Borgo San Jacobo overlooks Florence’s famed Ponte Vecchio bridge, which has been standing since 1345.
magnify Click image to view more.

The Ferragamos Step Out

Meryle Evans - March 2014

Florence, Italy—Modern Medicis? The Ferragamos of Florence, committed to art and culture as well as commerce, are extending their Tuscan footprint beyond exquisite shoes and fashionable apparel to stylish boutique hotels, resorts, and restaurants that showcase the rich heritage of the region. Guests sip wines and dip their bread in extra-virgin olive oil and honey produced at the family estate, Il Borro, once owned by the Medicis. They admire a Picasso at the Hotel Lungarno and visit the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, devoted to the firm’s founder, the storied cobbler from Campagna who started on the path to footwear fame in Hollywood and relocated to Florence in 1927, followed by a faithful clientele of film stars and fashionistas.

The hospitality enterprise, The Lungarno Collection, includes a marina with a cluster of rental apartments, a 16th century villa in the Chianti hills, an agro-tourism village at Il Borro, and several hotels clustered around the Arno River in the heart of Florence, each with a design related theme.

The crown jewel of the collection, the Hotel Lungarno, located right on the river, a stone’s throw from the ancient Ponte Vecchio, projects an elegant but informal ambience, its halls filled with paintings by local and internationally acclaimed artists. The Lungarno restaurant, Borgo San Jacopo, is helmed by executive chef Beatrice Segoni, who was herself a designer of women’s clothes before switching careers.

At the entrance to the restaurant, a wall filled with bottles of pale gold and green-tinged olive oil with cork stoppers and hand-written labels is a visual statement of Tuscan pride in one of the region’s most valued products. An arched picture window overlooks the river in the serene dining room, where Florentine architect Michele Bonan has integrated oak floors, ancient wooden beams, and soft cotton and linen fabrics in white and gray tones and used sketches of some of the 20,000 shoes Ferragamo designed to decorate the walls.

The simple cover of Segoni’s menu is an expression of the chef’s respect for her staff: a list, captioned “The Orchestra,” that provides the names of the cook in charge of each course. Segoni’s menu, a modern interpretation of traditional Italian cuisine, reflects her background in design and food. After culinary school, despite a lack of enthusiasm for women in the professional kitchen, she worked at top Italian establishments, including a three year stint with Michelin-starred Gianfranco Vissani, and then opened her own restaurant, Torcoletto, in Ancona before moving to the Lungarno. “Fashion is something I still carry with me and transmit to my dishes,” she explains. “I focus on presentation and color.” Prime ingredients, she continues, “are my obsession.”

Her locally sourced cuisine, incorporating the top picks from Il Borro and Florentine markets, showcases the area’s iconic foods, among them the olive oil, Prosciutto Toscano, pecorino sheep’s milk cheese, and honey, many bearing the mark DOP, the seal that ensures that they are of the highest quality, locally grown by artisans using traditional methods.

Among the starters, a velvety panna cotta is made with pecorino, topped with a poached egg, and covered with a paper-thin layer of Colonnata lard. Lardo di Colonnata, from a small village near Carrera, is made with pork and aged in white marble tubs found in the Colonnata caves. In season, the panna cotta is topped with shavings of white truffles from San Miniato. Other first courses include white bean/saffron caponata and red mullet, and citrus and cardamom scented smoked cod tartare with carrot puree.

House-made pasta follows, dishes like gnocchi with calamari and broccoli as well as chanterelle ravioli with ricotta cheese emulsion and rabbit croquettes. Main courses include seared turbot and zucchini three ways—marinated, fried, and coulis; and braised beef cheeks with lime puree, apple compote, and sweet Certaldo onion, another Tuscan treasure, already known in the 12th century.

Desserts are Segoni’s favorite creations, a lavish array of sweets, like salted caramel mousse with fig gelato and Pampero rum whipped cream; and licorice/white chocolate macarons with olive oil ice cream and a lemon/dried olive sauce.

Other favorite creations? “Well,” the chef admits, “I love Ferragamo shoes.”