My two favourite restaurants in Venice at the moment are Alle Testiere and Antiche Carampane. The first is tiny, extremely friendly and has an impressive market-to-table philosophy. It concentrates on fish and seafood and has an excellent daily-changing menu. Good wines too. The second place has a similar approach, but focuses on traditional Venetian dishes and local recipes. Both usually packed with locals and food tourists – always a good sign. Booking essential. Ask for my friends Luca at the first and Francesco at the second. Both places are closed Sunday and Monday.

Another favourite restaurant, Al Covo, is also highly recommended, with a very warm welcome from Cesare and his American wife Diane. Excellent cooking, very classy service. Do make sure you check all their winter opening times – Alle Testiere, for example, closes on 24 December and doesn’t reopen until late January! Ai Artisti is a relatively new place near Campo San Barnaba and is very good indeed. Small (20 seats) so booking is essential. The young Japanese head chef, Masahiro Homma, cooks Venetian classics with real precision and flair. Front of house run by the lovely Kiko (who used to run Antiche Carampane, above) and the owner Vincenzo.

I have had several really brilliant times at Paradiso Perduto recently. Lively, scruffy and fun with great home-made pasta. Cacio e pepe is excellent and prepared at the tableside. Cash only but it is not expensive. Live music on Mondays when there is always a large crowd. The rest of the menu is good but it’s definitely the most fun place to be in the evening. Full of students, artists, poets, philosophers and actors. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

A nice way to spend a bright afternoon is to go to La Cantina, ask for my friends Francesco or Natasha, and drink local wines with a plate of two of excellent cold cuts and Venetian sashimi. It is one of the best places for simple but delicious food and great for people watching. (Disclaimer: I have heard rumours that this place is changing hands soon.)

A really excellent place for proper home cooking is Dalla Marisa. It is small and cramped with no frills or refinements but the cooking is honest and delicious. It’s always packed with local workers at lunch, and has more the atmosphere of a works canteen than a restaurant. I love it. Terrific value for money.

The best bacaro (snack & wine bar) is All’Arco. Ask for Matteo. Also go to Alla Vedova for a glass of wine and a meatball at the counter and Cantinone già Schiavi for traditional cicheti. All excellent and great fun! For drinks, if you want to get down with the kids, go to Caffè Rosso in Campo Santa Margherita. Spritzes to your heart’s content. There’s a wine bar near Rialto called I Rusteighi – hard to find but really lovely and romantic at night. Ask for Giovanni – quite a character!

Finally, remember that Venetians are proud of their history, heritage and culinary traditions. If someone recommends a dish at one of the places we mention, it is usually because it’s fantastic, it is fresh in, or it is seasonal/important. Despite what you read, the vast majority of serious Venetians want you to have an authentic experience and are not out to rip you off.

Do mention my name and POLPO; we are well known to most of the food heroes of the city.

Russell Norman, March 2018

Women’s Month

March is on its way – and it brings with it some important dates for us at POLPO.

With Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day (Festa della Donna) just around the corner, we’re turning March into a month-long celebration of women. A celebration of POLPO’s women, the female leaders within our industry, and great women from all walks of life!

The special season will kick off on 8th March – the day of Festa della Donna. The holiday began in Italy when women took to the streets in solidarity for their recently-emigrated sisters killed in a tragic blaze in a New York factory after protesting about their substandard working conditions.

The mimosa flower quickly became the symbol of this day, chosen for its bright colour and fragrant scent. In Italy today, men will still give the sweet-smelling flowers to their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to show their love and appreciation. Women will now often give the flowers to one another as a sign of respect and solidarity. It is not unheard of for female customers to give sprigs of mimosa to the women sat behind the counter of the local post office or on the supermarket checkout as an expression of appreciation.

Back in London, the day is always a highlight of our year, as many of POLPO’s Italian team members come in armed with the bright yellow flowers to give to the women they work alongside.

In honour of this tradition, we will gift all women who dine with us on 8th March – as well as on Mother’s Day – a bunch of Mimosas to take home with them

Throughout the month we will also be partnering with REFUGE, a charity working to support and protect vulnerable women. Five set extra-special specials will all have £1 go directly to the charity. We will also be hosting a ticketed evening event with speakers from REFUGE alongside a showcase of our spring menu. In addition, a wine dinner with Passione Vino will match classic POLPO dishes with wines from some of the best female producers. Watch this space for more details.

And if that weren’t enough… keep your eyes peeled for some very exciting social media ‘take-overs’ from inspirational female industry leaders.

Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking. A teaser!

Here’s Russell making broccoli & anchovy crostini, one of the recipes from his upcoming new book Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking, published by Fig Tree on 29 Mar 2018.

This book is Russell’s return to Venice – the city that inspired POLPO – to immerse himself in the authentic flavours of the Veneto and the culinary traditions of the city.

His rustic kitchen – in the residential quarter of the city where washing hangs across the narrow streets and neighbours don’t bother to lock their doors – provides the perfect backdrop for this adventure, and for the 130 lip-smacking, easy Italian family recipes showcasing the simple but exquisite flavours of Venice.

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