Venice has been like a second home to my family for decades. As children, my brother and I were deposited for a week of unbridled TV watching and ice-cream eating at our grandparents’ house each year when my parents went for their anniversary. We first visited as teenagers, after a boat journey from Ireland to France followed by a drive through the length of France and most of Italy. We have returned every few years ever since, and in my twenties I turned down an opportunity to live there, moving to the Netherlands instead.
In November, I returned to Venice for a long weekend with himself. My planning for any trip starts months in advance, and we usually know where we will be eating and on which day long before we have reached our destination. With Venice, this is particularly important, because good restaurants book up fast, and opening times are unpredictable. This post is a guide to the places we went, and when we went to them, to help any other visitors to Venice plan a long weekend.
Where to eat breakfast
I’m not a big fan of traditional breakfast foods. On holidays I usually give it a miss in favour of lunch when the interesting food starts to appear. In Venice, however, you can start on cicchetti and other Venetian snacks from early in the morning, thanks to the bacari around the Rialto. Cantina Do Mori dates back over 500 years and starts serving wine and food at 8am. The staff are notoriously unfriendly but it’s a great place to start the day. My favourite breakfast was an aubergine meatball (polpetto de melanzane), a ciccheti with artichoke (carciofi) and, because all the locals were doing it, a small glass of prosecco.
Where to eat lunch in the sun
In the afternoons, the sun shines on the Zattere, and trickles into Dorsoduro. The stretch of canal edged by the Fondamenta Nani is the perfect place to soak up the sun and people-watch, if you don’t mind eating lunch from a plastic plate perched on a wall. The Fondamenta Nani is home to two great cicchetti places: the Cantine del Vino Gia Schiavi, also known as Al Bottegon (which you can read more about here) and Osteria Al Squero. We visited the latter this time, and were faced with a long but swift-moving queue seeking out cicchetti and spritzes. Al Squero offers different cicchetti for €1.80 each. My favourites were lardo with rosemary and truffled ricotta with radicchio and walnuts. If the weather isn’t up to the challenge, it’s still a nice bar to sit in, but the buzz outside on a sunny day makes this worth the trip even without the great food. Afterwards, you can stroll along the Zattere with an ice-cream and bask in the golden light.
Where to eat late at night
The Fondamenta Misericordia, running parallel to the Strada Nuove in the heart of Canareggio, is a hub of activity from lunchtime until the early hours. Cicchetti bars open from noonish and stay open until midnight or 1am on weekends along its length. Il Paradiso Perduto, an osteria in a long low room with a bar to the front and tables at the back, serves food until after 23:00. It’s essential to book, but this will not save you from queueing. The service here is truly appalling until you make it to your seats. It took us ten minutes just to convey the information that we had a reservation, and another ten before our table was ready. Once you sit down, the service becomes brisk and friendly. Portions here are absolutely huge; a plate of pasta is a meal in itself. We foolishly opted for the house antipasto having seen the display of food at the counter followed by seafood spaghetti and a porcini and radicchio lasagne and could only eat about half of it all. We got the house Chardonnay, which was lightly fizzy and reminded me a little of Txacoli. After our meal, we witnessed a chef cooking some magical pasta in a hollowed out wheel of Parmesan for a group at another table. If you figure out how to order this, it looks incredible.
Where to splash out
Alle Testiere is on every insiders guide to Venice, from Russell Norman to Donna Leon. It’s a small restaurant near the Rialto Bridge, seating just 24 people, so it has to be booked weeks in advance, with an online booking followed by a phone call to confirm your credit card details. The atmosphere is more formal than I had expected, and the room more elegant, but the service is welcoming. This is not a cheap experience, you can expect to pay at least €70 per person. They only serve what is fresh from the market so the menu changes each day. The focus is on the fish, so sauces and other flavours are understated. We shared the fish antipasti, which focused on raw fresh local shellfish, followed by a pumpkin and tuna ravioli and gnocchi with spider crab. The standout was a slab of smoked tuna as part of the antipasti
Where to get brunch(ish) on a Sunday
Venice has a reputation for being a bit dead on Sundays, but the Fondamenta Misericordia continues its reputation as a lively hub even on Sunday mornings. You can’t get a sit-down brunch, but the cicchetti bars open from 11am onwards, and are soon heaving with locals. Families bring children, walkers stroll in with well-behaved dogs, the crowds spill out onto the canal, and people find every available spot in the sun to drink spritzes and eat cicchetti. If you want something a bit more relaxed, the Pasticceria Rosa Salva is open on Campo San Giovanni e Paolo from 8am, serving traditional cakes and coffee on the square.
Where to eat dinner on a Sunday
Most restaurants in Venice revolve around the opening hours of the Rialto Market, so it can be challenging to find a good meal on Sundays and Mondays when it is closed. Vini Da Gigio (not to be confused with the nearby Trattoria da Gigio) is an exception. It’s a cosy place just off the Strada Nuove with warm staff. The clientele is definitely more visitor-based, it’s not a local secret, but the food is fantastic. We started with a seafood antipasti of traditional Venetian specialities like bacala (salt cod), sarde saor (sardines in a sweet and sour onion sauce) and granseola (spider crab). I went on to a giant plate of fritto misto, a place of lightly battered and fried prawns, calamari, whitebait and samphire which should not be missed. They have a selection of nice house wines by the carafe. You can expect to pay €15-25 for an antipasto, about €18 for a small plate of pasta and €20-25 for a secondi like fritto misto but the portions of these are huge.
Where to eat on a Monday
The restaurant situation on Monday is even more dire, as the fish market has now been closed for two days. Fortunately, the vegetable market reopens on Monday, so you can take a break from fish and try some of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had. Osteria La Zucca is not actually a vegetarian restaurant, it has meat dishes too, but the vegetable dishes are the star of the show. They have the usual antipasto, primi, secondi format, but also a dazzling array of vegetable side dishes which can create a meal in themselves. They are €7 each, or you can get two half portions for €8. This place has to be booked in advance. We turned up at 2pm on a quiet November monday, and were lucky to snag the last seats in the place. If the weather is good, try to book the outdoor tables for some people watching.
Where to drink interesting wine
Venice is full of traditional bacari where you can get an ombra for a euro or two, but finding places to try new wines is more of a challenge. Vino vero on the Fondamenta della Misericordia specialises in organic and biodynamic wines. They also serve cicchetti and plates of cured meats/cheese. We had some particularly lousy service here, but the wine list is very interesting, with local wines and wines from further afield. They had some great natural orange wines when we visited. The bar is small, but there’s seating outside on the canal.