Al Firenze – Ristorante and Pizzeria
21 Ray Paul Drive, La Lucia.
031 572 5559
Open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday
Al Firenze is a popular Italian ristorante in La Lucia. So popular it’s hard to find a bad word said about it. “Family friendly”, “family favourite”, “friendly staff”, “pleasant buzz” are comments that come up regularly on sites like TripAdvisor.
The only problem is we didn’t feel the love when we lunched there on Valentine’s Day. Okay, so it was busy with, unsurprisingly, large family groups, rather than dumb-struck couples – and staff were clearly stretched. But the hostess, who was standing at the entrance in front of a lectern, didn’t look up when we announced our presence, busying herself with finding our name and telling the waiter where to seat us. Okay, so she did follow us and instruct the waiter to ensure our table was taken out the sun, but it was as if we were ghosts. Not really there.
I did also think the hostess’s top was a bit, um, out there for a family restaurant. It was a camisole-style top in red satin, yes red satin, with a plunging neckline. Perhaps it was her Valentine’s Day outfit.
The fact that Al Firenze has been around since 1988 and is set in the heart of La Lucia’s up-market residential area probably means their customers are mainly regulars from the ‘hood. And we weren’t.
But we weren’t too bothered. We are not going to need therapy. But we did all feel that if we drank ourselves into a stupor and slid under the red-checked tablecloths they would only find us when cleaning up.
Happily, we loved the food. That pretty much made up for everything. THE LOOK
Casual and comfortable with red-checked table-clothes, red chairs ad some sort of red plastic boarding on the ceiling to, I assume, carry through the red theme. So lots of red. The front opens up on to a terrace and overlooks a small grassy area and plants in planters. Pleasant vibe.
TO THE FOOD
Italian, naturally with a comprehensive pasta section and less comprehensive pizza section. But also seafood, meat and poultry selection. Particularly appealing were the starters with the likes of melanzane rosti with roasted brinjals marinated in olive oil, vinegar, garlic and chilli, as well as some old favourites like avocado ritz, baked snails with Roquefort cheese, melanzane parmigiana, and fresh mussels steamed with garlic, herbs and white wine.
I’ve also read good things about their caprese salad.
Mostly traditional pasta dishes such as lasagna and cannelloni as well as a risotto dish with wild Boletus mushrooms and tortellini filled with ricotta and spinach and drizzled with sage butter sauce.
You can also order a whole fish grilled, a seafood platter, saddle of lamb, steaks, veal al limone and baby chicken cooked in their wood-fired oven. Oh, and there’s tripe casserole and quail, also roasted in the wood-fired oven. So, plenty of choice.
We started by sharing a garlic and herb focaccia, R40, artichokes baked in the wood-fired oven with parmesan, garlic and parsley, R60, and chicken livers freshly prepared in a napoletana sauce with chilli and cream, R55. All were excellent.
For mains I opted for seafood linguine – with clams, mussels, prawns and calamari – but the naked version, the aglio olio version, with olive oil, lemon, garlic and chilli, R125. I loved it. It was perfectly flavoured. Someone in the kitchen – owner Tony de Sousa? – is really talented with his flavouring.
The son-in-law went for a traditional beef lasagna dish, R75, and said it was his best version yet.
Now came our only hiccup. The daughter opted for gnocchi with napoletana sauce, R78. She had ordered the same dish a few days earlier as it turned out, and described it as perfect and the gnocchi as being like “soft pillows”. This time round the gnocchi was hard and chewy. She sent it back. It came back a little less hard and a little less chewy. She opted to take it home and cook it more.
But what was good was the napoletana sauce. Often it’s cooked down into a bitter sludge, but this was perfect. Light and fresh.
We ended by sharing a classic Italian dessert, tiramisu. Sadly it was too sweet and the espresso flavour was practically non-existent. One day I will find the perfect tiramisu.
Bill came to a R618.