Turns out Tuscans are quite into their sandwiches. English paninis are quite different though – an Italian panino (singular) won’t go anywhere near a toaster. Italians also don’t do paninis by halves. They are absolutely huge and you will have no chance of being hungry two hours after one of these for lunch. They also happen to cost around €5 a pop.
All’Antico Vinaio held TripAdvisor’s top spot for best restaurant in Florence during my time there, so I figured I had to give it a go. With the following five places also being taken by other panino shops, there is clearly strong competition and a lot of hype around the simple sandwich in Florence.
But these sandwiches are anything but simple. With a queue on each side of the street snaking away from All’Antico Vinaio’s two outposts in Via dei Neri, the Palazzo Vecchio tower overlooking the crowds, it’s instantly clear that a lot of people have been checking TripAdvisor for tips.
And this time, TripAdvisor gets it right. These sandwiches are definitely worth hunting down and queuing up for. The staff are full of that classic Italian energy; joking and flirting with customers as one of them chops up the last of what is their clearly very popular roast beef and throws it onto a tray with a hunk of bread for people to sample. Hands fight their way in and it’s gone within seconds (my hand was one of them and it really was very good). They bark at you for your order and it’s impossible not to feel the pressure, after all the queue is huge and full of customers with hungry eyes, and you want everything in the glass cabinet shoved into one sandwich. Thankfully All’Antico Vinaio have made things a little easier by listing their most popular paninis for struggling customers to choose from.
I went off book and chose a random selection of whatever looked good (it all looked good). I chose salami piccante, roasted peppers, aubergine, tomatoes, basil and what turned out to be the stand out for me – stracchino, a very soft and creamy cheese, smeared over the bread as a base to all the other ingredients, finally stuffed with rocket and drizzled with balsamic glaze. One of All’Antico Vinaio’s outposts is purely take away, the one opposite offers the opportunity to sit inside and eat. Although most opt to sit on the pavements of Via dei Neri, eating in concentration in a spot of Tuscan sun, there are advantages to opting for indoors. Namely that you can buy a glass of wine as an accompaniment for a mere €2, and pour it yourself from a selection of about four bottles on the counter.
Sadly I had a train to catch, so I ate my panino walking back through the centre of Florence in time to collect my luggage from my B&B for my journey to Milan, happily unaware of the dried balsamic on my chin for at least forty five minutes. It’s messy one but all the best sandwiches are.
Via dei Neri, 74/R, Firenze, Italy
+39 055 238 2723