BISTROT DE VENISE
Having degrees from three universities, it pleases me to regard myself as an academic manqué – although my long-suffering tutors would certainly have wished to put the emphasis on the manqué. Still, I like to see evidence of intellectual endeavour – even in restaurants. How often do I find it? Not often. But there is one place where it is conspicuously present. It is in beautiful Venice: the splendid Bistrot de Venise. Here you will find not only interpretations of Venetian recipes from the 14th to the 18th centuries, but also a programme of events which includes both wine tastings and talks on intriguing aspects of history, art and culture. I say: Bravo!
“D’Annunzio in Venice and Casanova’s return to Venice” sounded like a lecture I might have encountered when I was studying at Oxford, not a diversion at a popular restaurant in La Serenissima. All credit, then, must go to les patrons, Sergio Fragiacomo, Carlo Modonese and Paolo Fragiacomo, for the imagination and enthusiasm with which they run their highly regarded establishment.
The Bistrot de Venise opened in 1993. It is but a hop, skip and a jump from St Mark’s Square. Its rooms are long, narrow and brightly lit. There is much of my favourite colour, red, together with black and gold. Gilt candlesticks stand upon beige tablecloths. Spotlights shine down from above. There is canned music, but it is Bach and Mozart – so all is well. The sparkling glasses are by Riedel and the bow ties of the waiters are black. The service is both friendly and efficient. All these features raise expectations with regard to the food. And those expectations are not disappointed.
On my very first visit to the Bistrot de Venise, I learnt – from the ever-genial Mr Sergio Fragiacomo (with whom I am pictured in the photograph) – of the election of Pope Francis. On this occasion, there was no startling news to impart. But there was a really good meal to be eaten and some intriguing wine to be drunk. The food here is based upon the finest ingredients and first class culinary technique. It is therefore hugely enjoyable.
The season of the divine truffle was upon us, and therefore it was only right that the princely fungus should adorn two of my dishes. But, before these particular treats, there was another – a lovely amuse-bouche of endive with cheese mousse. This prepared my palate for the delicious subtlety of my first course: an egg, cooked at low temperature, served atop potato mousse with cheese and with slivers of white truffle. Then came the wonder of soft, yielding tagliolini, smothered with more shavings of white truffle. Beautifully simple and simply beautiful. It was good to be alive at that moment. Yet my main course was even higher on the ladder to gastronomic perfection. This piece of beef fillet had been marinated in milk and charcoal and then grilled. It was a little miracle of tenderness and flavour – and set off so well on my plate by a sauce with chives. I ended with the house’s own version of tiramisù. (Allow around 120€ for four courses from the carte. Tasting menus are available at 74€ and 110€.)
The wine list is a good one, being both extensive and informative. It gives not only the grapes but also some details of the wine-making for many of the wines. And, importantly, it notes the alcohol levels. Most of the (around 500) offerings are Italian, but there are also temptations from France and elsewhere. Prices start at 28€ for a local white. The selection of wines served by the glass is impressive, and includes 2007 Solaia (180€ for a 125ml glass).The following bottles caught my eye: 2005 Cristal rosé champagne (1,080€), 2013 Cervao della Sala (150€), 2010 Gaja Barbaresco (570€), 2000 Quintarelli Amarone (990€), 1998 Tignanello (560€) and 2014 Masseto (1,210€).
The highly knowledgeable sommelier recommended to me a red from the Veneto made from Oselata, a grape unfamiliar to me. This 2010 Zymè (90€) was spicy and tannic, with intriguing layers of black and red fruit. It was an ideal partner for the beef. Had my luggage allowance on the aeroplane permitted it, I would have bought a bottle to take home, for the restaurant has an excellent arrangement by which any wine on the list can be purchased to take away, with a 35% discount.
That is an intellectually satisfying arrangement, is it not? Indeed, we might characterise the whole approach of this restaurant as both intellectual and satisfying – from its historical menu, its wonderful food, its detailed wine list and its considerate service to its provision of stimulating events and talks. The Bistrot de Venise is, truly, the ideal destination in Venice for the thinking gourmet – and the academic manqué.