Chanoy Honeymoon: Florence, March 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

After the hustle and bustle of Rome, Florence felt like a breath of fresh air. While there were obviously still tourists around, they seemed mostly to be local tourists – Italians making the most of the Pasqua holidays by seeing more of their own country. There wasn’t the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that we experienced in Rome, giving us a lot more space and freedom to explore at a leisurely pace.

There were other more appealing things about Florence, like the little marks of individuality that we could see everywhere. Many of the shops were independently owned and offered hand-crafted or personally designed items for sale. For example, there was a dress shop close to our apartment whose window display made me drool every time I walked past – it was the perfect collection of retro dresses that give one the perfect hourglass silhouette. Absolutely stunning.

As a city, Florence has truly been defined by its flourishing banking and cultural past, of which the Medici family is an integral part. I knew a little bit about the Medici family through my interest in one of its members, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, but not much beyond that.

Luckily we took both of the walking tours with the Florence Free Tours, one of which focused on the influence of the Medici banking family on Florence and learnt a lot more! With two queens, three popes and countless nobles in the family, it was fascinating to learn about how an unknown family of commoners managed to rise in fortune and fame to become one of the most celebrated and feared families in Europe at the time. I highly recommend the tours to all who visit Florence.

We visited a few other religious, cultural and historical sites in Florence. It’s hard not to when there’s something of interest on every street! I can highly recommend the Uffizi Gallery if you’re interested in seeing portraits of historical figures as well as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, but do be prepared to spend some time wading through countless religious paintings of Madonna and Child. It’s not my favourite genre of art…

We also climbed the stairs up to the top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore which would be considered a workout even for fitness fanatics! The views are worth it, but do be prepared to be crowded and to do some tight squeezing past people in narrow corridors and stairways up to the top. The crowd control could be done a lot better in the tower, but you just have to assume that it’s the Italian way to be relaxed about things like safety standards and number of persons up on the top of the dome!

Food-wise, Florence has a lot to offer. While they have a big central market, our Airbnb host recommended a smaller local market to us. The Mercato Sant’Ambrogio is a morning market frequented by Florentine locals, and offers gorgeous produce, meats, bakeries and fresh-made pastas at a fraction of the price of the main market. We picked up a good haul to help us cook some delicious fresh and healthy meals at home.

Don’t forget to eat out though – we had great sandwiches at All’Antico Vinaio and pizza at Mangia Pizza. We also had our fair share of gelato from local gelaterias as well of course! RivaReno Gelato has a shop in Florence, and I also enjoyed Edoardo Gelateria (bio/organic gelato!) and Marco Ottaviano who do low-calorie low-sugar gelatos as well for those watching their figures!

Florence is a wonderful city to visit. Life is lived at a slightly slower pace here, and I began to feel much more at home in Florence than I ever could in Rome. The history and the culture appeals to me, the food is superb, the city has a much more individualistic flavour. I’ll definitely be back. Next time, I hope to explore more of Tuscany, instead of just sticking to Florence and Pisa!

Review: Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant, Launceston Tasmania

K and I recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary with a quick weekend getaway to Launceston. I also celebrated by cracking what I still think is one of my funniest jokes – “Two down, two to go!”. Unfortunately not everyone gets my sense of humour…but my husband does, and he laughed at the joke. I guess that’s why we’re married! 

I booked our anniversary dinner at Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant, a new(ish) addition to the Launceston scene which first made its way onto my radar in an article published by Qantas. It was the description of the connections to the family farm that drew my attention. Would you find many other restaurant owners who would say â€œWe are trying to create as stress-free an environment as possible where the animals can grow and be happy. I want my chefs to come out here and touch them because we want a relationship between producer, land and animal.”?

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We were greeted, seated and presented with our menus by our friendly waitress who was just superb throughout the evening. She was helpful and friendly without being obtrusive, and was able to explain each dish to us well. We made up our minds fairly quickly about drinks – it was deciding on food that would prove to be more difficult. We started off our meal with a cocktail each.

Southside (gin, mint, citrus), $16 AUD
Southside (gin, mint, citrus), $16 AUD

K chose a Southside, a much fancier version of one of his go-to drinks of gin and tonic. Mixed with the tang of lemon and the freshness of mint, it was just the right drink for the uncharacteristically warm Tasmanian spring day.

