Don’t Cook Now
After a busy and fun week cooking in Dublin then buzzing around for a long weekend on a bee project I was totally ready to jump on the plane to Venice, the location for the brilliant film thriller “Don’t Look Now” based on a Daphne du Mauriers’ short story, for a few days off and a feasting extravaganza.
Completing my Front tuck – round off, back spring somersault down the garden path in the direction of Mr Del Monte I delightedly informed him I had finished making our reservations for Venice restaurants and that I had succeeded in getting tables at all the best places. I am not sure if he was genuinely as delighted as I was or if the discovery of two baby lemons on the tree he was tending had put the look a look of satisfaction and success on his face.
Venice, more than almost anywhere in the world, is notorious for being a tourist food trap (and has been so I have been told for over 2000 years) so I was putting extra effort into my research so as not to slip up on the food side of the break. I had no doubt as we were heading to Italy that churches, statues and art would be very hard to miss.
Whether I am traveling for work of pleasure I tend to do a crazy amount of research on what and where to eat. I spend the weeks before ringing, texting, twittering and chatting to everyone I think may have the skinny on my destination. I go through my address book of friends and family which includes chefs, clients, food writers, food producers, foodies, food retailers…. you get the picture, it’s a lot of people who know a lot about food.
I could say this slightly obsessive behaviour was because as a well travelled chef/food writer I feel the pressure to know about these things from others and the answer to “Where should we eat tonight” should come from me but its more because I love doing it and I see food as one of the most interesting and important aspects and reveals about people and places.
So for this blog it’s a mini food review, tips and tricks of what and where to eat in Venice.
Firstly NEVER, EVER wonder down a street, peer into a restaurant and think “ooh that looks nice, lets eat here”. Yes that’s a fun approach and works perfectly well else where but in Venice its is a sure fired way of being disappointed and ending the evening in frosty looks and mutterings of “ well it was your idea” as the bill for a bajillon euros reaches the table and you are trying to digest your canned luke warm spaghetti alle vongole.
Trust your sources. When researching and asking people be honest and think do I trust their opinion (having just reread this blog that last sentence makes me sound much less easy going than I actually am ( promise). Some food review sites like trip adviser, that although have some of the biggest collection of views, include everyone’s opinion and so are open to the restaurants friends and family putting positive or false opinions up eg “ eating at Besta Pasta in Towna was the best dining experience I have in the entire universe” or on the other hand allows disgruntled customers to rant or even the competitive restaurateurs to have their say e.g. “ This Venice restaurant should be allowed to sink, the waiters had less charm than the tasteless slimy sea slug like gnocchi being served on my plate” .
I stick to food bloggers websites, trusted sources of friends and family and take note if certain restaurants are repeatedly mentioned on ‘where to’ lists published by magazines and newspapers.
It’s perfectly acceptable to have a sharpener before 11. As you wonder through the markets and peer into tratorrias and bars you will see locals casually sipping on glasses of prosecco, wine or my favourite Venetian drink, the spritz. These can be taken with Aperol ( the scary orange stuff) that is actually delicious but quite sweet, Select, the medium sweet option, or my top choice Campari which is deliciously bitter. The drink is topped off with prosecco and soda water and is served on the rocks. It is usual to get a bowl of crisps or fat green olives along side your spritz and bizarrely is often one of the cheapest cocktails you get over there.
North Eastern Italy produces some good wine that is worth trying so don’t dismiss the Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Alto Adige, Trentino, and Veneto regions when flicking through the wine list ( for reds Valpolicellas and Bardolinos and for whites Soaves are the ones to look out for).
You may of course be tempted to try the Peach Bellini , created here at the iconic Harrys bar in the 30’s / 40’s consisting of white peach puree and prosecco. Whilst drinking it at this charming canal side bar, former watering hole of Hemingway and Welles, you will then of course have to wear your large ‘I am a tourist’ badge. (Yes I’ve done it)…(ok… yes it was fun).
Focus on fish. With its infamous fish market near the Rialto bridge, it is not surprising that fish is the dish to order in Venice (although they are still arguing with Tuscany trying to claim to be the birth place of beef Carpaccio and Venice also loves it liver and onions).
