The Hive – Stow-on-the-Wold, Cotswolds

Today’s address is a real gem hidden in the middle of the British countryside!

A couple of weeks ago we headed to the Cotswolds for a weekend away from the big smoke. We were blessed with amazing autumnal weather and spent the Saturday and Sunday exploring the little Cotswolds villages.

On Saturday, we happened to be in Stow-on-the-Wold around lunch time. Our plan was to find a cosy pub to grab a bite, but it all changed when we walked passed The Hive.

From the outside it looks like a conventional little tea shop. We looked at the menu which seemed appetising and thought ‘why not?’.

The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

The big BIG highlight when eating at The Hive is the staff, ‘nice’ is an understatement. Everybody at The Hive is absolutely lovely! The waiters and the owners  are all very polite, very friendly and, most of all, super attentive – by the end of our lunch I wanted to hug them goodbye!

The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

Now let’s talk about the food, simple yet delicious is the best way I would describe it! The menu mainly offers simple lunch options like soup and sandwiches. The quantities are generous though and we left very full and in need of a digestive walk.

Andrew went for the egg and mayo sandwich. A generous melting filling sandwiched between two slices of ‘crispy on the outside and soft on the inside’ sourdough bread. What else can you ask for?

Egg and mayo sandwich The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

I picked the soup of the day which was sweet potato, coconut milk and spices.

Soup of the day The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

On the side, I had the option to choose either white sourdough bread, brown bread or a cheese scone. I went for the cheese scone, obviously!

Soup of the day The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

The soup was creamy and flavoursome, the cheese scone had the perfect consistency and cheesiness, and I was happy.

Cheese scone The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

With still a little bit of space for something sweet, we decided to share a huge slice of the lemon and pistachio cake. Pure sweetness bliss…

Lemon and pistachio cake The Hive Stow-on-the-Wold

So if you are wandering in the Cotswolds hills and looking for a place to have lunch, head to Stow-on-the-Wold!

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Katsukura – Kyoto, Japan

One of the most impressive places to visit in Kyoto is the train station. You read that right, the actual train station.

It is very famous for its impressive architecture rising to 15 floors. The building is a futuristic take on architecture by Hiroshi Hara, where, spread other many levels, you will find shops, train’s platforms and many, many, many restaurants.

Kyoto train station

Our hotel wasn’t too far from the station, so on our first day, after dropping our bags, we headed there to see the view of Kyoto and grab a bite to eat before heading to Fushimi.

Kyoto view from train station

Once at the top of the station and after taking multiple pictures of the view we headed to the restaurant area where we found Katsukura.

As you would have guessed by its name, Katsukura serves tonkatsu – aka breaded and fried meat. It was also one of our favourite meal in Japan!

Katsukura queue

The queue at the front can be quite long as it is a fairly popular place, but it moves very fast. You won’t hang around too long in Katsukura, being in the train station the service is very fast so you don’t miss your train!

Katsukura restaurant

Once seated you have the choice between various meats or fish tonkatsu, I went for the crab meat cream croquette and fillet cutlet. All are served with shredded cabbage, a miso soup and rice.

Katsukura sauce

One particular thing about Katsukura is the sauce making process. They are very proud of their sauces and you will be given several options to choose from at the table. You will then be given some sesame to ground yourself and mix with the sauce to create your preferred texture. We loved that entertaining step, it made us feel like we totally knew what we were doing (we didn’t).

Katsukura sesameKatsukura sauce

Once the sauce was ready the meal was served. The pork was juicy, the crab meat croquettes were creamy; it was a very satisfying lunch. It is a great option for Westerners,  as it felt like a more conventional meal with the meat and side of vegetable and rice.

Katsukura tonkatsuKatsukura restaurant

The perfect meal before hiking uphill at Fushimi!

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The best okonomiyaki in Hiroshima

Commonly I title my posts with the name of the restaurants I talk about, however in today’s case I had to find an alternative because the place I want to share with you is called ふみちゃん 流川店. Perfectly clear for people who speak Japanese, less so for the rest of us!

