My friend Alessandro Grassi stood outside the restaurant as we arrived. Zeb, near the River Arno in Florence, is one of his favourite places: “In fact, I eat here so often I think [the chef] believes I’m her second son.”
While Zeb enjoys a renaissance under a second identity, Ora d’Aria, further along the river, is finally flourishing thanks to its second (and far more propitious) location.
Ora d’Aria is a collaboration between Luca Bellandi, a textile entrepreneur from nearby Prato, and chef Marco Stabile – but when the project was launched five years ago it was not a success. “We opened in via Ghibellina, too close to the long-established Enoteca Pinchiorri,” Bellandi explained. “But then this building was finally renovated after a devastating car bomb went off across the road almost 20 years ago. We moved here last September and since then, business has been great.”
It is easy to see why. A large window makes the kitchen visible from the street; the bright ground-floor dining room allows Florentines to see and be seen; and the tables in the basement offer another good view – into the restaurant’s wine cellar.
Stabile prepares light, modern variations of classic Tuscan food. His steak tartare, made from top-quality Piemontese beef, was marinated in one of Italy’s increasingly popular artisan beers and served with diced pear. Burrata, the ultra-creamy cheese from Puglia, was adapted into a creamy, tepid broth that revealed small packages of cabbage and diced shrimp. Best of all was a risotto into which the meat from osso bucco had been deliciously enveloped.
If Bellandi ensures that Stabile does not stray too far from the principles of Tuscan cooking, the money of Prato will once again underpin Florentine artistry.