Ristorante La Giostra restaurant in Florence, Italy. (Photo courtesy of La Giostra)
La Giostra restaurant in Florence.

Ristorante La Giostra in Florence

This is one of two restaurants I visit every time I come to town—and one of the few I splurge on willingly. (I've even celebrated birthdays here.)

The inventive Italian dishes come with an Austrian twist in a restaurant run by a bona-fide Hapsburg/Lorraine/Medici Prince (the Sachertorte is divine).

Sadly, the original owner/chef—Dimitri d'Asburgo Lorena, who opened this restaurant merely to indulge his love of cooking—has passed on. However, "The Carousel" remains in the capable hands of his son, chef Soldano. Reserve ahead. Pricey, but well worth it.

They start you off with a complimentary flute of spumanti before you plunge into the tasty crostini misti and exquisite primi.

Among my favorites are tortelloni alla Mugellana (handmade potato-stuffed pasta in ragù), gnocchetti alla Lord Reinolds (potato dumplings in a sauce of stilton and Port), homemade tagliatelle with tiny wild asparagus spears, and ravioli stuffed with brie in a sauce with thinly sliced, lightly fried artichokes.

Also excellent: the penne alla vodka, and the ravioli with pecorino toscano sheep's cheese and Williams pears. Most dishes are excellent here, actually (though most are pretty rich).

For an encore, try the nodino di vitella ai tartufi bianchi (veal slathered in eggy white truffle sauce with fresh truffle grated on top) or the lighter spianata alle erbe aromatiche di Maremma (a huge platter of spiced beef pounded flat and piled with a salad of rosemary sprigs, sage, and other herbs).

Just be sure to save room for dessert: a distinctly un-Florentine Sacher torte (from an old family recipe... and remember, the "family" in question here is related to the Hapsburgs of Austria)

This place has become (justifiably) popular, and even with a reservation there's often a short wait—laudably, they don't rush anybody to empty up tables—but it's worth it.

Tips & links


La Giostra ★★★
Borgo Pinti 12r (off Piazza G. Salvemini)
(Santa Croce)
tel. +39-055-241-341
Closed Sat-Sun at lunch

Bus: 14, 21, C1, C2
Hop-on/hop-off: Teatro Verdi (A)

General dining tips
  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 to €15—though most often €2 to €5—per person that is automatically added onto your bill. This is perfectly normal and perfectly legal (though a few trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • Find out if service (tip) is included: Don't double-tip by accident. If the menu has a line—usually near the bottom of the front or back—that says "servizio" with either a percentage, an amount, or the word "incluso" after it, that means the tip is automatically included in the price. (If it says "servizio non incluso," tip is, obviously, not included.)

    Even if the menu doesn't say it, ask É incluso il servizio? (ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo)—"Is service included?" If not, tip accordingly (10%–15% is standard).

    Don't be stingy about tipping, though. If il servizio is, indeed, already included but the service was particularly good, it's customary to round up the bill or leave €1 per person extra—just to show you noticed and that you appreciated the effort.
  • Tourist menus: The concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer a menu turistico ("tourist menu"), which can cost from €8 to €20 and usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurants that the locals wisely steer clear of.

    However, a menu à prezzo fisso ("fixed-price menu") is often a pretty good deal, usually offering a bit more choice than a tourist menu.

    Then—especially at nicer (and pricier) restaurants—there is the menu degustazione ("tasting menu"), usually far more expensive (anywhere from €25 to €110) that is a showcase of the chef's best, or of regional specialties, and can make for an excellent way to sample the kitchen's top dishes.
  • Book ahead: For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book a table—at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening.
Culinary tours of Florence
Italian dining phrases
English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah
...red wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh
...beer birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo

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Ristorante La Giostra

La Giostra ★★★
Borgo Pinti 12r (off Piazza G. Salvemini)
(Santa Croce)
tel. +39-055-241-341
Closed Sat-Sun at lunch

Bus: 14, 21, C1, C2
Hop-on/hop-off: Teatro Verdi (A)

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