If you are asking the question ‘which is the best Indian restaurant in Florence?’, then you are probably someone who is either English, or someone who has been converted to the English taste in Indian cuisine.
There are two principal factors involved. Firstly, an emphasis on dairy products, (which would not generally be the case in Pakistan, Bangladesh or the Indian Sub-Continent generally). Secondly, there are few cultures in the Western world which have been so exposed to the use of both spices and also chilli as are the English or Anglophiles.
Neither of these factors sit well with the European palate, which (on the whole) does not rate the sophistication of flavour which can be achieved with Eastern spices and which in particular, is extremely wary of the fire of chilli (Calabria, perhaps, being an exception).
Surprisingly, though, there are quite a number of Indian restaurants and take-aways which offer curry in Florence, catering for those who prefer the more exotic aromas of Indian cuisine, and which will also indulge those who desire not just the flavour of the chilli, but also its real heat.
But one restaurant/take-away stands apart from the rest. In our opinion it’s the best Indian restaurant in Florence and is called ‘Al Noor’.
Now, your preconceptions of what constitutes a restaurant may be challenged by this particular establishment, but please bear with it. A small and apparently undistinguished ‘kebab house’ near San’ Ambrogio market and the great Basilica of Santa Croce, it is more of a take-away with a few tables and chairs. The raita and chilli pickles are served unapologetically on cheap, disposable plastic plates. However, it is the mains, sides and other dishes which illustrate that this particular kitchen knows exactly what to do with spices and how to create the most inspiring combinations of flavour.
A samosa is a samosa. Yes, admitted. But on this visit, they were simply faultless and had delightful combinations of both vegetable and fruit (raisins for example). With the excellent raita and chilli sauce, easily applied with the plastic cutlery, it was a rare delight to savour ‘normality’, indeed something of a basic, good standard.
But following this (on crockery dishes this time) were the mains. A chicken jalfrezi, a murghi masala (‘mirchi chicken’) and a side dish of Mutter Paneer (‘Mattar Paneer’). This was accompanied by pilau rice and a cheese nan.
Now I get a bit snobbish about nan bread. It’s never quite the same as Bradford or Leeds, (and the lush tandoor ovens which they use there), but these were tasty, moist and certainly did the job. The rice was perfect and was subtly flavoured with various spices.
But the mains were to die for.
Normally, in a European Indian restaurant (Florence being no exception), if you want any serious combination of spices or even worse, a ‘hot’ dish, then you have to explain that you are English and that you really do like the taste of chilli. I have not yet had to sign a declaration of unlimited liability in Florence, but there was no such reticence here. When it says ‘piccante’ on the menu, it means a good strength of chilli, perfectly balanced against the other spices used (and there is no sparing the other spices either).
The Jalfrezi was simply perfect. It highlighted the flavours of the capsicum, onion and chicken with a decent ‘kick’. The Murghi masala was creamy but hugely flavoured and in particular, had the flavour of chilli rather than the heat. The Mutter Paneer used garden peas (always better than chick peas in my opinion) and good quality Indian cheese in a most mouth-watering and thick spicy sauce.
They also benefit from having good quality Italian meat. All in all, it makes for a culinary experience which would rival the Aagrah chain in Northern England and certainly satisfy any serious ‘curry foodie’.
Obviously, if the décor is your thing, then you should perhaps try somewhere else. But for me, this reminds me of the excellent cuisine served in Sparkbrook in Birmingham in the 80’s and 90’s, totally indifferent to the niceties of the fixtures and fittings.
Like them, the emphasis of this kitchen (be it Indian restaurant, take-away, or kebab house) is on the quality of the food. If you are looking for curry in Florence, this is a real find at last.
‘Al Noor’ Indian Restaurant, unlicensed, is located at Borgo La Croce 20/R, 50121 Firenze and is a member of the Just Eat app, (or delivery in 30 min within and around the Centro area, costing €2 for orders over €10). Example prices are Chicken Jalfrezi, Mirchi Chicken, or Chicken Chana Ghost, €5.50; Chicken Tikka Masala, €6.00; Lamb Korma €7.50; Alu Ghobi €4.50; Mattar Paneer €4.50; Pilau Rice €4.00. www.alnoorfirenze.com
St Mark’s English Church Expats Food Guide.