As you would have guessed from the title, ふみちゃん 流川店 speciality is okonomiyaki, a pancake/omelette and a traditional dish in the Hiroshima region. If you want to learn more about this local dish and others make sure to check the list of the 14 foods to try in Japan!

Now ふみちゃん 流川店 may not have a Latin Alphabet name but you will be able to find it by copy/pasting the name in google map, AND I took a picture from the outside so you will know exactly how it looks like!

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So once you are in front of a restaurant that looks like the above, get in! Inside you will be greeted by a busy dining room and kitchen. Traditionally most okonomiyaki restaurants have an open kitchen and the staff cooks in front of the guests.

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I took this opportunity to spy on others people’ plates (or hob in that case) to be able to point at what I want when the waiter would take our order.

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We were given the choice between a conventional western table or a traditional Japanese one. Andrew isn’t great at sitting on the floor (he’s weird, don’t ask) so we went for the conventional table.

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Once seated a waiter, who didn’t speak at all English or French (fair enough), came to us, and followed a session of pointing at the Japanese menu then at the English one to place our order. We didn’t take too many risks and went for the classic okonomiyaki. We sipped on our refreshing beers while watching the chef cooking.

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Finally our okonomiyakis arrived, and they were absolutely delicious! The layers of pancakes, noodles, pork, squid, cabbage and cheese melted together to create the most filling and tasteful dinner.

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It is good to note that okonomiyaki is a very filling dish (again I have no idea how Japanese people stay that skinny but hey!), so make sure to come hungry to ふみちゃん 流川店 otherwise you will end up like me, sweaty and with bad ‘I am too full’ posture.

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Tsurugyu – Osaka, Japan

Spoiler alert! This was by far the best beef we had during our entire trip in Japan. Starting with a pretty major statement but I truly mean it! If you are going to only eat wagyu beef once, eat it at Tsurugyu!

Now let me introduce you to the place itself, Tsurugyu is a Kobe beef restaurant just outside Osaka city centre. From the street it doesn’t look like anything special, and the avenue it is on is actually dead quiet during the day which makes it a bit difficult to find at first.

Tsurugyu outside Osaka

Get inside and you are entering a dark and elegant little cocoon. The place feels special with all tables sheltered by curtains giving it a lot of privacy. George Clooney could be at the table next to you and you wouldn’t even know it.

Tsurugyu table inside

It is good to note that you will need a reservation to eat at Tsurugyu. It is a very popular place. Not speaking Japanese? Don’t worry, just swing by and ask if they can book a table for you. We went one morning there and asked if they had availability on the same evening, which luckily they did!

Our waiter deserves a special mention too. He was hilariously patronising but in the nicest possible way. He must have thought “Those Europeans have absolutely no clue what they are doing!” and spent most of the evening showing us how to eat each ingredient properly. We felt like primary school students but also learned a lot about Japanese table manners.

Now let’s talk about the best part – the food! I could literally just tell you that it was epic and leave it there with a few snaps, but it was such an excellent meal that it deserves a few more words before I leave you drooling at the pictures (well except if you are vegetarian, look away now).

Once sat at the table, the waiter got the grill ready while we were deciding which cut of beef to go for. We ordered two different types of beef, both not too fatty as I am more of a lean cut type of person.

Kobe beef Tsurugyu

With the meat, we ordered a side of kimchi, which I am completely obsessed about by the way, since I learned that it is good for your guts health.

Kimchi Tsurugyu

We also ordered the cold noodles as per our waiter recommendation. I would describe it as a very cold and very light ramen. Worth a try!

Cold noodles Tsurugyu

We then got busy cooking and grilling!

Tsurugyu table and grill

And following our teacher… I mean, our waiter’s instructions we dressed our plates as Japanese people would do. Meat at the bottom and the various sauces and salts at the top but never mixed together!

Kobe beef Tsurugyu

There is not much more I can say than: “YOU NEEEEEEEED TO GO EAT AT TSURUGYU!”

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Gogyo Ramen – Kyoto, Japan

On our first night in Kyoto we headed for dinner at Gogyo Ramen. The restaurant is in Kyoto’s city centre right behind Nishiki Market.

