Finding an authentic Italian restaurant in Italy is hard.
No, I’m not pulling your leg
I have been to Florence at least 20 times and am yet to find a restaurant that serves good, traditional Tuscan food. It doesn’t matter that I can speak Italian. It doesn’t matter how far I wander away from Il Duomo. I just can’t for the life of me find a restaurant that doesn’t feature a tourist menu or overpriced and badly made pasta dishes.
It’s the same in Rome, Siena, Pisa, Venice, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, pretty much anywhere in this beautiful country.
It doesn’t matter whether your experience of Italian cooking is confined to pasta and pizza or whether you’ve eaten at and rated every restaurant in your home country, no one wants to eat dodgy Italian food in Italy.
Admittedly, I can’t speak for any of the cities mentioned above. I’m as lost as you are in the quest to find authentic Lazian cooking in Rome.
But I consider myself quite the expert on the restaurants in my home region.
Maremman cooking is different from the rest of Tuscany. Like most Italians, the Maremmani look for seasonality and genuine ingredients, but they also remain ardently faithful to the old ways.
There is nothing more comforting than a table full of the hearty and humble dishes like acquacotta (a vegetable soup) or lepre stufato (braised hare), and the modern Maremmani uses their cuisine to celebrate their agrarian ancestors.
Often that means trading beef and chicken for wild boar and pheasant. The Maremmani first tasted game during the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, and while many no longer hunt today, game is still a significant part of their traditional cuisine.
You might think finding an authentic restaurant in the Maremma is easier than finding one in the big cities, but good cooking is hard to come by anywhere and with the spread of convenience cooking, even the Maremma has fallen victim to ready made ragu sauces and shop bought tiramisus.
When I eat out in this region, I want homemade pasta that is soaked in an unctuously slow braised meat sauce and tender grilled steaks with breadcrumb-stuffed artichokes that were grown in the owner’s own garden.
I want to taste the traditions of this gorgeous corner of Italy in every bite and I want to wash it down with locally produced wines like the Morellino di Scansano.
Luckily I have a handful of local restaurants that never fail me, no matter what my budget is. Here they are:
Affordable and unforgettable:
Il Miravale da Meloni
Where: Via A. Gramsci, Manciano
Prices: €12 for the most expensive main
Completely self taught, the owners of this sweet provincial restaurant serve up Maremman classics like braised wild boar and tortelloni di gnudi that are so good they’ll make you drool with delight. Everything is homemade, including the vegetables, which are loving grown and tended by the owner’s parents in their own home garden. And the best part? The menu is so affordable and so authentic, you’ll feel like you’re getting everything at steal!
La Tana del Orso
Where: Via Veneto, Castell’Azzara
Prices: €9 for the most expensive main
Every morning, the chef and owner of this quirky little mountain restaurant wakes and decides what he wants to cook for the day. It might sound a little disorganised, but the locals absolutely love it and liken the experience to eating at their nonna’s (grandmother’s) house everyday. From melt-in-the-mouth tripe to pasta dishes garnished with thick shavings of black truffle or porcini mushrooms, the menu here is unpredictable, but always delicious.
Middle of the road in price, but excellent in taste:
Where: Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Saturnia
Price: €35 for a dinner with a starter, main and dessert
A warm and welcoming restaurant where the bistecca alla fiorentina is always tender, the carpaccio of chianina beef is always fresh and the tortelli maremmani is always flavourful. The dining room is actually a converted wine cellar, which inspires a romantic atmosphere, no matter when or with whom you visit! And to finish, you don’t want to miss out on their divine ricotta mousse, a local specialty.
Osteria dei Nobili Santi
Where: Via dell’ Ospizio, 8, Porto Ercole
Price: €40 for a dinner with starter, main and dessert
There are VERY few places in Italy where you can get a fish dinner this good for a price this reasonable. We’re talking freshly caught scampi served with homemade potato gnocchi, whole roasted fish served with sweet fennel and grilled lemon wedges and desserts that are out of this world. Not to mention a brilliant wine list that compliments everything on the menu.
A splurge that’s worth it
Most of the restaurants in the Maremma are reasonably priced. In fact, authentic homecooking in this region is usually unfussy and served in big quantities for hardly any euros at all. But if there is one restaurant worth spending the big bucks on, it’s this one.
Where: Via della Chiesa, Montemerano
Price: starting at €120 per person
Da Caino might be in little known Montemerano, but it is one of the most celebrated restaurants in Italy! Since 1971, this husband and wife team have been cooking traditional dishes that not only play on taste, but also smell, sight and texture. Sure there are plenty of good Maremman restaurants that cost a fraction of this one, but they’re not serving up award winning dishes like beautifully cooked pigeon with a terrine of cherry foie gras and hazelnuts or Argentario anchovies with a panzarella (bread salad) gelato and artichoke flan.