Picture a couple in a gondola, gently propelled along a narrow canal by a skilled gondolier. Now add 3 other passengers, a crap ton of rain, umbrellas and cameras in all hands, and the romance rapidly evporates. We watched them drift past us as we splashed our way through the streets on the first full day of our recent brief trip to Venice.
It was sunny the next day. And to be fair, Venice is pretty amazing whatever the weather. Dilapidated ornate buildings lapped by lagoon waters, maze-like passageways, tiny steep bridges over miniature canals – it certainly isn’t like anywhere else I’ve ever been.
But other people can tell you more about that stuff. I’m all about the food.
Unusually for me, I didn’t undertake much research before we went. A lot of recommendations focused on expensive places, and we didn’t want to go crazy (in retrospect, perhaps we shouldn’t have gone to Venice).
We stayed in the beautiful Palazzo Stern in the Dorsoduro area, and had the hotel breakfast every day. Flaky little pastries and fresh bread won me over, and there was even cake on offer.
Our first night we wandered into a place at random that turned out to be really good. Alas for our “off the beaten track” egos, we later found our discovery in my Lonely Planet guide book, which turned out to feature everywhere we liked.
The restaurant in question was Osteria Alla Bifora (Campo Santa Margherita). The menu focused on dishes to share, and in our two visits we had some amazing platters of meats, my first tasting of BaccalÃ Mantecato (a creamy blended dried cod spread that is far more delicious than that makes it sound), and some wonderful prawns in saor (an onion raisin sweet/sour sauce). For drinks (both here and elsewhere) we fluctuated between Prosecco and Spritz (a mix of Prosecco, sparkling water and an aperitif such as Aperol or Campari).
Unless we went to the vaporetto (water bus) stop adjacent to our hotel, any walk took us dangerously close to Grom (Campo San Barnaba). Renowned for their gelato and sorbets, they also do awesomely intense hot chocolate (pictured below are the dark and gianduja variants). We went once, sometimes twice, a day, and tried something different each time. The pink grapefruit sorbet was a particular stand out for me, with a lovely sour kick to it.
I had done some general research on Venetian food, and one word that kept popping up was cicchetti. Similar to tapas or pinxtos, these little snacks were available in bars all over the city, and for a euro or two, you’d get a tasty treat to accompany your drink. Those pictured at the top of this post were from All’Arco (Calle Arco, San Polo), and we could have crammed down many many more than the austere 4 you can see. I wasn’t entirely sure what they all were, but clockwise from the top, I think it was a slender strip of fat with salad; whipped cod; whipped pork with fragments of crackling; and cured ham, cheese and courgette.
We’d been so abstemious because I wanted some seafood, and that led us to Pronto Pesce (just off Campo delle Beccarie, San Polo), which sits right next to the fish market. It’s a casual place where everything was pre-prepped, and you can either take away your order or perch at a table in the shop.
We picked a rice cake and a tuna cake (on the left) and a serving of prawns in curry with what tasted like polenta (the colour threw me a bit). Reheating aspects aside, the food itself was great, and the prawns were particularly sweet and succulent.
We had some pleasant meals elsewhere, but these were our favourites and none of them broke the bank. Since coming back we’ve had some more Prosecco, but it just didn’t taste the same.