Relais Le Jardin Restaurant Florence, Italy
The intimate atmosphere of the Hotel Regency’s Relais Le Jardin restaurant brings traditional Tuscan cuisine to a new level of gourmet dining pleasure. Chef Rino Pennucci prepares the finest Italian fare presented with elegance and grace. On the evening of our dining experience, we were greeted warmly by our server, Mr. Roman Parrini, whose twenty-three years of experience at the Regency added expertise and charm throughout the course of our meal. As Roman served us complimentary Asti Spumante, he explained the evening’s specialties while thoroughly answering our questions as we pored over the menu. So many delightful choices presented themselves!
As he attended to two other tables nearby, we continued to debate and discuss our options. Roman brought delicious sesame bread sticks, rolls and flat bread along with a complimentary carpaccio of tuna appetizer. My wife enjoyed the delicate olive oil that enhanced the tuna set upon a bed of julienne vegetables. The three of us decided upon sharing a single appetizer, the ostrich filet millefeuille and porcini mushrooms with traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena. Quite frankly, this ostrich filet would rival in taste and texture any tender beef filet that could be found. Each forkfull of the crusty cheese and tender meat, gathered up with the sauteed mushrooms melted deliciously upon the palate. If I had nothing else to eat for the entire evening I would have been thoroughly satisfied with this plate alone. Four hours later we found ourselves still commenting favorably about this delightful dish.
For our first course I chose the basil flavored cavatelli pasta with porcini mushroom sauce. This macaroni-like pasta was wonderfully chewy with a mild basil flavor that was not too overpowering. It made a nice “middle course” between my ostrich appetizer and the fowl I chose to follow. My wife ordered mixed bean soup with extra virgin olive oil, a good choice prior to her upcoming fish entrée. The soup was substantial, robust and flavorful.
The three of us chose to spread our next choices over the realms of fish, poultry and beef. I chose young rooster stuffed with raisins and pine nuts served with avocado sauce and vegetable julienne. While the rooster was tender and flavorful, I was surprised that none of the raisin and pine nut stuffing made it to my plate. Perhaps the chef’s idea was to impart the stuffing’s flavor to the meat without sampling the actual stuffing. I did not bother to ask our server as I was too busy enjoying my sliced poultry. At any rate, the understated elegance of the avocado sauce was a welcome accompaniment, though not particularly memorable. On the other hand, my wife and son’s choices were eminently memorable. My wife enjoyed her swordfish steak with chickpea puree and lightly spiced chicory. She gave me a sample of this roasted swordfish which I found incredibly moist and flavorful. I have found that so many others have prepared swordfish in such a manner as to make it dry tasting and bland, but this swordfish was much to the contrary. My son ordered a beef filet, cooked medium (which means “rare” by American standards) served with grilled seasonal vegetables. “This is one of the best dinners I’ve ever had,” he later enthused, this coming from one who has been known to consume several fine steaks in his young life. Although the filet was cooked more rarely than he typically would like, the tenderness and flavor allowed him to experience a new dimension in culinary delight.
For dessert we found three of the six menu choices each to be a perfect match for us. I chose the hazelnut Bavarian cream with lukewarm chocolate sauce. The cream, I discovered, was more like a very firm custard drizzled with heavenly dark chocolate, the kind that tempts one to lick his plate if no one were looking. My wife could not resist her all-time favorite dessert, crème brulee, this one with a light lemon flavoring. It was a good thing that the ramekin it was served in was not too large, for this dessert’s richness allowed one to eat only the smallest portion. The torched sugar coating made this crème brulee taste absolutely heavenly. My son opted for the dry fruit and plain chocolate-filled puff pastry with custard. His dessert seemed to cover the entire plate, much to his eternal delight.
With a view of the delightful garden outside, the vintage 1950’s music of Dean Martin playing as if he were singing in the next room over, we were transported in time to a place where we felt that all was well and at peace. The Relais Le Jardinwithin the Hotel Regency is a dining experience I urge you not to miss. I could say without hesitation that for the five days and nights we spent in Florence, the meal we ate at the Hotel Regency was head and shoulders above the rest. Where we found nice presentations, moderate portions and ordinary fare at other dining establishments, the dinner served at the Relais Le Jardin was extraordinary. As for price and service, one could easily spend a lot more and receive a lot less. Here you will find some of the very best value and service in all of Florence. Though it be only a few minutes from the central part of historical Florence, it is well worth the small investment of a few moments driving or walking to dine in this marvelous setting. If your dining experience here is just a fraction of what it was for us, it will be, nevertheless, a wonderful experience to be sure.
Note: When in Rome, be sure to visit the Regency’s sister hotel, the Hotel Lord Byron.