My first visit to Venice was not a happy one if I remember correctly. I was 9 years old and according to my parents I moped about the whole time we were there. I thought we would be sailing on boats all day rather than walking around as we did. Obviously, I wasn’t appreciative of the experience my parents were trying to give me, but I guess not many 9 year olds would. Anyways, 18 years later, I was ready to give it another try and I was sure that this time it was going to be a happier and different experience.
Venice, the capital of Veneto, the North Eastern Italian region is an extraordinary city. Built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, its most distinctive feature is that there are no roads just canals for taxi boats, gondolas and other types of boats to transport people around the city. Getting lost, walking down dark narrow lanes and finding dead ends is extremely common when exploring Venice but should be embraced as part of its charisma. It has a reputation for being beautiful but to see how stunning it is in person really does take your breath away. It’s like walking around a never-ending movie set.
Visiting the fatherland obviously involves a lot of eating, as well as soaking up the local culture. So before the trip, I did some serious researching as I heard some horror stories about how poor and expensive the food could be due to it being a popular European tourist destination. One story I heard was a friend seeing a chef pull out a frozen bag of bolognese from the freezer before re-heating it up! I knew that couldn’t be the case all over the city, so I went on the prowl to find the best authentic Venetian cuisine.
Top TTI recommendations
First up is the oldest restaurant in Venice, Antica Trattoria Poste Vecie (San Polo 30124 Venezia, next to the Rialto fish market). Dating back to the 1500 it used to be a post office and within the restaurant, memorabilia and ancient paintings beautifully decorate the walls. A traditional Venetian seafood restaurant, it’s location is actually situated within the Rialto fish market where it sources its fresh produce. On our approach, we discovered a little wooden bridge which led to the entrance of the restaurant. Super cute!
My first impression was how old school Italian it was. The interior, the decor, the waiters uniforms, the service and even the food presentation was far from modern. However, this all added to the experience. A sense of nostalgia without experiencing it first hand.
More importantly though guys, the food was absolutely delicious with its delicate fresh seafood flavours. If I were to close my eyes now, I can still remember the pleasurable taste and enjoyment this meal gave me.
On arrival we were poured a complimentary glass of bubbles which I thought was a nice touch. For starters we ordered a couple of antipasti dishes. A typical Venetian dish of ‘Sarde in Sour’ – sweet and sour sardines which were fabulous. Pan fried sardines served with a topping of onions, pine nuts and raisins – I could’ve happily not have shared this and eaten it all on my own. We also ordered a plate of large prawns served with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing with some fresh rocket. Just so yum!
Next, was the highlight of the evening and a recommendation by our waiter – the Fresh Lobster spaghetti. It took a while for it to come out but we were told everything was freshly made, so we were happy to wait. When it arrived, the Spaghetti was served with a perfect bright red half a lobster. The lobster was so sweet and melted in your mouth, while discovering more meat in the shell and the claws – I could have eaten that for days!
Poste Vecie is a place I would definitely recommend for a romantic treat. Tired and full we stumbled back through the fish market, through the alleys and back to bed. What a great first meal in Venice!
The following evening, the boy and I were dining by ourselves. I had wanted to get a table at Osteria alle testiere (Calle del Mondo Novo, 5801, 30122 Venezia) as I had read some wonderful things about the food there and is also a favourite haunt by many including Polpo owner, Russel Norman. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware that a booking was needed to be made a few weeks in advance, but I must stick in a reminder for next time!
So I managed to make a last minute booking at Osteria Boccadoro (Cannaregio 5405/A Campo Widmann, Venezia) instead. Another Venetian seafood restaurant in the non-tourist neighbourhood of Canneregio. They pride themselves on serving fresh fish, local ingredients and home made pasta. Located on a quiet square with nothing else open but the restaurant, Boccadoro has the perfect setting for a romantic dinner especially if you choose to eat outside on the square.
We were very well looked after and we were talked into starting with the boiled seafood antipasti dish. Arriving on a large long white ceramic platter, the selection was incredible and also very generous; prawns with polenta, octopus, spider crab, scallops and the anchovies that we were advised to eat last. This was great advice as you wouldn’t have wanted their flavour to overpower the rest of the seafood. I liked that!
Next up was our mains of home made pasta. I opted for the squid ink black tagliolini served with scallops and artichokes which was a flavour combination I couldn’t resist. This was definitely one of my favourite dishes on this trip. My taste buds were having the time of the lives. The boy opted for the chefs’ pasta of the day which was an equally delicious dish of seafood taglioni. Everything just looked spectacular on the plate.
To end the meal, our waiter insisted we order the home made tiramisu. The boy just reminded me that I described it as the “best tiramisu I have ever eaten in my life” – I can’t actually remember saying that, but it was definitely emotional. With all that food we took a lovely stroll back to the hotel via the bridges and lanes of Venice, getting lost along the way of course!
As well as gorgeous evening dinners, the one other thing you must try when in Venice is eat Cicchetti. Pronounced “chee-ket-eeh” these are the Venetians version of Spanish tapas. Served in traditional “bacari”, these small dishes usually costing around between 1-3 euros (which is an absolute total bargain) are usually eaten with your hand or toothpick and ordered traditionally with a glass of local white wine for lunch or afternoon snack. I came across 2 great places that served Ciccheti. The first was All’Arco (Sestiere San Polo 436, 30125 Venezia, Italy) close to the Rialto market. Here they served mini bruschetta with a great selection of delicious traditional Venetian toppings to choose from; anchovies, creamed salt cod, parma ham and melon, mortadella with mushrooms, salami and sun dried tomatoes etc – you get the picture! We actually ordered two large plates, one after the other as we didn’t want the experience to end. I still miss those gorgeous morsels of flavours – I wish I could find places like this in London!
The second place El Refolo (Sestiere Castello, Via Garibaldi 1580, 30122 Venezia) is a little more modern in aesthetic. These guys specialise in mini sandwiches with incredible fillings combinations. Roasted ham with artichoke puree, courgette and taleggio and creamed salt cod were my favourite fillngs. Order a Spritz and if its a nice sunny day enjoy a drink and roll watching the world go by….
I went for 48 hours and to be honest I wish had stayed for a couple more nights. I was told that it would be enough time to explore this great city but I disagree. There was so much more I wish I had explored especially neighbourhoods like Dorsoduro, which is meant to be a popular student hang out. It’s also where the fabulous meat only restaurant La Bitta (Calle Lunga de San Barnaba, 2753/a, 30123 Venezia) is. Only opened in the evenings and closed on Sundays, this place will also be on my hit list for next time. Venice also has a great number of art galleries and churches across the city which offer you a different experience found in the more tourist areas like San Marco. There is also the Lido where the Venice film festival is held which is meant to be a great hang out too. There are many smaller islands of the mainland of Venice to explore too which I’m sure have other incredible unknown places to eat. And the list goes on and on…..
Though, I do regret not staying longer, I can happily say that I have more than a handful of excuses to plan another trip and return soon. But if you do decide to go, I would say plan ahead what you want to do and see, as every moment is so precious. Its not everyday you get to be a part or visit such an incredible place.