Queue in front of Gogyo in Kyoto

You will know you are in the right place when you will see the queue in front of the restaurant and flames coming out of the kitchen. “Flames you said?” Yes I did! Gogyo’s signature dish is ‘burnt’ ramen, so to prepare it they literally have to burn it!

Gogyo Kyoto

After queuing for a good while, we finally made it in and sat at the bar in front of the kitchen. Great way to have dinner while watching a pyrotechnics show!

Gogyo kitchen

One big big BIG highlight of our dinner at Gogyo was the staff! They were the nicest waiters we could have wished for! They helped us with our bibs (I told I am not good with chopsticks!) and when I said I had never tried plum wine they immediately offered me a glass of it ‘on the house’. By the way if you have never tried plum wine, make sure you do, it is delicious!

Plum wine at Gogyo in Kyoto

Genuinely friendly is the best way to describe the staff there!

Now to the food! Ramen can be extremely filling so we didn’t go too crazy with our order to make sure we could finish our dish (I hate wasting food!). We ordered fried gyozas as a stater, which we shared. They were really good and one plate was enough between the two of us, knowing what was coming next…

Gyoza at Gogyo in Kyoto

For mains we both went for the signature dish, the burnt ramen. Andrew went for a version with more toppings, I went for the regular one.

Burnt ramen at Gogyo in Kyoto

The taste is a lot stronger than a normal ramen. It is very smokey and it does have a burnt after taste so I am not sure everyone would like it. I found the texture to be oilier too but overall we did very much enjoy it.

As long as you are not expecting a classic ramen like at Ichiran, and that you are open to try new flavours, you will love the burnt ramen of Gogyo!

Also, if you are going, make sure to say ‘hi!’ to the lovely staff for us!

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14 foods to try in Japan

It is not all about sushi in Japan, far from it! I would almost compare Japanese cuisine to French cuisine, there is so much diversity! Meat dishes, fish dishes, pastries, Japanese food is varied and you won’t get bored while eating there.

Now it can be a little overwhelming and intimidating to order in a Japanese restaurant. What does that mean? What should I try? Is that even fish?

If you are planning to visit Japan and are a bit of a foodie like me, keep reading! I listed below the 14 Japanese foods you have to try. Some you will be familiar with, some you may never have heard of, all are delicious!

***FYI, the list below is not a ranking, it is simply in the alphabetical order***

Now are you hungry? Good, keep reading!

Curry

Yes, you read that right, curry is one of the most popular dish in Japan. You will find curry houses at every street corner. Coco Ichibanya is one of the most popular rice curry restaurant chain. The most famous type of curry is the katsu curry which is made of rice, curry sauce and breaded meat, usually pork.

Japanese katsu curry
Pork katsu curry at Coco Ichibanya

Tonkatsu

Also known as breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets, it doesn’t sound very healthy but it is absolutely delicious! It is a popular lunch option served with rice, miso soup and shredded cabbage. The best tonkatsu we had was at Katsukura in Kyoto train station!

Tonkatsu
Tonkatsu at Katsukura in Kyoto

Kaiseki

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal. You know those delicate little eatable pieces of art you see in any guide about Japan? That’s kaiseki!

Kaiseki

The first time we had it was for breakfast in Kyoto in our riokan, and we felt a little overwhelmed as to what should be eaten first on the tray. Luckily we then had lunch and kaiseki again with one of my Japanese friends in Tokyo, she explained to us that there is no formal order, you eat from the little plates as you wish!

Kaiseki

Matcha everything

Matcha tea may only be a recent trend in the western world but it is a very traditional ingredient in Japan. You can drink matcha tea of course, but you can also have matcha sundae, matcha cakes, matcha mochi, matcha ice cream, the list goes on and on and on!

Matcha pastry chouMatcha ice cream
Matcha sundae

Daifuku

One of my favourite snack in Japan. It’s sweet, filling and has the weirdest chewy texture, I love it! Made of a mochi, a rice paste and stuffed with various fillings, it is the perfect mid-afternoon sweet treat when walking around Japanese cities.

