The gourmet landscape of Venice can be hard to negotiate for a first-time visitor. There’s just so much and it’s all tempting. Karen Anand’s discerning palate guides us through the city’s best-dressed plates. Eat in Venice like a local.
All the accompanying vegetables are from their bio dynamic garden, the bread rolls are served warm and the wine list encyclopedic. Desserts and petits fours are phenomenal; the cherry and yoghurt, and peach and tapioca, are on the menu, which change seasonally. A nice surprise are the Cipriani signature dishes at the back of the menu. These are dishes created when Giuseppe ruled the roost; carpaccio, tagliolini gratin, risotto primavera and pastas agile, a thick winter soup of pasta and borlotti beans. The Cipriani keeps up its standard of high cuisine and service. It’s the hotel the Clooney’s stayed at for their Venice wedding and where George has an eponymous cocktail he created late one night. Start with the Mister Pommodoro, tomatoes in several ways on one plate with the most exquisite tomato water Bloody Mary. Tomato water is made by cutting up fresh tomatoes and letting the juice drip from a muslin bag. It is a tedious and time-consuming task. I know, I have done it. The one here is perfection. Follow this with the local sea bass, Branzino, cooked in olive oil at 50 degree centigrade, so it is partly poached and steamed.
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Just a 15-minute boat ride from San Marco, San Clemente Palace Kempinski has been recently acquired by Kempinski. The old hotel is placed on the 6-acre private island that includes a church built in 1131 while the main building itself has gone through metamorphism, from a monastery to a hospice to an asylum. Today, it is a luxury resort with a beautiful outdoor pool and lush, well maintained gardens. The restaurant Acquerello is ranked 16th out of 101 world restaurants and has a fantastic view of the lagoon and the San Marco skyline beyond that. Start at the St Regis bar, with a signature Bloody Mary. Chef Roberto Dal Seno, shows off his repertoire which ranges from classic dishes using local ingredients to really modern twists using elements of molecular gastronomy like froths and foams. All very impressive. If you’re in the mood for an unusual experience, try the tasting menu; several courses interspersed with lobster bites flavoured with vanilla and the most delectable morsels of foie gras terrine wrapped in a thin handkerchief of pineapple smoked with spices and local woods. If you like salty fish, you must try the local salt cod in a pool of black ink with light potato foam. The most memorable thing on the menu is the platter of raw fish and crustaceans, Japanese style, with Roberto’s sweet and citrus bases.
So many movies have been shot at the Hotel Danieli that you feel you almost know it as you walk in through their Gothic Byzantine decorated lobby. Daniele’s location is second to none, right next to San Marco overlooking the lagoon and Venice’s many islands. The oldest part of the hotel is 14th century with two newer annexes. The restaurant Terrazza on the top floor of the new building has a view which is second to none in Venice and in fact must rank as one of the most amazing restaurant views in the world. However the food can be inconsistent and ranges from an explosion of the sea, an ink squid cone filled with seafood foam served with raw red prawns of the lagoon to some very ordinary fritto misto and a home style veal stew. You may have to take out a bank loan to eat here so my advice would be to follow the Italian custom of an ‘aperitivo’ here with a glass of something sparkling and a starter. They have an unending list of the world’s best champagnes and Italian sparkling wines including the delicious and lesser-known Franciacorta. Or, go for a glass of lison classico made from the local grape known as juti. They also serve the lesser known ribolla gialla from Marco Felluga, a slightly salty white wine from Friuli a couple of hours away, which is definitely worth trying.
