Eating: Venice

Posted on March 1, 2011

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I’ve just returned from a long weekend in the unique city of Venice. Having perused the ‘Rough Guide to Venice’ on route, I was somewhat disconcerted by it’s claims that the food in Venice had been overtaken by tourist fare and was rather dire by all accounts, not the thing a food obsessive on her holidays wants to read!

And so, it was with some trepidation I embarked on Eating: Venice. I decided to play it safe and follow guide book recommendations.

Night one took me to La Piscine, a restaurant within a 4-star hotel serving traditional Italian dishes. La Piscine is quite unassuming. Traditional crockery lines the white washed walls and antique cutlery and silver chargers adorn small, round tables. The menu offers a selection of fish and meat dishes and an entire separate vegetarian menu, which is quite a rarity in Venice. I settle upon a starter of mixed fish bruschetta and for ‘secondi’ sea bass with cherry tomatoes and capers. 

After indulging on a selection of home-made breads (olive, sundried tomato and walnut), my bruschetta arrived with a range of fish including tomato, anchovy and capers on one and a salmon and prawn mousse on another. Light and fresh, it was a pleasant starter. The true delight was to come with the main meal though. Excellently cooked, generous fillets of sea bass, topped with the perfect roasted cherry tomato sauce. An accomplished balance of sweet and sour, further enhanced by a scattering of salty capers. It was a great example of how Italian’s make beautiful food from simple high quality ingredients. Food heaven!

I have to admit I was by now full of food, but was persuaded by my OH to share a dessert of Cestino di pasta sfoglia con crema, mele, uvetta, pinoli e canella or if you like me can’t read Italian, ‘Puff pastry basket with cream, apples, pine nuts, sultanas and cinnamon’. It reminded me of an apple strudel, a dressed-up comfort food, easily replicable at home but not quite at the same level as our main dishes.

On day two, following  indulgence in local pasticceria, where almond-studded, emerald green pan pistachio called to me from shop windows, I decided to ‘go local’ and eat in a recommended osteria called La Bitta in Dorsoduro. The guide book recommended it for it’s ‘innovative fare’ and ‘no fish’ menu. On arrival we were greeted with a bustle of local people and tightly packed tables, creating a noisy and cosy environment. The menu, displayed on a mini easel at each table, contains just five starters and five mains. I decided on smoked beef carpaccio for my starter and stewed rabbit for my main.

You have to put presentation to one side to appreciate the food in La Bitta. Flavour not ‘fanciness’ is the order of the day. You also have to like heavy food! Ordinarily a fish eater, I did find the beef plus rabbit combination slightly overwhelming.

My other half had porchetta followed by steak and we both felt that we needed to be rolled back to our hotel due to our somewhat bloated tummies! The meal was roughly the same cost at La Piscine (about £100), but I think we could have eaten at a cheaper osteria and enjoyed the food and the experience just as much. Reviews on tripadvisor rate La Bitta highly, so perhaps it’s just a case of personal taste!

On the final night, I decided to go off guidebook and found the star dining visit of our trip (which just goes to show that the Rough Guide is wrong in claiming food in Venice is of poor quality!). Five stars and more go to Ristorante a Beccafico. Located again in Dorsoduro, this restaurant specialises in fish dishes and the best service possible!! I can’t recommend this restaurant highly enough. On arrival we were served complementary bruschetta and prosecco while Allessandro, our superb waiter, interpreted the menu and I greedily ate up his descriptions.

 My OH and I shared a prawn salad for starter, which arrived on a huge platter. The prawns were fresh and moist. Perfectly cooked and seasoned and a great start to the meal. This was the followed by an AMAZING dish of squid stuffed three ways. First came squid with marsala-melted onions and a light meat filling, then squid stuffed with a prawn mousse concoction and finally squid stuffed with a rich-caponata sauce. Absolutely fantastic. My pictures simply don’t do it justice as I was rather squiffy by this point!

Allessandro then brought two full bottles of Limoncello and dessert wine which were ours to indulge in at the complements of the restaurant. Drunken and eager for more, we then unnecessarily ordered desserts. For me, a sticky, iced, traditional Italian dessert and for my OH a Kilner jar full of Tiramisu. The total meal plus wine came to around £100 (this appears to be the standard for dinner for two in Venice) and was easily the best meal of the holiday. A follow-up perusal of Trip Advisor reveals Beccafico to by number 1 of 629 restaurants in Venice . So, ignore the guidebook, trust the foodies and make this a stop if you’re in the city!

Helen x

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