Daifuku and mochi

My favourite? The mochi and red bean paste daifuku. Soooo good!

Red beans daifuku

Okonomiyaki

A savoury pancake/omelette, is the best way I would describe Okonomiyaki. It is a traditional dish from Hiroshima, so if you are in the area make sure to have one! It is extremely filling so it worth coming to the restaurant with an empty stomach for this one.

Okonomiya in Hiroshima
Amazing okonomiyaki at in Hiroshima

Onigiri

Our favourite on-the-go lunch option while in Japan! It is super filling, tasty AND low on calories. I developed an addiction for the tuna and mayo one, I also promise to learn to make them at home as soon as we were back from Japan. The later has still not happened…

OnigiriOnigiri Tuna Mayo

Pastries

After spending two weeks in Japan, I have honestly no idea how Japanese people remain so thin. The food is rich and there is an endless variety of pastries. Rice base, wheat base, banana cream filling, red beans paste, name it and it probably exists in Japan!

Japanese banana pastryJapanese rice pastryJapanese Hello Kitty pastries

Ramen

The dish that doesn’t need more introduction and a very popular meal in Japan. It is delicious an there is a surprising amount of variety! We loved Ichiran’s classic ramen and the ‘burnt’ one from Kyoto Gogyo Ramen.

Ramen in Ichiran
Ramen in Ichiran, Tokyo

Red bean everything

Similar to matcha, red beans seem to be a go-to ingredient in desserts. I had mochi and red bean paste, red bean milkshake, pudding, etc.

Red bean pastryRed beans pudding

Now if you think of red beans you may not think of delicious sweet treats, but don’t be deceived by the look and the name! It is delicious and the taste is similar to candied chestnuts. Hmmmmmmm….

Red beans milkshake

Sushi

Surprisingly a lot less popular than we thought it would be! Sushis are eaten by Japanese people but probably not as much as ramen or any rice dish. The best place to get some is at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

Sushi Tsukiji Fish Market

Tempura

Tempura is originally a Portuguese dish, not a Japanese one (thanks Wikipedia!). However, the battered and fried dish has been made very popular by Japan after the recipe was imported there. Fish, vegetables, everything can be ‘Tempura-ed’. It’s also a great way to try new things, for instance, this is how I tried eel for the first time (picture below), and I loved it!

Tempura eel

Wagyu beef

Now when talking about beef in Japan, we are talking about an ingredient more than an actual dish. There are plenty of ways to eat wagyu beef, it can be prepared as a grilled steak, a sashimi, sukiyaki and many other ways!

Kobe beef
Grilled beef at What’s in Kyoto

Flavoursome and melting in the mouth, the quantities are usually small but the quality is incomparable!

Sukiyaki beef
Sukiyaki in Imahan, Tokyo

Yakitori

Last but not least, Yakitori, a grilled skewered meat dish. It is commonly served with a miso soup, soy sauce and some rice. It is also one of the more accessible Japanese dish for westerners who are new to Japanese cuisine. If you are around Shibuya in Tokyo, make sure to have some yakitori at Toritake!

Yakitori in Toritake Tokyo
Yakitori at Toritake

Here you go, you have your food menu for your trip to Japan! Now buy that plane ticket, a bib and cutlery (if like me you are not very good with chopsticks) and go discover Japanese cuisine!

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Imahan – Tokyo, Japan

The place I am sharing with you today is truly special. A very unique experience, outstanding food and a real insight into Japanese culture. Ready? Let’s go!

Imahan specialities are sukiyaki and shabushabu. Both cooking methods involve preparing the food at the table. Sukiyaki means that the food is fried in a pan, and shabushabu is when the food is cook in a hot pot.

Sukiyaki and Shabushabu

Now to find Imahan you will have to go underground. You read that right! In Japan, shops and restaurant are spread over multiple levels and in Shinjuku, Tokyo there is an entire other city underground. Imahan is in the underground area right next to the Hilton and the Hyatt.

Imahan Tokyo

Once you found it you will enter another world. Shinjuku is very modern, Imahan is very traditional. The waitresses wear elegant kimonos and the decor is the reflection of a traditional Japanese home. You can immediately feel that you are somewhere special where people whisper and guests are kings.

