Frankfurt is famous for its banks, stock exchange and skyline. But after office hours, the living is easy: la dolce vita on the banks of the Main. There are few other cities offering more diverse Italian gastronomy. In this first part of our guide to Italian dining in Frankfurt, we present restaurants which depart from the usual pizza and pasta, presenting a range of Italian cooking, from the Arno to Mount Etna.
This year’s Ambiente partner country is Italy. That’s very handy, as our host city Frankfurt has a rule of thumb. A true resident will know at least one Goethe quotation, understand that you need to be passionate (as an Eintracht Frankfurt football fan), and have a favourite Italian eatery. This particular ristorante is where you know the menu off by heart and the waiters by their first names. A place for the occasional grappa, averna or limoncello on the house, a place you always go back to because you feel you’re part of the family. These favourites are often clustered around Frankfurt’s Westend, an area close to the exhibition centre, with lots of late 19th-century architecture and green open spaces – it’s a sort of Little Italy. People often meet at Saverio’s Florian (for beef fillet in Barolo), at the Scuderia (with its pretty secret summer garden), at Il Cavallino (for the grilled octopus) or at Vini da Sabatini (tender buttery veal creations and a large smokers’ area in the conservatory). People come here with friends to celebrate anything from Bar-Mitzwah to baptisms.
How to make ‘la vita’ a bit more ‘dolce’
Among the venerable places in Frankfurt’s prestige area is a restaurant with over 30 years’ history, the undisputed ‘mama of all Westend Italian restaurants’ – the Isoletta in Feldbergstraße. Everyone in Westend knows it. Almost everyone has eaten there and felt like they were in Italy. The Cavallo family, who now own several restaurants in Frankfurt and the surrounding area, inhabit and cultivate their philosophy of Italian hospitality and loving life. You might find yourself there having a dinner comprising home-made antipasti, freshly-caught fish, marvellous meat specialities and fresh pasta, washed down with choice wines, against a party backdrop of live music followed by dancing on the table. Ciro Cavallo and his team know how to make ‘la vita’ a bit more ‘dolce’…
Eating in style
Italian design flair is not confined to Ambiente, it can also be experienced after the fair is finished and visitors step out into Frankfurt’s Italian night. The metropolis on the Main has some great restaurants to offer design-conscious gourmets: places with pasta cooked perfectly al dente and also plates, dishes and entire interiors that look just right. The best example of this successful concept is Vai Vai in Westend. It has natural wood on walls, floors and tables, floor-to-ceiling glass façades and exposed concrete columns for a modern, industrial chic feel in this spacious location with a clever, warm lighting design. There’s so much to see here: the open kitchen stands behind a counter with jade green tiles, where various vegetables, fruits and other fresh ingredients await preparation. In the middle stands the elegant bar where professional bartenders mix cocktails and long drinks. And everywhere, attentive staff in stylish denim, plus colourful guests: a mixture of hipsters, business people and families. The atmosphere is right, but so – more importantly – is the cuisine. The meat, matured in the restaurant’s own cold rooms, is all premium quality and makes steak lovers’ hearts beat faster. The homemade pasta, especially lasagne with Black Angus ragout, will bring you moments of unalloyed Italian joy in polished modern surroundings.
From Amalfi to Tuscany
The look of the newly-opened Lella Mozzarella on Mörfelder Landstraße is more maritime than urban. This restaurant is dominated by fresh turquoise and mint tones, just right for nostalgic Italy lovers. Its interior with souvenirs and decor details is reminiscent of the unmistakeably charming Amalfi coast in the 1950s and 60s, of the inside of a Riva yacht, and of the dusk when we want to be serenaded. The culinary delights on offer will also lift your mood: great value for money, and besides pasta, fish or meat also great antipasti to eat with wine, including the eponymous mozzarella and burrata specialities. A Casa di Tomilaia & Friends on Walther-von-Cronberg-Platz in Sachsenhausen specialises in the pleasures of Tuscany. This place is flooded with light and its timeless, unfussy interior invites you to enjoy the original culinary delights of Italy’s most beautiful corner. The bottega next door sells wine from the house’s own vineyard, as well as sought-after produce such as oil, grappa, coffee, honey and other delicacies produced by ‘friends’.
Italian variety in Frankfurt
There are many more restaurants in Frankfurt specialising in particular Italian regions. One of these is No. 16 in Bornheim, a family-run Sardinian eatery with idiosyncratic decor and kitsch knick-knacks. You’d better brace yourself for rough and ready hospitality from Luigi and Luana, and for giant portions (you could happily share even a salad). If you’re looking for something altogether more elegant, check out Leonardo Caporale and Mario Borazio at their operation ‘Brighella’, which caters for connoisseurs of Tuscan and Piedmontese food and wine. They hold regular events celebrating a particular product – perhaps a wine or truffle – complete with theatre and music for an all-round cultural experience. One thing is clear: in its diversity, Frankfurt’s Italian gastronomy reflects the many facets of the country’s cuisine, from the top of the leg to the tip of the boot. It does this in many ways, with food but also with the philosophy of pleasure for all your senses – encompassing decor, design, atmosphere and enjoyment of life. Since few other culinary cultures show with such skill that it’s often the simple things which make life better and tastier, we’re pleased part two of our Italian journey still lies ahead of us: Pizza time by the river Main. Che gusto!