A Room With A View: Dining As Italians Do
There’s a place in Tuscany, high in the verdant hills over Florence that understands the art of dining.
You see, there is a striking difference between the art of eating and the art of dining.
It is as the violinist is to the orchestra.
One sings a delicate tune on its own. While the other, cloaked in occasion, requires a skilled conductor to bring it to crescendo.
This place, nestled in a plump explosion of spring flora has a room with a view.
Its dining hall is at once grand and understated.
Gargantuan wrought iron light fittings dangle from pterodactyl beams. Tables are aligned in knee-grazing proximity in long elegant rows. Places are set with gleaming silver cutlery and gold–rimmed porcelain.Tall windows wink silk at Florence below.
But as anyone in the last century who has eaten in this room knows; the art of dining doesn’t begin at the table.
At this place I know, one dresses for dinner. If ladies have jewellery, they adorn themselves. If gentlemen own suits, then don them.
Perfume and cologne is daubed.
Then, once frocked, the shimmering assemble on the upper terrace as fireflies at dusk.
The great Italian tradition of an aperitif before dinner is an inspired way to prepare one for the dining room.
The informal occasion provides an opportunity for people to introduce themselves, to gaze at the layered horizon and to infuse a little fizz into their blood.
At this place I know, high on the hills of Florence, the diners mingle on the terrace or dot themselves in the many lamp-lit reception rooms on the evenings when it’s a little cooler.
There’s conversation, there’s laughter, there’s the timeless dance of introductions.
And then, ladies and gentlemen, one is called to dinner.
I swear there is nothing that demarks a sense of occasion more than a suited Italian thronging a brass bell for dinner.
The grand room is seated precisely at seven–thirty. This is not the sort of place where you ask to change your table because every placement has been decided upon with the utmost attention to detail.
The morose widowed gentlemen who neatly tucks a stiff linen napkin into his collar sadly sprinkling his pasta with lashings of parmesan, lights up when the German couple next to him engage a conversation.
The lovebirds are placed in a long line of adoring gazes lit by the candles towering on silver candlesticks between them.
The larger groups of families are seated in the middle of the room. Their boisterous familiarity radiates; a combustion of conversation.
Then dinner is served.
Salad leaves are offered to the entire room from one bowl. Dressed in nothing but ground salt and olive oil so young it tastes like the colour green.
The meal is three courses. There is a choice between a pasta or soup for first and something dolce or fruit for dessert but the main is always set.
It is served on broad silver trays with enough helpings for the table. Each portion is delicately proffered between two clasped spoons and lands as a delicious assertion on your plate.
The tables, placed so closely together, bleed conversation onto the next until the room is brought to an operatic crescendo.
When the diners arrive at third course, such is the comradery that when another table notice someone has only bread to accompany their slab of gorgonzola, they slide across a gnarled apple so that they may enjoy a better match.
Afterwards, gentlemen order whiskies and ladies limoncello. They wander back to the terrace and gaze at the nebula that is Florence.
This is the art of dining.
There will be always be expensive restaurants with silver service and gilded cutlery. But there are few, even with their sense of refinery and pomp, who know the art of dining.
Luckily then, that somewhere on the slopes of a Tuscan hillside there is a place that does.
And for a price of a three course meal, I might just let you in on it.