There’s a lot to be said for an unspoilt pub where drinkers can enjoy a pint unhindered by diners but I also enjoy a good gastro pub.
I like a relaxed atmosphere to spend a couple of convivial hours with friends or family, relaxing over a drink and a good meal.
The Florentine on Tapton Road is just such a place, with a pretty laidback atmosphere even on a busy Friday night.
General manager Charlotte Russell said that the pub opened as The Florentine in November 2013, run by chain the Revere Pub Company.
Formerly the Fulwood Inn, it now has a bar, large dining area and 11 boutique bedrooms, all redesigned with inspiration taken from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby.
Charlotte said: “We strive to offer excellent service within a stylish environment. Our restaurant and bar provide our guests with a relaxed atmosphere, where guests can enjoy everything from a quick coffee, a drink and a takeaway pizza without feeling overly formal, to a three-course candle-lit dinner – we cater for it all!
“In addition, we welcome families, particularly on Sundays where we serve our brilliant Sunday roasts where little ones can enjoy half roasts for half the price.”
The menu offers pizzas and a wood-fired pizza oven takes centre stage in the bar area, where they are freshly prepared in front of customers.
Charlotte said that the secret weapon in the kitchen for cooking steaks is the Josper oven that runs on charcoal.
However, sadly for my fellow diner Matthew, he wasn’t allowed to try one as steaks don’t give you enough to write about. He soon cheered up when he saw our starter, of which more later.
Sheffield-born executive chef Jon Mahoney develops the menus for the company.
He was formerly The Florentine’s head chef and his menus focus on seasonal ingredients, sourcing produce locally where possible.
The local flavour also applies behind the bar, where there is always at least one local ale available.
On arrival, we had to wait a couple of minutes to be seated, only just enough time to get a drink but not enough to sit down before we were ushered to the dining room.
The decor is pleasingly quirky, mixing bohemian chic with warm colours.
The large group across the way to us had so many different types of chair that it looked like a typical family Christmas dinner. All that was missing was a low stool with cushions on top.
Pizzas and steaks apart, the menu is mainly upmarket pub fare, modern British with a lot of Mediterranean influences.
There are six individual starters but my eye fell on the sharers and the pork one in particular.
This £15.95 monster boasted honey-glazed sausages, a pork, apricot and hazelnut terrine, honey-glazed ham, barbecue baby back ribs and toasted sourdough bread, served with chutney and smoky tomato ketchup.
Our mouths gaped open as a huge platter of food arrived, served on a giant slate.
Three people could easily have tucked in but we gave it pretty short shrift anyway.
It’s hard to pick out a favourite element but I loved the ribs that fell off the bone.
Matthew preferred the moist, meaty, mildly sweet sausages but the thick slices of ham were also wonderfully tasty and the nutty terrine was delicious, inside its falling-apart collar of ham.
To nitpick, the bread felt dry rather than toasty.
Luckily, we had a nice wait until the next course.
That also gave us a chance to enjoy the wine, a bottle of El Tidon cabernet sauvignon tempranillo (£17.95), whose fruity, spicy flavours stood up nicely to the food.
I opted for fish for my main course, while Matthew went for the full Henry VIII meat experience.
My dish was a red mullet and mussel fish stew (£13.95) accompanied by samphire and more toasted sourdough bread to mop up the tomatoey juices.
Fillets of delicately-cooked mullet were piled up with mussels in their shells scattered around the edge.
The stew, made with tinned tomatoes, set the fish off nicely. The samphire was well wilted, everything was perfectly seasoned and very enjoyable.
My garlic mayonnaise never arrived but I didn’t realise and didn’t miss it.
Matthew was well pleased with his pan-fried rump of lamb. The meat tasted lovely with a blob of what I thought was garlic butter that brought out the taste. The menu said anchovy hollandaise but it wasn’t. It’s possible he got my garlic mayo, though.
Anyway, the kitchen surpassed itself with the accompanying pommes anna, a buttery potato cake, and excellent ratatouille.
We were pretty overfaced but couldn’t resist sharing a pudding. The vanilla panna cotta was good but the accompanying sliced roasted pear with warm pecans in a lovely butterscotch sauce proved a winner.
Our bill came to £84.30 with drinks and two coffees.
If the budget doesn’t run to a blowout, the pub offers a Lunch for Less menu every Monday to Friday from 12-3pm, where you can order from the lunch menu for £6. This includes pizzas, sandwiches and a selection of main courses. Every Tuesday there are half-price steaks.