Bond and bellinis in Venice

We’ve run away to Venice for 25 hours.

It’s not flooded. It doesn’t smell and we’ve even found a few places to seek refuge from the flocks of fanny packs.

Obviously this is a city on the water. So I’ve packed my nautical stripes and been careful with the luggage. Carry on only. I’m bringing a small ballast, and an eager belly.

Arriving in Venice is special, particularly if you do it the way we did. A water taxi from the front of Saint Lucia train station to a canal-front hotel is a pricy indulgence. It’s an experience which reeks of James Bond and boater hats. The taxis are elongated speed boats, slicked up with white leather and dark wood interiors. As they whip you down the grand canal, you can’t help feeling like you should be wearing white linen and involved in some kind of international espionage.

Stepping straight from the deck of the boat to the lobby of the Hotel Al Pont Sospiri, involves prayers that your suitcase will follow safely. I wonder how many pieces of Samsonite have been baptised by the green waters over the years.

Once you’re on deck you realise there can’t be many slicker ways to arrive in the heart of a city.

Two blocks from the flocks of pigeons and camcorders of St Marks, our hotel the Al Pont Sospiri treads the fine line between ‘traditional’ and Venetian caricature. Chandeliers, canopied beds and heavy scalloped draperies don’t always float my boat, but here it feels pretty right.

The first stop is a pilgrimage to Harry’s Bar. It’s directly on the lagoon, a five minute walk from St Marks, and requires a keen eye to find the small turnstile door that will transport you from the white washed exterior to a dim nautical style cabin. In 2001 the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs declared this favoured drinking spot of Ernest Hemmingway a national landmark. If you’re going to Harry’s Bar, you’re going for one thing. Cocktails don’t come much sweeter than this.

In the 1930, Hary’s owner, Giuseppe Cipriani, created a cocktail that combined white peach and prosecco. In 1948 he christened it after Giovanni Bellini, the fifteenth century Venetian painter. Twenty-first birthdays and hens’ nights have never been the same since.

If you arrive at Harry’s after 6pm you don’t need to be as dressed up as the dapper white tuxedo jacket wearing wait staff – but if your gentlemen friends are wearing shorts or sneakers you’ll be turned away, ever so politely, of course. At 15 euro a bellini, Harry’s may be north of the budget for your standard pre-dinner cocktail, but after a few minutes you realise along with three parts chilled prosecco and one part grated and strained white peach puree, what you’re really drinking is history. If only all cultural experiences tasted this good.

But one is enough, and dinner is calling us. No ‘menu turistica’ tonight – it’s a table for two at a restaurant that only seats 12. Giovanni Bonnacorsi is both the chef and occasional waitstaff at Il Ridotto. Bring on delicate regional food that mixes the sea and the prettiest bits of the land.

A complimentary starter brings three warm baby mussels puddling in a cold and spicy tomato soup.

Langoustine and lobster salad comes with little fronds of fennel and lemon myrtle and looks like a posy of flowers.

A seafood risotto is a shallow circle of blonde rice, prettified with a trail of three ‘fragolina’- itty bitty wild strawberries. It’s a kooky combination, but it works.

The murano water glasses, the wine list (a tome of things good and local) and the deconstructed tiramisu in a glass all make us feel like we’ve done some more travelling without leaving our chair. Sure the service was pretty slow, but after the second glass of house made limoncello at the end of the night, we didn’t care about much.

This morning it’s a quick wander over the Ponte Vecchio and its associated Venetian rite of passage of getting hopelessly lost in cavernous back streets.

Then it’s a sneaky lunch at Osteria da Baco, just past the back of Doges palace for a classic tramezzini and aperol spritzer. A spritzer may sound like another in Venice’s arsenal of girly drinks but here even construction workers seem to be tucking into these boozy orange fizzes. You’ve got to love any drink that combines the slightly medicinal twang and the kick of aperol with a green olive as a swizzle stick.

Then it’s two tramezzini – Venetian sandwiches which are the kind of white bread triangle sandwiches you wished were in your lunchbox.

Bloated in the centre and squashed down at the side, they’re fat with colourful combinations; from tuna and mayonnaise with capers, to rocket, brie and braesola.

Two of those and we’re steeled for the trip back.

The wallets may be empty, but the bellies are full. I’m hoping that helps even out the ballast for the boat ride back.

Il Ridotto 
Campo SS Filippo e Giacomo
Castello, 4509, 30122 Venice, Italy
041 520 8280

Osteria da Baco
Calle delle Rasse | 30122, Venice, Italy

  1. Barbara & Scott on 21 July 2009

    That was our favorite dinner in Italy!!

  2. hi all

    I figured it would be a good idea to introduce myself to everyone!

    Can't wait to get to know you all better!


    Thanks again!

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