6 Hercules Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7DU florentinerestaurant.co.uk
Mike finds a hotel restaurant that is much better than a hotel restaurant
Florentine describes itself as an’all-day dining restaurant and bar’ which to me comes across to me as inferior to a proper restaurant.
So my expectations aren’t massive as we walk the short distance from Lower Marsh, Waterloo. Turns out Florentine Restaurant is at the bottom of a big spangly development called Park Plaza as well, which also makes me feel a corporate offering will be on the menu rather than a lovely family run endeavour.
However, all my rash expectations turn out to be plain wrong. Behind the big glass facades is a cosy mix of warm and classy ambience and great food. To the right, a bustling square bar is busy with drinkers.
We turn left for a more formal dining area with sleek and thoughtful mid-century-style interior design touches, quality leather dark wood and muted lighting. It’s like an upscale hotel restaurant. Then I find that it is, for the Park Plaza Waterloo hotel somewhere above our heads.
Florentine’s menu is simple and eclectic range of freshly-made dishes with Mediterranean influences including flatbreads baked in their own wood-fired oven.
We are here to sample their festive chef’s choice menu and the manager Manuela makes us feel very welcome helping us with the wine choice.
We decide on a bottle of Machoman from Casa Rojo, a robust ruby red densely muscular wine which should stand up to anything.
Thin shiny coins of Iberico acorn fed Bellota ham are fed into my face like I’m a compulsive gambler at the slots Ã¢â‚¬â€œ seriously addictive, while Jayne greatly enjoys her plate of tuna carpaccio with feisty wasabi mayo.
I taste it of course and wish I was having all of that too. It’s so thin it’s like it was prepped for a microscope slide. Incredibly fresh, delicate and full of taste.
These are supposed to be sample sized dishes but Florentine’s speciality Burrata and Aubergine flatbread is delivered on a wooden board you could slice a crusty loaf on.
It looks impressively large but thankfully the base is almost cracker thin and crispy and the fresh tomato, baked aubergine and pillowy mozzarella toppings go down a treat.
The staff are extremely attentive, our table is brushed down for crumbs between every course and then our wine glasses are repositioned by 5mm, its not fussy or invasive, more motherly. These guys are taking pride in what they do.
With the table prepped, grilled sea bass is shared out with skill. It’s firm and meaty and paired with sautÃƒÂ©ed spinach which seems the same as wilted to me Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I’ve never been a fan but it goes in as well because Jayne likes me to eat my greens.
Moist and tasty roasted free-range chicken follows but it’s the sweet potato accompanying it which steals this part of the show.
So creamy and full of flavour with a crispy salted skin. I have to ask Manuela how chef does it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ foil wrap half hour in the oven then unwrapped, halved and back in for another twenty minutes then season well. Knockout, I’ll have a go at that at home.
We taste around the edges of the Pumpkin risotto, it’s creamy and salty with good parmesan but way too filling and we need to keep a tiny space inside us for the desserts. We ask for it to go so we can enjoy it later.
After a pause and a chat and washing everything down with the lovely wine and our table brushed down for crumbs and our wine glasses being repositioned by 5mm, we’re ready.
Venetian doughnuts are fabulously light and puffed-up with marsala cream inside Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Manuela tells us they are the most popular item and I can see why.
Annoying that I’ve been to Venice a few times but never got shown these delights. We napkin one up and pocket it for our daughter to enjoy. Not because we’re nice but because we’re full.
Cheesecake with blueberry coulis and a good Tiramisu are barely nibbled at Ã¢â‚¬â€œ shameful waste but by then our tums were on lockdown.
On the other side of the huge golden chain-mail curtain in the bar, they apparently enjoy DJ sessions with signature cocktails, craft beers or British bubbles but if they were it didn’t impinge on our thoroughly relaxing dining experience.
The environment and the service are slick and functional but the food is anything but, it’s much better than that.
If this was a family run place, you’d think it had been here for years and earned its place of respect in the neighbourhood.
Florentine seems to have done just that in only about eighteen months.