Aperol Spritz, $12 AUD
Aperol Spritz, $12 AUD

Following my one single birthday drink at The Dispensary in Bendigo, I had the same drink at Geronimo – a refreshing Aperol Spritz. This version was much lighter than that at The Dispensary, indicating slightly less Aperol and slightly more Prosecco in the mix which suits me well.

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We got some House-Baked Rolls to start, crusty and warm, perfect for dipping in the rich and full-bodied olive oil.

Jamon and Manchego brioche toastie, $5 AUD
Jamon and Manchego brioche toastie, $5 AUD

K had to order the Jamon and Manchego Brioche Toastie as soon as he saw it on the menu. It’s the type of dish we would eat when we were in Spain last year – just a simple ham and cheese toastie, but amplified and made a million times more delicious. This version was incredible, with the brioche literally melting on the tongue as soon as you took a bite.

Natural Lease 65 Oyster, $4.50 AUD Each
Natural Lease 65 Oyster, $4.50 AUD Each

Who orders a single Oyster? Me, that’s who. I would have ordered more but K recently had yet another bout of gout, and had to swear off shellfish for a few weeks to get his uric acid levels back down to a less risky level. While I wasn’t able to cut out all seafood in solidarity, I did at least just have a single fresh, briney, oyster rather than the two or three I wanted.

Pan seared scallops and cauliflower three ways, $14 AUD
Pan seared scallops and cauliflower three ways, $14 AUD

The Pan Seared Scallops and Cauliflower Three Ways was a surprisingly good dish. I was a little doubtful when the dish first came to the table as the scallops were much smaller than I had expected, and looked almost like the tiny anemic frozen scallops you can get from the supermarket. Instead, they proved to be remarkably soft and tender, with a delicious almost caramel glazing. 

I bet you’re also wondering how there was ‘cauliflower three ways’ on this dish as well…there’s a spiced cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower florets, and crispy cauliflower leaves as well!

Angel hair pasta, calamari, chilli, garlic, longaniza oscura, $15.50 AUD
Angel hair pasta, calamari, chilli, garlic, longaniza oscura, $15.50 AUD

We continued with the Angel Hair Pasta with Calamari, one of my choices even though I didn’t know what ‘longaniza oscura’ was. Luckily it turned out to be a delectable salami-style sausage, rather than something far less palatable like tripe! Flavoured with squid ink, the longaniza oscura helps to add additional seafood flavours to the pasta, complementing the subtle calamari flavours.

Old Spiced Old Fashioned, $18 AUD
Old Spiced Old Fashioned, $18 AUD

K finished his Southside cocktail quickly, and ordered the Old Spiced Old Fashioned to get him through the rest of our meal. Smoky without being over-smoked, a slight hint of citrus, smooth and amply spiced, this cocktail is much more suited to slow, savouring sips.

Mixed leaf salad and puffed grains, $7.50 AUD
Mixed leaf salad and puffed grains, $7.50 AUD

We ordered a Mixed Leaf Salad to go with our shared main course. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette and mixed with some light puffed grains, this salad was simple but did the job well with beautifully fresh baby salad leaves that almost looked hand-picked.

Lamb rump, eggplant, baba ganoush, fried chickpeas and fresh mint, $32.50 AUD
Lamb rump, eggplant, baba ganoush, fried chickpeas and fresh mint, $32.50 AUD

This was our main course – lightly seared Lamb Rump for K the meat-lover, and beautiful Baba Ganoush and grilled eggplant for me the eggplant-lover. K enjoyed the tender lamb, but my highlight was the rich and smokey babaganoush. It made the perfect accompaniment for the crispy crunchy fried chickpeas. This is one dish that is best shared between two as it is quite rich and could be overwhelming if eaten alone.

Star anise caramel cake, sweet confit parsnip, roasted parsnip ice-cream and dark chocolate sauce, $15 AUD
Star anise caramel cake, sweet confit parsnip, roasted parsnip ice-cream and dark chocolate sauce, $15 AUD

Onto dessert, despite our already full bellies! K chose a rather unusual dessert, using an ingredient I would never associate with sweets – parsnip! His Star Anise Caramel Cake was served with confit parsnip and parsnip ice-cream. I tried a little bit and wasn’t a big fan as it didn’t quite hit that sweet dessert note. K enjoyed it as a change from the usual type of desserts, as the flavours were quite subtle and not quite as rich or heavy on the palate.

