RISTORANTE DO FORNI
The best restaurants are not always easy to find, particularly in the complicated warren of streets which is Venice. But the serious gourmet must persevere, for the rewards are great. Even when you find it, the Ristorante Do Forni from the outside does not look much different from all the other surrounding (and lesser) establishments. But this busy dining room has been patronised by some of the world’s most important persons – like the President of the United States and the Head of the Orthodox Church. Indeed, for over a century, persons of taste and means have flocked to Do Forni, close to St Mark’s Square, to treat themselves to wonderful food and remarkable wines, served with flair and panache.
Since 1973 the Patron of Do Forni has been Eugio Paties. He is a man who dresses as all members of the noble Academy of Restaurateurs should dress – in a fine three-piece suit, with a watch chain across his waistcoat. Standards, as I constantly remind my readers, are indivisible: a gentleman who maintains the highest sartorial standards will maintain the highest standards in the rest of his endeavours. Thus Mr Paties does not just preside over a magnificent dining room. He also endorses (and has done since 1986) a prize for graphic art, the Premio Internazionale de Grafica Do Forni – which, doubtless, is why the walls of his establishment are covered with impressive pictures.
Part of the restaurant is decorated in the manner of a carriage from that remarkable train, The Orient Express. The rest has a more rustic style. I was in the latter part – at a table of impressive size with starched white napery and good glassware by Rastal. The staff wore black tie, of course, and – despite the restaurant being packed – the service was efficient and entirely correct. All around me were people who were very obviously enjoying themselves. This is a jolly, buzzy place, not one of those hushed, gastronomic shrines. But the standard of the food is very high indeed, and Mr Paties is justifiably proud of the many awards his restaurant has received over the years.
I began with a lobster salad with crispy vegetables. The lobster was tender and tasty, and beautifully enhanced by the very light dressing on the salad. This was a fine beginning. And its standards were matched, exceeded even, by the ravishingly soft tagliolini which followed – the pasta made truly heavenly by the generous quantity of shavings of white truffle with which it was baptised at the table. There simply is no better dish in the world than really good pasta and fresh white truffle.
For my main course I decided upon a grilled fillet steak. This was a straightforward dish, of course, but it was transformed into the exceptional by the quality of the meat. It was, truly, life-enhancing in its flavoursome lusciousness. To accompany this gorgeous beef, I ordered roasted potatoes and buttered green beans. These vegetables were so good and were supplied so generously that I could not bear to leave any. Of course, I ate too much.
But my over-indulgence did not stop me from tackling a pudding. And I was glad I did, for the vanilla ice cream and its accompanying warm chocolate were outrageously lovely. (Allow 150€+ for such a meal in the truffle season, and 100€+ during the rest of the year.)
The wine list is superb. Its nearly one thousand offerings include many of those bottles which make wine-lovers sigh with longing. Prices run from the modest (22€ for a local chardonnay) right up to 14,900€ for the 1988 vintage of the finest red burgundy, Romanée-Conti. Those who love super-Tuscans can indulge themselves with a double-magnum of 1997 Solaia for 4,950€ or ponder which of the 26 vintages of Masseto to try (the 1999 is 2,050€). And fans of red Bordeaux will be pleased to see that all the very best clarets are available, the 2005 Pétrus coming in at 8,900€.
If you are looking for a really top-class restaurant in Venice, swot up the location, follow the Presidents and the Patriarchs (and me), and go to Do Forni. You will have a splendid time.