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September 21, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Dining in irony

By | 2018-05-04T18:43:16+02:00 September 22nd, 2013|Food & Wine Archive|
A faux-Communist "mess hall" in a Florence silver factory.
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nown for his family’s fine silver, Gianfranco Pampaloni also has an eccentric streak. He recently got permission to transform his daytime silver factory into an intimate restaurant that operates after business hours.

The factory, known to loyal friends and customers as “Il Pampa,” has been handcrafting fine silver for a luxurious clientele (including the Vatican) since 1902, when his grandfather started the business. A Pampaloni tureen with the maker’s mark is on display at the British Museum.

Il Pampa’s dinner guests — the restaurant is known as “In fabbrica,” or “at the factory” — are greeted in a small front office and offered a complimentary glass of wine (also produced by Pampaloni). All around are glass cabinets that display many of the pieces that made the silversmith famous throughout the world, including flatware and tableware, centerpieces and carafes, candelabras and sconces.

After a private tour of the factory — its original 1950s machinery still warm from the day’s work — guests are guided up a narrow spiral staircase that leads to the mensa, a cafeteria-style mess hall where factory workers typically eat together.

The mensa‘s long, wooden tables are covered in fine linens and crystal glassware. The room is lit by candles set in extravagant, high-polished silver candelabras and twinkling lights affixed to the ceiling in the form of the Communist hammer and sickle.

Each table setting includes a complete silver service from Il Pampa’s “2 Sicilian” line (the name comes from two Sicilian nuns who once asked Pampaloni to melt their silverware so they could sell it. Instead, he bought it and started reproducing it himself).

Chef Huigi San, who worked at Tokyo’s Four Seasons Hotel, seems out of place in the humble kitchen with its clunky, steel cookware. Waiters still clad in factory worker overalls don long white gloves to serve dinner, occasionally breaking into a sweat — maybe out of fear that a desert spoon could vanish into a pocket or purse. Water is poured from heavy silver carafes as guests settle into ornate 19th-century period chairs.

The menu is printed over the mensa‘s original order forms and offers a limited choice of Tuscan fare — in keeping with working class, Communist-era traditions (Tuscany was a Communist Party bastion in the 1960s and 70s). But given the chef’s background, it’s no surprise that there’s also Japanese. So whether you’re in the mood for teriyaki salmon or gnocchi alla gorgonzola, Il Pampa doesn’t disappoint.

The entire scene is marked by post-modern irony — a stark contrast between entitlement and poverty, gluttony and humility, freedom and servitude.

Additional menu items include a tortelli di bufala with tomatoes and basil, followed by stuffed rabbit with Dijon sauce and potatoes, or Miso soup and tuna sushi.

Dinner runs €30 for women and €35 for men (apparently because men exhibit a higher propensity to break chairs, so they’re charged ahead of time for possible damages). Antipasto, wine and coffee are included but fine wines and champagne will bring up the price considerably.

In fabbrica Via del Gelsomino, 99. Florence. Tel. +39.347.514.5468. Dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday.

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