Vegetarian-friendly Gastronomic Madness

My second day in Florence kicked off with four hours of museum visits and renaissance art appreciation (by the end of which I learned two things a) there must have been some awfully disturbed artists back in the day given some of the ‘dark’ paintings on display and b) there are a million and one ways to depict baby Jesus and Magdalena…seriously…a million AND one) and by the time 13:00 rolled around I was ready for lunch. Keen for something good, I had done my homework the night before and decided on lunching at Vivanda Gastronomia, a small restaurant tucked away near Palazzo Pitti and Santo Spirito Square. 

I walked there from the Uffizi Gallery and thanks to my horrific sense of direction it took about an hour to arrive (kindly note that the heat and humidity had only intensified overnight). Thankfully, once I crossed over the threshold into Vivanda it was akin to taking in a breath of fresh air. I don’t know if it was because of the heat or I’m just a late luncher, but there was no one else in the restaurant at the time. I sat down at a communal table near the bar/deli fridge and received an explanation – in perfect English – about the restaurant concept and what was available for an Intolerant such as myself.

Where the magic begins.

Vivanda prides itself on serving locally sourced, biological food + ingredients that keeps vegans and vegetarians in mind.  All dishes are made according to what fruits and vegetables are in season, there’s a large selection of biological wine and beer, and any meat on offer has been ethically raised and slaughtered. There’s pasta for those who adore gluten, cold cuts for the carnivores and an array of soups, cheese platters and other goodies for the lactose loving set. At Vivanda they avoid the use of plastic, opt for recyclable tableware, and instead of having the server come to you, you need to get off your *** and go to the server to relay your order; when your food is ready you’ll be called to collect it. Oh, it’s also expected that one cleans up after themselves and disposes of/returns place mats, napkins, flatware, glasses and cutlery accordingly.

The menu was clear (written in both Italian and English) and had enough non-dairy and non-gluten items to keep any Intolerant happy. Right off the bat all items that are vegan, vegetarian or gluten free are highlighted with a symbol, thereby easing the selection process for allIntolerants. I asked if some of the items that contained dairy or gluten could be made without and in most cases it was possible unless the mixture/food (in the case of soup for example) had already been pre-made earlier in the day.

When it’s all said and done, you’ve got to clean up after yourself (a good call I think)!

I settled on two starters that were more than enough in terms of portion size. First a lentil salad with rucola (rocket), fennel, onion and a lemon vinaigrette came out, which was really enjoyable. I’m a big fan of protein-rich lentils and these were well cooked without being overdone. I also go absolutely go mad for anything with rucola and fennel in particular (I’ve become an aficiando at making a wintry fennel and carrot soup), so it was a nice treat to have these lighter ingredients mixed in with the more filling legume. For the main I had a plateful of wild basmati rice that was mixed with zuchinni, peas and mint and it was fantastic. It tasted fresh and as if the cook had gone out back, pulled some pea pods and a courgette from the garden and thrown it in with the rice. It tasted wild. Overall, the food was simple and organic, it didn’t try too hard and it was well presented. I happily ate while enjoying the modern decor, eyeballing the countless bottles of Italian, French, Portuguese, German, South African, Chilean (must I go on?) wine, and rocking ever so slightly to the jazz music that was playing. *Note: all this…before dessert.

Lentil, fennel and rocket salad. Seriously, one word: Yum!

I was craving something sweet, but light due to the heat of the day. Since the impressive array of cheeses were off limits (unfortunately since they looked incredible)I wasn’t in the mood for a glass of wine and the desserts on offer had either gluten or lactose in them, I resigned myself to the notion that I would have to settle for a short espresso (con zucchero of course) to take the edge off. When the server came out from the back; however, and listened to my request for something to finish off my meal, she told me she had just the thing and came back with this:

Homemade watermelon “sorbet.”

Yes indeed, the caption does not lie. That is a sugar-free homemade watermelon sorbet with a sprig of mint for good measure. I was blown away to be honest and so utterly thrilled to finish off a nice meal in proper fashion. I spent 15 minutes savouring that sorbet like it was nobody’s business and sauntered out of Vivanda satiated, smug and tucking the experience away in the back of my mind with the hope that the next time I’m in Florence I’ll get to pass by for another great meal.

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