le Panzanelle , Radda
This is where the locals eat. It’s great value and portions are generous. The wine list has some real gems, like Flaccianello della Pieve from the brilliant Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi estate and the premium Soldera Brunello di Montalcino – made by the genius trailblazer Gianfranco Soldera – for a fraction of the price you pay in most restaurants. lepanzanelle.it
Ristoro di Lamol, Greve
Lamole is a simple restaurant with excellent and reasonably priced food, friendly service and a good wine list. I would order a selection of its antipasti followed by delicious bistecca alla fiorentina (steak Florentine) with a glass or two of wine from one of Italy’s best wine regions. The view from the terrace on a clear day is spectacular. ristorodilamole.it/en
Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Panzano
Known for blasting AC/DC while at work, famous butcher Dario Cecchini is also behind several top eateries in Panzano. Ristorante Solociccia sits opposite the old butcher’s shop, while Officina Della Bistecca lures carnivores upstairs. Here, Dario cooks three cuts of beef over charcoal embers. Simple chianti is served with fantastic olive oil and delicious pinzimonio (raw vegetables) that are dipped into olive oil and eaten with a sprinkling of seasalt. An evening here is great fun, as well as delicious. dariocecchini.com/en
Enoteca I Terzi, Siena
Just off the Piazza del Campo (which is full of touristy restaurants to be avoided, but this is the exception). A classic Siena osteria with very good but simple food. In winter the porcini fritti (fried porcini mushrooms) are a must. enotecaiterzi.it/en
Ristorante Il Mestolo, Siena
Serves fish, which you will be craving after a few days in Tuscany as the diet here is typically all about beef and pork. The fritto misto (deep-fried battered seafood) to share is amazing – as are all the pasta dishes. ilmestolo.it
Theo Mistral by Theo Randall is now open at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong