Travel

Venice and a Venetian Cookbook

28th June 2012

Three weeks ago, it was a warm and sunny day in Italy and I was happily strolling around Venice, holding hands with my fiancé. Ehm…lucky girl, I know.

We had spoken about going there for a mini-honeymoon after our wedding in September, but the occasion to visit Venice arrived sooner than that. As a last-minute decision, we visited my grandma in Trieste during the Jubilee weekend and with Venice being only a 2h train ride away, a day trip was immediately added to the agenda.

We couldn’t have picked a more gorgeous day. I have been in Venice a few times, but this time I truly fell in love with the city. It’s so beautiful, beyond words. I hope that, with my photos, I will share some of its magic with you.

A day visiting Venice in Italy
A day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in Italy

I couldn’t stop taking photos: every street, every corner, every bridge is a treat for the eye! Of course, the main attraction remains the gondola!

A day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in Italy
A day visiting Venice in Italy
A day visiting Venice in Italy
A day visiting Venice in Italy
A day visiting Venice in Italy

The highlight of the day was walking through Rialto market and in particular the fish stalls in Campo della Pescaria.

More vital to Venetian cuisine than any top chef are the fishmongers at the Pescaria. This is any foodie’s first stop in Venice to admire Venetian specialities in the making: glistening mountains of moscardini (baby octopus), crabs ranging from tiny moeche (soft-shell crabs) to granseole (spider crab), and inky seppie (squid) of all sizes. [Lonely Planet]

A day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in ItalyA day visiting Venice in Italy

After visiting the market, we walked across Rialto bridge and towards Ca D’Oro, as I had planned to have lunch at La Vedova, one of the most famous osterie in Venice. Unfortunately, we lost track of time and when we arrived at the restaurant, just after 2pm, the kitchen was closed. We then went into an osteria next door (full of locals), begged for food and sat down for a quick piatto di pasta: Ragù for me and Arrabbiata for Sandy.

The disappointment of having missed out on cicchetti (small snacks typically served in traditional “bàcari” in Venice) was big, until last week when I unexpectedly had the chance to attend a Venetian aperitivo in London, for the launch of Polpo. A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman.

If you’ve never heard this name before, Russell is the man behind some of London’s most successful eateries: Polpo, Da Polpo, Polpetto (all three sharing a Venetian menu), Spuntino and Mishkin’s. Basically, quite a heavy name in the London’s foodie scene.

Polpo in Soho, London

The launch party was hosted in the Campari Bar at Polpo Soho, where I drank a classic Italian cocktail: Aperol Spritz.

Aperol is a bright orange drink made with a secret recipe using ingredients such as bitter orange and rhubarb (Campari is a similar drink with a higher alcohol content). A spritz is a mix of Prosecco, Aperol, soda and ice (with a slice or orange).

Aperol Spritz at restaurant Polpo in Soho, London

I ate some of my favourite cicchetti, such as Pizzetta Bianca, Fritto Misto and Arancini, and also discovered new dishes: Fennel Salami & Pickled Radicchio Grissini; Spinach, Parmesan & Soft Egg Pizzetta; Broad Bean, Ricotta & Mint Bruschetta.

Cicchetti At restaurant Polpo in Soho, LondonCicchetti At restaurant Polpo in Soho, LondonCicchetti At restaurant Polpo in Soho, LondonCicchetti At restaurant Polpo in Soho, London

I then had the chance to meet Russell Norman and Tom Oldroyd, Head Chef at Polpo, as they both presented the new book and answered our questions.

At restaurant Polpo in Soho, London

Russell fell in love with Venice in the late 80’s: wandering away from the touristic restaurants around St Mark’s Square, he discovered backstreet bars, the bacari, which:

served small plates of authentic Venetian titbits, known as chiccheti, and were places where locals would meet, drink, eat, argue and gossip. They were like tiny canteens of great humility and simplicity. [Polpo. A Venetian Cookbook]

The idea for his first bàcari was born during a lunch at La Vedova, while eating a warm octopus salad and thinking that the Italian word for octopus, polpo, would make a fun name for a restaurant.

I got incredibly excited by the thought of building a version of a bàcaro in London: Venetian cicheti adapted for metropolitan sensibilities in a relaxed and slightly jaded urban setting. [Polpo. A Venetian Cookbook]

A few months later, Russell quit his job and set off to Venice with Tom for a full immersion in the world of bàcari and osterie “eating everything and picking dishes apart, making notes and taking photographs” [Polpo. A Venetian Cookbook]. Three years on, Polpo has become a food institution and now we can try all these dishes at home, thanks to the new cookbook. As Russell aimed to create simple dishes for Polpo, so are the recipes: three or four main ingredients and little to zero cooking required.

At restaurant Polpo in Soho, London

The look & feel of the book is great and the photograph is stunning, the only risk being that it is almost too pretty to be used! But at the same time, I hope to see this book in my kitchen in 20 years time, rugged, with yellow pages, splashes of tomato sauce, signs of its use showing off. That would make it even more beautiful.

Disclaimer: the event was organized by Bloomsbury Publishing and a complimentary copy of “Polpo. A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts)” was given to all the guests. I did not receive any compensation for this post – all opinions are my own. Special thanks to Genuine PR and Campari Group UK.

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