Visit: 19 August 2022
Villa San Michele is a five-star Belmond hotel in a former 15th Century monastery located on a quiet, wooded hillside just below the ancient village of Fiesole less than five miles north of the centre of Florence. The weathered, porticoed façade is said to be by Michelangelo, and the sweeping views of the city from the gardens, many of the rooms, the restaurants and the pool, are breath taking.
The arrival in April 2019 of chef Alessandro Cozzolino has brought new energy. There are a variety of restaurants to choose from, including the fine dining La Loggia restaurant that, in my opinion, is operating at Michelin star level, Ristorante San Michelle that provides more casual Tuscan style dining, and a pool side restaurant.
The tables at the La Loggia and Ristorante San Michelle are located next to the large open windows with superb views overlooking Florence. A variety of different menus were available, and we chose the “Florentina” menu of dishes that is inspired by Florence. The price of this was 160 Euros per person.
The dinner included an array of amuse bouche as well as excellent bread sticks and high-quality bread made from scratch in the bakery at the hotel. There were two types of bread sticks, one with black olive and salt, and another using local aromatic herbs. We were also served an excellent Panettone bread that was topped with lemon zest, green pepper, Pecorino cheese and olive oil, as well as a sourdough type bread served with salted butter with lime and capers. The quality of the breads and bread sticks was very high.
The amuse bouche included a tortellino with orange and cream of toasted almonds, a sable biscuit with cucumber, tomato and garlic oil, and a twist of fried peperoni with bergamot. All three amuse bouche were innovative and had good flavour.
The starter was named “Cap… ricciola” which was a very refreshing Panzanella with amberjack, crispy bread, celery, Pisanello tomato aspic, and Xeres vinegar powder. Panzanella is a Tuscan chopped salad of soaked stale bread, onions and tomatoes that often includes cucumbers, sometimes basil and is dressed with olive oil and vinegar. The dish was refreshing and very flavoursome, and was my favourite course of the evening.
Next, was a pasta course named “Bischeri… come noi d’altronde”. The pasta was cooked in “caciucco” fish broth, with Grosseto cuttlefish, Viareggio prawns, lemon balm, and basil. Chef Alessandro uses Pasta di Gragnano PGI that is made especially for him by Gentile, an artisanal past producer based in Gragnano, near Naples, in his own unique shape. This is a dry pasta obtained from a mixture of the finest durum wheat semolina and water from the local aquifer of Gragnano, and bronze drawn. The pasta and fish sauce were perfectly cooked. This was the best pasta course of my trip to Florence.
The main course was named “VIN… tage”. This was Maremma beef topped with a panure of crispy dried fruits, nuts, and bread, served with crispy Valdarno Fiorentino lettuce, Mugello Fragolino grapes, and a selection of sauces – Fragolino grape (with a strawberry flavour), barbecue, cream of lettuce, and apple with Chartreuse. The Maremmana is a breed of grey coloured cattle reared in the Maremma, a former marshland region in southern Tuscany, and is listed in the Italian Slow Food Ark of Taste (an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods). The beef was of excellent quality and was cooked perfectly. This was another outstanding dish.
The palate cleanser was a semifreddo of peach and almond. The main dessert was named “Bisous fiorentino” which was 64% dark chocolate, caramel ganache, hazelnut sweet crumble, with barley cream flavoured with whiskey. This was served with frittelle (Italian doughnuts), sprinkled with orange zest and sugar. We were asked to guess what the creamy fruit dips were made from. There was cherry and rosemary, passion fruit and hazelnut, pistachio and olive oil, and tonka bean with a touch of black pepper.
Three petit fours were served – capers and apricot (giving a sweet and salty flavour), another made with blueberries, vinegar and juniper (like a gin and tonic), and a third of ginger ale, coconut and chocolate mousse. These were all good.
This was a very good dinner demonstrating innovation, high quality ingredients and very good cookery skills. The service was friendly and extremely polished. The team were clearly very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about La Loggia. Comparing this dinner to those I have recently had at other Michelin starred restaurants in Florence, I will not be surprised if La Loggia is awarded a Michelin star.
The Executive Chef at Belmond Villa San Michele is Alessandro Cozzolino, who was appointed in 2019.
Alessandro was Grand Hyatt Hong Kong as a Chef de Cuisine at Grissini from 2014, and sous chef at Belmond Hotel Splendido for 10 months previously.
Previous experience includes a string of Michelin starred restaurants, including 2-star L’Atelier D’Edmond in Val-d’Isere, France; 2-star Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa in Campania, Italy; 2-star Arnolfo Ristorante in Tuscany; 3-star Restaurant Les Cimes in Auvergne, France for Chef Régis Marcon; 3-star Restaurant St. Hubertus in Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy for Chef Norbert Niederkofler; and 1-star Alpenroyal Grand Hotel in South Tyrol, Italy.
He was awarded ‘Chef of the Year’ by Gambero Rosso, the prestigious Italian dining guide in 2017.
View from the restaurant looking over Florence:
Inside the restaurant: