No greater is the divide between vegan and vegetarian food perceived, perhaps, than in the world of Italian cuisine. The thought of missing out on the culture of creamy cheesiness that this country has to offer and being confined to tomato-based sauces was not too appealing before a recent trip to Florence.
But thanks to the Happy Cow app (the only app I’ve ever paid money for and well worth the roughly £2.99 I splashed out a few years back), it was soon obvious that vegan recipes can be as deliciously Italian as any other.
Three places stand out. First, Dolce Vegan, which was the first wholly vegan restaurant to be established in Florence. Their mission statement and rationale behind the restaurant is stated clearly on their website:
It’s called “VEGAN” to give a clear and precise message of our choice. Because milk and eggs cause more suffering than meat, and so the vegetarian choice is no longer acceptable either from an ethical point of view or from a healthy and environmental point of view.
It’s called “DOLCE” because it “gently and serenely” chooses to be vegan. In fact, being vegan does not mean giving up something or depriving yourself of the pleasures of the table, but acquiring awareness of your actions and enriching your life also through a healthy and tasty diet, full of news and surprises. We want to make everyone aware of the beauty and sweetness of living respecting animals, the environment and their health.
The menu is extensive and rather incomprehensible to the non-Italian speaker, and the serving system is also confusing. If you sit long enough someone will come and take your order, but long enough was too long for us on our first visit and so we opted for counter service, which speeded things up considerably. On our second visit, we chose our table strategically, so that not noticing us was not an option.
The staff are lovely and the place has a really pleasant vibe. The food ranged from burgers to pasta to salads. I tried a wrap, and the ravioli. Both were good, if not particularly special. My companion had the Shanti Bomb (burger) and chips, which he confirmed as being as hearty, tasty fare that really “hit the spot”.
Their links with a nearby animal sanctuary are displayed everywhere, and there are leaflets about volunteering there as well as the chance to donate cash to help with looking after animals.
Universo Vegano has a very different feel to it. It’s part of a glossier franchise chain, with no table service and reliably good food. For me, it was reminiscent of the Swing Kitchen restaurants in Austria. The environment is clean and modern, with a relatively authentic menu of burgers, pizzas and pastas.
I avoided the pizzas in both restaurants, as I didn’t see any reviews online anywhere that convinced me to try them. Universo Vegano’s gnocchi in a rich and flavoursome pesto sauce was amazing. The ravioli was superb too, as were the salads we tried, and the fried potatoes. There was a steady stream of people coming in, and it was good to see so many solo female diners settle in for a series of courses.
The strawberry cream cakes, rolled in crushed nuts, were so fresh and delicious that we came back for more the next day.
Also mention-worthy from our recent trip to Florence was the hotel we stayed in, Residenza Magliabechi. We scored a superb deal, staying here for three nights for a ridiculously low price, because we went completely out of season, two weeks before Christmas. The location is perfect; it’s really central and within walking distance of everywhere.
But the biggest relevance here is the way they took our plant-based diet totally in their stride, and provided us with an excellent breakfast of fruits and bread and vegan croissants every morning.