If you’re going to go to a restaurant in a tourist city like Florence it certainly helps to go with a couple of Italians. Especially if one of them is a well-known chef* and - better still - has been recommended by one of his mates at one of the poshest local hotels.
That said, there are enough rave reviews among the notoriously pernickety contributors to Tripadvisor to suggest our experience wasn’t a one-off.
Cibreo is one of 3 restaurants run by Fabio Picchi and his family - a restaurant, a no-reservations trattoria and a cafe all around the via dei Macci. It’s all rather confusing because the restaurant looks like a trattoria but the trat apparently has a shorter menu and doesn’t take bookings so you should be able to spot it from the queues outside.
The restaurant menu simply announces what you’ll pay for each course: primi at 20 euros, secondi and contorni at 36€, cheese at 10€ and dolci at 15€. That’s going it a bit for simple Tuscan food but bear with me . . .
What’s on offer that day is explained by one of the staff, who in our case appeared to be Signora P who cosily sat herself down at the table and jotted our order down on a scrappy piece of paper. Then they proceed to ignore the whole process and bring a dizzying number of small plates for us to try (apparently a universal experience not just because we were with a VIP)
There was yoghurt mousse with turmeric, almond paté, the lightest freshest, homemade ricotta, broad beans and pecorino, prosciutto, preserved leeks and artichokes (their own) and a spiky tripe salad with chilli (the first time I’ve taken to tripe). Oh yes, and really good chicken liver crostini which managed to avoid the coarseness and bitterness you so often get with that dish - and some sundried tomato ones.
Then a round of homemade soups and other starters which included a vegetable soup with bottarga, kale soup, fish soup, yellow pepper soup (right) - a signature dish of the restaurant - and my own starter, a light potato flan with a classic ragu (above - which I’d strongly recommend if they have it).
Next, lambs brains with lentils, slow-braised beef cheeks with beets and potato puree, chicken and ricotta meatballs and and an evil-looking but tasty braised dish of squid which went brilliantly well with a bottle of 2006 Rocca di Castagnoli Stielle. And heavenly zolfini beans which apparently cost 25€ a kilo - more than the sausages that accompanied them (I thought this was an exaggeration but found them on this site for 17.58€ for 500g). By this time plates were whizzing round like crazy in one giant food swap.
Then just as we were thinking we couldn’t eat a morsel more a battery of desserts - panna cotta with saba (red wine reduction), cheesecake, a creme caramel spattered Jackson Pollock-style with its sauce (right), another one with coffee syrup and a sinfully rich chocolate tart. And a grappa. My god, we needed that grappa . . .
All this was served with such enthusiasm and good humour it was impossible to resist the extra plates that kept coming but the question is would you have the same experience? It appears from the reviews I’ve read (and some feedback from friends) that you would though some complain about the prices (true, 20€ for a vegetable soup is hard to justify, even in Florence) and slow service. You certainly appear to get better value though possibly not the same experience at the trattoria for quite a bit less.
But I have to confess I loved it. in a world of increasingly uniform restaurants run by accountants rather than families it was a wonderful, life-enhancing evening. Eccentric, charming, faintly bonkers, even. I would definitely go back.
Cibreo is at 8 via del Verrocchio. Tel: 055 234 11 00. Note the restaurant closes from July 25th-September 5th and on Monday.
*Franco Mazzei of L’Anima
I ate at the restaurant as a guest of Eurowines, I think. Actually I'm not sure who paid in the end but it wasn't me.