Surrender your breath, Venice will take it from you.
Our room with a canal side view booked, comfy footwear polished, pages from the wonderful Polpo cookery & unofficial Venice good food guide book tucked under our arm we ventured forth from Southend Airport in a very un E.M. Forster manner.
Art done & done it was was, there was time a plenty to wander the sestiere in search of recommendations in the epicurean department from Polpo & to uncover a few of our own firsthand.
A decent spritz topped our list of must finds, and find it we did, several times, at Bar Refolo in Castello. Vertiginous stools outside this tiny hole in the wall are always in demand as are the bitter spritz and local wines served by two burly but very friendly bar staff, one of whom is called Elvis! Soft salty goat like cheese & fried aubergine in a small dusty rolls were a great accompaniment to our viewing of the evening stroll by locals & interlopers alike.
After having bought purple artichokes from the floating vegetable stall in the far corner of Campo Santa Margherita, the famous Red Caffe in this bustling square, is also a great place to hang out, late afternoon with a tumbler of, the orange wonder. Good olives too.
Elvis recommended a restaurant for us to try, owned by the wonderful, welcoming Donatello a man who I suspect has seen a thing or two & who was happy to furnish me with the intricacies of the dishes I ate, Il Nuovo Galleon was a sweet treat. In the Polpo book a dish of cuttlefish in its ink was described as looking like 'Darth Vader’s helmet' I had a plate and have to agree that it's a pretty accurate description although the taste, oh the taste, cooked slowly for three hours the day before, accompanied by some soft Polenta it’s a delight, maybe one best savoured in the dark.
Leaving the apartment early one morning we headed straight to the Rialto market area for a bar crawl. Starting at Al Merca. The crowd outside lets you know you’ve arrived. Really good small panini and aubergine polpette signalled the start of our grazing. Coffee from a sweet girl around the corner, not frothy cappuccini but small strong machiato with machismo, much like one of her other customers, the dude in the leather, see pics.
Zucchini flowers paid for, Do Mori, the oldest bacaro in Venice was our next stop. Dark, dingy with cauldrons hanging from the ceiling reminiscent of a Diagon Alley vendor, the counter was heaving with a mouthwatering selection of cicheti (the Venetian spelling, so I'm told), our favourite being a courgette and tiny prawn one washed down with Prosecco from some very delicate coupes, lovely.
Emerging from Do Mori, our eyes having adjusted to daylight once more, who should we bump into but Venice's most famous, current, resident Francesco Da Mosto, dragging on a fag, of course !
Fortified, for the time being, it was only 10.30 am! We wove our way through and marvelled at the most amazing fish and vegetable stalls of the Rialto. Spiky crabs, spotted tailed langoustine, slippery squid all of the best just from the sea quality made me sad that my nearest fishmonger at home worked at a supermarket wore a ridiculous hat and vacuum packed fish of dubious quality. Can you imagine going to your local big shop and seeing prawns actually still moving instead of wondering when they were indeed last alive?
Anyway, off to Murano for lunch and a mooch, mooching being what we do best.
A sweet window box full of glass flowers caught my eye (my kind of gardening) and Mark got boat envy on this island of glassmakers across the lagoon.
Not exactly spoilt for eaterie choices, we headed to Busa Alla Torre. Easy to find, under an ancient bell tower, in the same square as a huge, modern, azure glass sculpture, and depending on what time you’re there slap bang in the middle of the primary school run.
Presided over by a larger than life, nylon track-suited, Ray Winstone lookalike, who when asked by a customer if they might move their umbrella, proceeded to pick up the whole table, steaming bowls of pasta and all and move them to a shadier spot. Leaving the family agog but far cooler in the long run I’m sure. The average food was more than compensated for by the charming staff, people watching and sheer theatre of it all.
Highlights, we had a few.
Mine being the long lunch we spent propping up the bar at Cantinone Gia Schiavi in Dosoduro. Run by Sandra and her sons, what that woman can’t do with slices of french bread and an assortment of wonderful fresh ingredients. Go here for fantastic cicheti, favourite mouthfuls included zucca with ricotta, ricotta with walnut puree and a pretty egg mixture sprinkled with dried edible flowers. Choose between big practical looking bottles filled with delicate, light wines of the Veneto or from the mind boggling selection that line the walls.
Eat inside or canal side either way a more convivial way to spend an hour or two I know not. An ice cream from down the way at the famous Nico ice cream parlour, watching the thumping great cruise liners come to port to deposit their daily quota of rubberneckers, topped it off nicely. Mine, being the creature of habit that I am, was a Cassata and Pistachio, delizioso.
Budget airline travel may restrict the importation of seasonal veg in your hand luggage, mine would otherwise no doubt been filled with an assortment of stripy radicchio, artichokes, ball aubergine, pink borlotti and a selection of funghi, but as yet there are no restrictions on full pockets. Winding a way back to Marco Polo airport after one last Spritz at El Refolo (handily situated by the Arsenale vaperretto stop) ours were stuffed full of fantastical memories of a wonderful trip full of art, food, wine and the wonder of Venice itself, beautiful & a little bit bizarre.