Much like you would go to Seville for the truly delicious tapas experience and absolutely not for the restaurants, though good ones can be found (apparently), Venice is certainly not a destination for world class eateries. There are, however, a few low key exceptions, in the form of those champions of the small plate and wine food, Bacari and Cicchetti.
Bacari are the small, back street bars in Venice where the locals drop in for a glass of wine and a snack, and the snacks are called cicchetti. There are dozens, possibly hundreds of these little eateries dotted around the city, making a comprehensive review of the market daunting and verging on the impossible, but a recent trip to La Serenissima led me to a concentration of excellent examples of genre in the cooler, hidden from the baking sun alleyways near the Rialto fish markets.
We found ourselves at All’ Arco (Calle Arco, San Polo 436) at an feasibly early (at least by British standards) 11am on a Friday morning and cracked straight into a deliciously light and fragrant Friulano, formerly known as Tocai. By chance I had discovered it recently in my local Lea & Sandeman wine “boutique” in London (naturally a tad more expensive there) and had fallen for it immediately. A couple of crostini later – baccala mantecato, the creamed salt cod found all over this part of Italy and one topped with a local cheese, we were bang in the mood and already on to the next port of call.
Around the corner is Do Mori (San Polo 429, Calle dei Do Mori), said to be the oldest bacaro in Venice, dating back to 1462, with a dark wood interior and copper pots hanging from the ceiling. The house speciality is francobollo (postage stamp), a tiny white bread sandwich filled with sliced meats, radicchio, gorgonzola and roasted vegetables. My least favourite of the three I am going to list – I found the low ceilings a bit oppressive – but it is certainly worth a visit if only for the historical value.
Osteria alla Ciurma
One street along, Calle Galeazza, 406A, we landed at Osteria alla Ciurma, and that is where we stayed for a considerable time to come, only just making our lunch appointment and in very good spirits at that. This little bacaro has it all. Small and clearly ancient inside, with a window-ledge outside big enough to hold your wine and cicchetti, it is busy and bustling with locals. A dextrous barmaid looked after the drinks whilst her companion worked tirelessly to pump out the delicious snacks on offer. The meatballs, not usually what I would have ordered, were to die for and wickedly morerish, followed by delicately stacked calamari rings and a host of other mouthwatering bites so hard to resist, despite the upcoming prandial appointment.
We were drinking a chilled, lightly sparkling red called Raboso. Again, not something that I would necessarily have gravitated towards on a hot, thirsty day in Venice, but it absolutely hit the spot in every way – temperature (both outside and of the wine), time of day, fruitiness and glorious colour. Needless to say we had to have several glasses, just to make sure that it was really as good as it at first appeared. Genius, and the perfect accompaniment to the deep flavour of the meatballs.
It is so easy to get swept along by the endless snaking of tourist trails which clog up the arteries of this magnificent city. If you step back a street or two you may well find that the throngs fall away and you are left with a truer depiction of this magical place.