The Westin Europa & Regina hotel is now a Westin and has the most magnificent location on the Grand Canal right opposite the church of Maria della Salute. Like other luxury hotels on the Grand Canal, if it is fine weather you must sit on the terrace on the water. This hotel is less Gothic Venice in your face in terms of decor and has a more classic art deco feel. It also abides by the Westin mantra of Eat well, Stay well and this only adds to the already well-thought-out travellers menu. Lunch on the terrace is a light affair with a number of international favourites served in a more casual style. There is however nothing casual bout the quality of the food. If you order the pizza, you will get buffalo mozzarella on it, the Caesar salad will have slow-cooked soft chicken and the club sandwich could easily be a focaccia stuffed with prosciutto. I chose the scallop topped with pistachio, a sea food ‘garden’ and a minestrone of seasonal fresh fruit, tender peas and beetroot. The simple fried fish dish of Venice known as Fritto Misto is superb here. La Cusina is a breath of fresh air on the Grand Canal with the kind of unpretentious food you want to eat most of the time.
What’s not to like about one of the famous and most enchanting hotels in the world? The Gritti Palace is a 15th century palazzo, and later served as a residence for Andrea Gritti the duke of Venice. It only became a ‘luxury’ hotel post 1947. It is a favourite of Hollywood stars during the Venice Film Festival and a hangout for top artists and buyers during the Venice Biennale. It has recently had a US$50 million renovation and refurbishment which has restored it to its original splendor. The entrance is as with many old Venetian palaces, through a side door, not from the Grand Canal directly. You enter into the opulent Venetian style lounge with the Club del Doge restaurant on the right. The terrace is beautiful and the food at Club del Doge is surprisingly simple and not ‘overthought’. Venetian food relies on its produce more than sophistication or skill. The lunch menu comprises classics like beef carpaccio, local seabass (branzino), and Venetian style liver with polenta. Start with the famous Gritti cocktail, the Rossini, like the Bellini but with strawberries instead of peaches. Dishes to try are the fried fish from the Adriatic, which includes sea bass, sea bream, scampi and calamari; the Carnaroli risotto with asparagus (carnaroli rice is slightly more al dente than vialone rice), topped with a zucchini flower; and the mind boggling desserts— the crispy puff pastry with chocolate and raspberry and the pineapple carpaccio with passion fruit sorbet. Expensive, but well worth it if you want to spend a magical afternoon on the water. Service is what some people refer to as ‘posh’, knowledgeable and unobtrusive.
For a Bellini. It’s the real deal here made only in summer when white peaches are available. Others in Venice, including the famous Harry’s Bar, I am reliably informed, use frozen pulp. Gasp! Cipriani seems to be synonymous with Venice, the good life and filmy glamour. Take their private boat from the Jetty at San Marco. It’s on the island of Giudecca just a 10 minute ride away. Although served all over Venice, the original Bellini recipe using juice squeezed from fresh white peaches and prosecco, is credited to Giuseppe Cipriani himself who created it in 1948 in Harry’s Bar in Venice.
The Metropole Hotel is one of the lesser known luxury hotels in Venice overlooking the lagoon, housed in an early 16th century palazzo and is one of the few hotels that are still family owned. Many famous writers have stayed here including Sigmund Freud who wrote to his wife “don’t expect me to send you much in the way of a description, the thrill of being in Venice makes it impossible”. Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann continued this tradition in the early part of the 20th century. The owner with Gloria Beggiato, is a collector of various things including art, fans and all things Venetian. Gloria however, gives this hotel a twist with an oriental and art deco look and feel in the 67 rooms and the Oriental Bar which has a Moroccan theme. The Met restaurant which is the main dining room has one Michelin star. The cuisine is described as ‘Tra’ Contemporary.’ I’m not quite sure what that means. In the interest of journalism I try the vegetarian tasting menu. Throw caution to the wind and start with the elderflower Billecart Salmon spritz spiked with Thai basil. The wine list at the Met is intriguing with some very special local wine made from the timorasso grape variety and the Met is the only restaurant in Venice which serves the wine ‘Sterpi’ made from this local grape by the producer Walter Massa. Many wine aficionados consider this one of the greatest and lesser known white wines of Italy. A couple of things to definitely try are purple potatoes and tomato ice cream and the pasta with pea puree. If you do feel like a little bit of non-veg, the cod cooked in sea water is sublime.