Imahan Tokyo

Once seated, we were offered a cup of green tea and a hot towel to wash our hands. We looked at the menu and settled for the sukiyaki ‘course’ option, which includes starters (with an S and you will see why in a minute), the beef, sides and desert. A real fest!

Menu Imahan Tokyo

You can see on the picture that prices are quite steep, Imahan Sukiyaki is definitely not a cheap eatery. The experience is so special though that we were happy to spend that money on a memory we would cherish for ever.

Now let’s talk about the waitresses, as I mentioned earlier they are all wearing the most elegant kimonos, they will also spend the entire meal at your table! Yep, that’s the thing that took us the most by surprise. We thought we would be given the pots and the ingredients and cook ourselves, but instead we had a waitress dedicated to our table, who cooked for us the entire time, and in front of whom I embarrassed myself with my lack of chopstick skills.

Waitress Imahan Tokyo

The entire dinner was a ceremony and we were treated to so many dishes I lost count after 3, luckily I took pictures! So let’s go through it together!

First, the waitress set up the pot.

Imahan Sukiyaki

We then got served our first starter, which was made of many things I didn’t know or couldn’t recognised, it was also the most beautiful thing I had ever seen!

Starter Imahan

It was followed by a miso soup.

Miso soup Imahan

Which was followed by beef sushis (soooooooo good).

Beef sushi Imahan

Still hungry? Good, because that was only the appetisers. Now the serious things started! The waitress brought the beef and multiple sides.

Imahan Tokyo

We got served a first bowl of beef in egg. Raw eggs are often served with rice and meat in Japan, it is a little weird at the beginning, but you get used to it!

Imahan Sukiyaki

We then got a second serving of beef with vegetables.

Imahan Sukiyaki

At that point I started to feel SERIOUSLY full, so I turned around expecting to see almost empty plates… Nope, another mountain of meat and vegetables was waiting for us. I HAVE NO IDEA how Japanese people stay so skinny!

Imahan TokyoImahan Tokyo

Everything was so good though that I just kept eating. Luckily it was getting ‘lighter’ with mainly vegetables and tofu being served at that point.

Mushroom Imahan TokyoTofu Imahan Tokyo

The waitress looked at us with a gentle smile, turned off the gas and took away the pot. I was happy to see that we were close to the end with only dessert remaining as I was completely stuffed! But.. Oh wait! There was more! The waitress came back with another soup.

Soup Imahan Tokyo

Served with pickled vegetables.

Pickled vegetables Imahan Tokyo

And a last serving of eggs with rice!

Egg and rice Imahan Tokyo

My stomach was hurting at that point, but finally I saw the light at the end of tunnel with dessert being served. Small and refreshing, perfect after such a filling meal!

Dessert Imahan Tokyo

Our meal at Imahan was amazing, the food was delicious and the plates stunning to look at. My only advice though, don’t eat AT ALL before to go there!

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Toritake – Tokyo, Japan

A stone’s throw from the busy and world-famous Shibuya crossing, Toritake is a perfect place for a lunch break. Their speciality?  Yakitori !

Shibuya crossing Tokyo

Yakitori is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine in which meat is skewered and grilled on charcoal fire. Fun fact, yakitori in Japanese means ‘burned chicken’.

From the outside you wouldn’t even notice Toritake. It is in a quiet street right off Shibuya train station, but don’t be deceived by the small door. Once inside you will realise that you are in one popular place! The restaurant is usually packed! You may need to wait for a table but rest assured that it will worth it. When we visited the place there was only one other tourist couple, every one else was Japanese!

Toritake restaurant

It is good to note that the waiters do not speak English but they do have an English menu and a little bit of pointing and smiling should do the trick!

Once you ordered, you will be given a warm wet towel to wash your hand (common practice in all restaurants in Japan) and you will be served a glass of green tea (once again applicable in almost all restaurants we visited in Japan).

