Not your average hole-in-the-wall!
Buca Lapi, named after its founding owner is one of those places that needs no introduction. Located in the wine cellars of Palazzo Antinori, Buca Lapi, is the oldest running restaurant in Florence, dating back to 1880. It was opened as a trattoria and mescita / wine bar when the Antinori family hired Orazio Lapi as the “tavern keeper”. As the wine cellars were underground, they were known as a hole or ‘buca’ in Italian. And so the Antinoris called the trattoria after Orazio Lapi – Buca Lapi.
The palazzo is a typical example of Renaissance architecture, built between 1461 and 1469, by Italian architect, Giuliano da Maiano, an apprentice of Brunelleschi. Over the years the building belonged to important Florentine families such as the Bonis and the Martellis, until February 2nd in 1506 when it was acquired by Tommaso Antinori, one of the most promising and influential men in Florence for 4000 florins.
Local Florentines have been coming here loyally for years but it’s not just the food that makes this restaurant so popular, it’s the old fashioned hospitality of owner and Chef Luciano Ghinassi, a native to the city who passion for the best quality ingredients and traditional recipes is reflected in every plate on the menu. A renowned and talented chef, Luciano worked for Lapi (Orazio’s son) as a boy for many years. He would then go on to own four restaurants in Florence before being offered the business by Lapi when he retired in 1995. He is attentive, obsessed with the best quality ingredients and oversees the open kitchen with passion. The kitchen is visible because “looking is as important as tasting”, he says. And come to look and taste they do as his fully booked tables testify every day.
Luciano offers a classic, traditional Tuscan menu featuring homemade pastas, slow-braised meats, trippa alla Fiorentina, delicious seasonable vegetable dishes and of course, they are famous for their Florentine steak. Luciano uses Chianina, Marchigiana, Maremmana and Romagnolo but his favourite meat is Black Angus from Ireland. He proudly shows off his beautiful steaks lined up in the kitchen as he explains that the Fiorentina steak is a serious subject here. He only buys the best quality meat and swears by his grill which uses olive wood coals. The steak is served at the table on heavy wooden chopping boards, sliced in front of the customers into large pieces depending on the number of people at the table.
Buca Lapi was a favourite with foreigners as early as the 1920’s when patrons would spend entire evenings there listening to ballad singers. During the 1960’s, it was the place to be seen, the home of the Florentine ‘dolce vita’ and I’m sure if the walls could talk, they would have many fascinating stories to tell!
Famous customers include Prince Ranier and his wife, the former Grace Kelly who dined at Buca Lapi during their honeymoon. Emperor Akihito who would dine at Buca Lapi in 1963 when he was Crown Prince and return again forty years later in 2003.
In 1950, Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten filmed September Affairs here.
The walls and arched ceiling in the large dining room are decorated with colourful vintage travel posters from all over the world. Luciano tells me that in the early years, writers and artists would draw and write on the paper placemats, which were then stuck on the walls. Travel posters then took over the walls but the lampshades are still covered in graffiti and it’s quite interesting reading. There are also beautiful frescos on the walls which were meticulously restored after being damaged in the Florence flood of 1966. The water would recede that same evening but it was months before the trattoria would dry out enough to start the clean-up and restoration.
Buca Lapi is one of those places that is a joy for the senses. From the original, historic decor, the traditional, authentic and exceptional quality of the Tuscan menu to the charming, old fashioned hospitality of Luciano Ghinassi and his staff, spending time here will be one of those truly Florentine experiences that you won’t ever forget.
Via del Trebbio 1r
Tel +39 055213768
You can read this article and also find Luciano’s recipe for his Brasato – Slow-cooked Tuscan Braised Beef with Onions in our Winter 2020 issue. Download it here.