How many times have you heard the usual complaints about Venice? They can always be heard, from the most enthusiastic of visitors to the most negative, and they sound like this: “it’s certainly beautiful, but I wouldn’t live there”, “Venice is ridiculously expensive and at the end of it all it’s merely a postcard”. My favourite is this: “you eat badly in Venice and the restaurants are tourist traps.” Well, it might be a common complaint, but you have to admit there’s always an element of truth, and this particular complaint – made by many – has been proved more right than wrong over the years.
Eating in Venice, and moreover eating well, isn’t easy. So, how to eat well on a limited budget in such an expensive city. In the absence of local friends and experts – those who don’t have a vested interest! – who know of places with both quality food and reasonable prices, a few culinary recommendations are fundamental. Because during every visit to a large city, and more so if it’s Italian, taste plays its part.
Let’s begin with the eat well – spend less theory. We need to try rather hard here, and so we head off towards Venice’s pedestrian area in the hunt for Bacari, the city’s typical trattorias. We follow our instincts, in the search for a bit of intimacy and simplicity, both far too rare now, and arrive at the bacaro Alla Vedova in Calle del Pistor. We’re in Cannaregio, the most populated district in the city, and not far from the ghetto. Large pans and copper utensils hang from the walls, the atmosphere is lively and there are real Venetians at the bar. A good sign. Some of them will be having parcels of wonderful little meatballs, some say they’re the best in the city. Just to be sure, try the tasty spaghetti al nero di seppia (squid ink spaghetti).
Bacaro means osteria, osteria also means bar and bar also means aperitif. A good and relatively economical aperitif can be found at the Cantina Do Mori, considered the oldest bacaro in Venice, frequented, as legend would wish, by Casanova himself! The bar is covered with cicheti, a typical local aperitif of small fish and shellfish, but also by cold meats and beef tongue, often accompanied with radicchio. The cook’s specialities are parmigiana di melanzane (fried aubergines cooked with tomato sauce and mozzarella), tuna in various forms and salted artichokes. But the most important dish is eaten standing up. Order the francobollo, like many Venetians do at the hour of the aperitif. You’ll be given a generously-sized sandwich with radicchio, mixed cold meats and gorgonzola. The area’s right in the centre – Sestiere San Polo – in Calle dei Do Mori.
Just a few coins in your pocket and an empty stomach? A truly Venetian solution is the fritolin, small bars serving freshly-fried fish. They used to be found at every corner of the city, today they’ve almost disappeared due to the ban on using flames. Nevertheless, the retrieval of the tradition has given birth to a series of bars serving fried fish on the spot, but be careful! Many of these use fish that isn’t fresh, but frozen, and others serve up in questionable hygienic conditions. Even some of the most historic ones have been closed over the past few years for this reason. We recommend the Vecio Fritolin, halfway between a traditional trattoria and one of the historic Venetian takeaways. The fish is always fresh and dishes from the past are brought to life again with a contemporary flavour. It costs slightly more, but is definitely worth it. You can find it at Calle della Regina in the Santa Croce district.
And finally some advice for finer palates and those with slightly more generous wallets. If you want to allow yourself a decidedly upmarket dinner in a city as unique as Venice, and you don’t mind how much you spend – and in a city where spending a lot doesn’t necessary ensure that they eat as you should – a safe option is the Lineadombra Restourant. Its atmosphere is elegant and its furnishings simple but tasteful. The dishes hail from the most imaginative and international culinary arts, great attention is paid to the client and the service is impeccable. There is also a feast for the eyes: the view from the Zattere area in the Dorsoduro district is directly onto the façade of the Basilica del Redentore. An al fresco dinner on the ample terrace of the Lineadombra becomes an unforgettable experience.
How to get there. According to where you are and how you like to travel, Venice is easily reachable by car thanks to the A4 and A27 motorways, by train – the station is right by the centre – and by plane, if travelling from the south of Italy. Flights from Roma Fiumicino with Alitalia Economy are around 100/150 € return.
Where to stay. Elegant, in a historical building, and classic in flavour – this is the Hotel Ca’ Alvise with its seventeenth century furnishings and exclusive atmosphere. Rather more affordable and right in the centre is the Hotel San Moisè in classic Venetian style. If you want to stay in Venice in an unpretentious environment without exhausting your finances, try the Collegio Armeno Moorat Raphael, a smart hostel and boarding house in the Dorsoduro area.