The Kitchen Sink - lemon curd, honeycomb, white chocolate mousse and macarons, $15 AUD
The Kitchen Sink – lemon curd, honeycomb, white chocolate mousse and macarons, $15 AUD

I chose the intriguingly named Kitchen Sink which fulfilled its name as it was served in a metal tub not unlike a kitchen sink! This dish included much more traditional dessert flavours, and resembled a deconstructed lemon cheesecake with its use of lemon curd and white chocolate. The crunchy honeycomb and macarons were almost like a cheesecake crust. The only downside to this dish is that it was difficult to get a good mix of all ingredients on the spoon at once.

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Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant isn’t really the type of restaurant you would expect to find in Northern Tasmania. Exuding a cool yet relaxed atmosphere, with a comprehensive drinks list and a superb menu, Geronimo wouldn’t be out of place in the laneways of Melbourne or streets of inner-west Sydney. A wonderful place to have our second anniversary dinner – thank you Geronimo!

Geronimo Aperitivo Bar & Restaurant is located at 186 Charles St in Launceston, Tasmania.

Review: Mangia Pizza, Florence Italy

How does one spend a week in Italy and only have pizza twice – once as a snack, once as part of a larger meal? While Italy obviously has a lot more to offer than just the stereotypical pizza and pasta, this lack of pizza was a major concern, and so we headed off to Mangia Pizza on our last day in Florence before an afternoon at the Uffizi Gallery.

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Tucked away on an unassuming little side street as most of the best restaurants in Florence are, Mangia Pizza offers limited seating for around fifteen diners, twenty if you include bar seating. It’s small but cosy, and its size works in its favour as it means that the one-man kitchen can keep up with demand! The turnaround is pretty fast, with tables being turned around in about 45 minutes. This isn’t somewhere to sit and linger over bottles of wine.

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Their small kitchen is dominated by a massive pizza oven which reached temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius according to the little space-age panel. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

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Mangia offers about twenty different pizzas on their menu in either small or regular sizes. While it may seem like a large menu for a small establishment, each pizza has been kept very simple with around three toppings each – good Italian pizza is never overcomplicated with ten toppings like a Super Supreme at Domino’s! The pizzas are split pretty evenly between “Blanco” and “Rosso” pizzas – plain white, or with a tomato paste base.

Rossa con bocconcini di Bufala e prosciutto Toscano, 7 Euro (small)
Rossa con bocconcini di Bufala e prosciutto Toscano, 7 Euro (small)

We started off with one small Rosso Pizza with Buffalo Bocconcini and Tuscan Prosciutto. With the thinnest, almost translucent, slivers of prosciutto laid across a sweet tomato paste and weighed down with small individual bites of bocconcini, this small pizza was the perfect exercise in a fantastic combination of simple Italian flavours in beautiful ingredients.

Bianca con fagioli cannellini, lardo e ramerino, 6 Euro (small)
Bianca con fagioli cannellini, lardo e ramerino, 6 Euro (small)

After having the delicious lardo on bruschetta in Pisa, K was keen to try the Bianca Pizza with Cannellini Beans, Lardo and Rosemary. An unusual but inspired combination, with the creaminess of the lardo helping to smooth out the rougher grainier texture of the beans. With the occasionally sprig of rosemary on top to fragrance the pizza, it proved to be very tasty. An unusual pizza that I definitely recommend trying as something quite uniquely Tuscan!

Bianca con mozzarella fior di latte, gorgonzola e pere Williams, 6 Euro
Bianca con mozzarella fior di latte, gorgonzola e pere Williams, 6 Euro

We finished with the Bianca Pizza with Mozzarella, Gorgonzola and Williams Pear – technically a savoury pizza, but with enough sweet elements to make it a pseudo-dessert pizza. Gorgozola and sweet pear slices is such a timeless combination – I’m just disappointed that they didn’t include some crumbed walnuts on top a well. Now this is quite a strong pizza with a very distinct blue cheese smell and flavour with the gorgonzola cheese, so it’s not for everyone! If you like your strong cheeses though, this is a must.

Mangia Pizza doesn’t offer the same type of pizza that we get in Australia. You might feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth because each large $5 pizza isn’t loaded with ten different ingredients. That’s a good thing. What you get here are simple single-serve pizzas, offering a thin layer of nothing but the best local ingredients…but only three ingredients, to ensure that you actually get to taste each element separately as well as the superb flavour combinations together. If you want pizza done subtly to great effect, Mangia Pizza is the place to go in Florence!

Mangia Pizza is located at 24 Via Lambertesca in Florence, Italy.