Green tea Toritake

We both went for the chicken menu, I ordered the 3-skewers option, Andrew went for 5 or 6. The chicken is served with a side salad, pickled vegetables, rice and a miso soup. A delicious and filling lunch to keep you going all afternoon.

chicken Yakitori Toritake

It is also good to know that Toritake is ridiculously good value for money! It was one of our cheapest meal, yet it was delicious and the quantities were very generous! If chicken isn’t your thing they do other type of meat and yakitori fish. Look no further if you are having lunch in Shibuya, Toritake is the place you want to try!

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Ichiran – Tokyo, Japan

Our first ramen experience in Japan was at Ichiran in Tokyo. We went to their Shinjuku branch as it was the closest to our hotel. I call it an ‘experience’ as it couldn’t have been further away to any restaurant experiences you may have in the western world.

Ichiran Shinjuku Tokyo

In the centre of the vibrant Shinjuku neighborhood, just east of the train station, you will find Ichiran-Shinjuku. It is easy to identify it as, chances are, there will be a very long queue at the front. One very very popular place! Forbes actually goes as far as calling it the best ramen in the WORLD!

Shinjuku Tokyo

Eating at Ichiran is a step process! Step 1, queue. Step 2, order from the very confusing, all-in-japanese machine. It took us a few trials and errors to get our orders right, and, to be honest, we still got some extra sides we didn’t even know we had ordered once we sat. The idea is that you select your ramen base and then all the toppings you want as well as the drinks.

Ichiran order machine

You are then handed a piece of paper where you can select how you want your noodles cooked (soft, medium, hard, etc) and so on, my favourite option is hard noodles!

Ichiran Tokyo

Once you have ordered, step 3 is to queue, again, to be seated. You will be waiting in front of the galley kitchen where you can see the cooks preparing the orders extremely efficiently. In Japan, the objective of the restaurants is to feed you quickly and efficiently. Forget about a 2-hours French style dinner and banter.

Ichiran kitchen

Step 4, take a sit! This is when it gets even more exotic for westerners. There are no tables in Ichiran, you will be seated at a bar with dividers between you an your neighbours. A great way to eat quietly and be left alone. That made for one very anti-social meal with my husband, but it was such an amazing experience that we just embraced it!

Ichiran restaurant

Last step, food time! Little hands will appear from behind the curtain in front of you and will serve you drinks, the ramen and its toppings. Now, be quiet and eat that delicious ramen!

Ichiran eggIchiran ramen

Ichiran food was delicious, it is such a surreal and oh-so very Japanese experience that I would recommend going 100%! You will definitely feel lost in translation there.

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Gilli – Florence, Italy

One thing Italians do extremely well, among many other things, is coffee or caffè!

Sitting at a terrace to sip on an espresso is an integral part of the Italian lifestyle. Which is the same for French people! So I just felt at home when taking a sit at a table on Gilli‘s terrace in Florence!

Gilli FlorenceGilli Florence

Gilli is an institution in Florence. It has been serving coffee to the locals since 1733. You will find it on the main square, Piazza della Repubblica, right in the centre of town.

Gilli Florence

The interior is very elegant, real interior goals if you like grand and classic design. But if you are visiting on a warm day, take a sit on the huge terrace and watch the world passing by.

Pick from their selection of coffees – espresso, caffè freddo, cappuccino, the world is your oyster!

Now the most difficult decision you will have to make is if you also fancy a little bit of food and more particularly a sweet treat. Gilli’s shop windows are decorated with the most beautiful and delicious-looking treats. And this is only the outside!

Gilli shop window Florence

Go inside and pick from a huge selection of colourful pastries. Cannolis, fruit tarts, chocolate cakes, pick the best looking one!

We went for coffees only, I picked a cold cappuccino and Andrew went for an espresso with a little bit of chocolate in it (I forgot the name, sorry!). It is good to note that you will be served a selection of biscuits with your coffee, so if you are not very hungry don’t order a pastry, save your appetite for these!

Gilli coffee Florence

So does it really worth visiting Gilli? I would say yes, once, for the experience. The coffees are good, but the place is a little bit pretentious and you can tell the prices reflect some of the waiters’ attitude. We had a lovely time there and I am glad we went, but I don’t feel the need to rush back.

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