Based on my extensive research the restaurants that made it to my ‘must get a table or there is no point going to Venice at all’ list were;
Al Covo is set in a small square and was staffed by charming waiters. The wine list is very reasonable and the menu is encouragingly small. Simply done fish and desserts worth saving room for makes this a place I would definitely recommend and visit again.
Wallet damage- 60 euro per person approx for 3 courses and wine
Salted Anchovies with country butter
Marinated anchovies with fennel fronds and aubergines
Fritto Misto of red mullet, squid and sole
Pan fried prawns and squid with lemon
Wild strawberry frittas
If staying in Venice for a coupe of days I would definitely recommend the boat trip out to Locanda Cipriani on the small island of Torcello. Taking public transport can be a great way to collect the ambiance of a place (unless you are in central or the West Coast of America) and unless you fancy selling your Louboutins or a kidney to fund taking a private water taxi, hop on a vaporetto and enjoy the group ride. If you set out early enough ( 9 ish in holiday terms) you can stop at Murano ( the island for glass) or Burano ( the island for lace) for a quick look before carrying on to the very charming Torcello for lunch. With one road / canal leading from the vaporetto stop to the restaurants ( I think there are 3 in total) and the church you will not need a map.
The restaurant has a charming garden which half made the experience for me so I would suggest going in the warmer months. Service was good and the food very enjoyable.
Wallet Damage – 90 euros per person approx for 3 courses, wine and a view.
Seabass and sautéed potatoes
Poached Peaches with prauline icecream
Hazelnut crème brûleée
When this restaurant gets mentioned there is usually reference to how difficult it is to find though fortunately for me Mr Del Monte had a knack of easily sorting out these navigational issues so we only ended up down one dark alley with a group of Japenese tourists and their selfie sticks to give each other the acknowledging grins of ‘you’re exploring (aka lost) in Venice too’ . I was concerned by the non Italian vs English speaking ratio of customers here ( the waiters were charming enough not to be snobby about having to mostly speak in their non native tongue) but it was delightfully a top meal and well worth finding.
Wallet damage – 50 euros a head for 2 courses and wine.
We scoffed ;
Spider crab linguini ( sooo good)
Spicy seafood linguini
John Dory with wild mushrooms and zucchini ( this was one of my favourite dishes if the week)
Seabass and salad
On the forth day the sun had gone, the rain had started and moral was sinking to a low. I had not booked a restaurant for lunch this day, as there are only so many three course meals a girl should eat in five days, but I was keen to stick to my rule of not being fooled into stumbling across and eating at the wrong place. It was then that data roaming, foodbloggers of venice and Mr Map Reader Extraordinaire saved us. Just as I was about to push him into the canal he found the chechetti bar that I suggested as salvation to the situation. Chichetti can be found all over Venice and although food writers will tell you of there favourite spots I think providing you are not on the main tourist drags you will be able to spot a good one. Very reasonably priced little slices of bread topped with salted cod or cured meats or grilled vegetables are laid out on trays under the glass counters. You go and have a good stare then point and order the ones you fancy along with a glass of something. My advice would be, as they are usually eaten standing up, is choose somewhere that looks like it has a good atmosphere and the chechetti haven’t been sitting there since time began.
If you want to eat here, this restaurant has to be booked well in advance. You can email, then have to ring to arrange deposit of your grandmother / child or lumps of cash to secure your table. Sadly my Italian currently has limited abilities and it wasn’t until I managed to make the waiter understand I was at the ready to handover my credit card details stage of the booking that he started to thaw to the determined English girl at the end of the phone.
The 24 ish seat restaurant is not particularly good looking and I admit expectations were high. Antipasti and primo were delicious but I think if you are used to eating fresh simply cooked fish the main courses can be underwhelming. The wine list encourages you spend and although I am pleased to have it ticked off my list I would not recommend it to those that eating simply cooked very good fresh fish is nothing out of the norm.
Wallet damage : over 100 euro per person for 4 courses and wine
Prawn ravioli – which was really delicious
Squid and cinnamon gnocchi
3 Small whole turbot
3 Small monkfish
pistachio cake with pistachio ice cream – sooo good
Next time I visit I would be keen to have lunch on the terrace at the Gritti Palace which I am told is a wonderful place to watch venice float by and I should also mention a restaurant by the Rialto bridge called Bancogiro which has one of the most romantic out door spots at night and serves some delicious food.