TALES FROM VENICE, POLPO AND BEYOND

Aperitivo Time Relaunch!

Our relationship with Campari goes way back. When we opened the doors of POLPO, Beak Street way back in 2009, we KNEW that our tribute to the Venetian bàcaro had to showcase the luminous orange and red favourite red cocktails of the floating city. These were our hero products and we were proud of introducing the spritz to the thirsty streets of Soho. A slug of Aperol or Campari, a slosh of white wine and a top-up of soda water – perfection.

We opened and many customers expressed curiosity. Few were used to seeing Campari as a component of cocktails, but the vast majority of Londoners hadn’t come across it before. Our little restaurant in Soho was pumping out more Campari and Aperol than any other unit in the UK… fast forward nearly 10 years (!) and you cannot leave the house on a sunny day without seeing happy faces with glowing drinks in their hands. We love it.

You will notice that our restaurant walls are adorned with vintage Campari and Aperol artwork. Naming of three of our underground bars is dedicated to our relationship – Campari Room, Aperol Bar and Negroni Bar.

POLPO, Campari, Aperol. We are synonymous with each other.

So we thought it was about time we celebrated our friendship by relaunching Aperitivo Time with the extended hours of 3-6pm. Throughout this time you can get a cocktail and bar snacks of black truffle crisps & Bella di Cerignola olives for just FIVE POUNDS, select cicheti pieces can be bought additionally at £1 each.

Come and celebrate with us! We will see you at the bar!

Rìsi e Bìsi and the Feast of St Mark

The morning of 25 April, and today marks a very special occasion in the Venetian calendar to honor St Mark, the city’s patron saint.

The Venetians celebrate with Rìsi e Bìsi, the principal offering at the annual feast, and so will we! Please come and visit us at any POLPO restaurant, where Rìsi e Bìsi will be on our specials board.

Can’t make it in to town? You can make it at home!

The tradition has it that the very first young peas of the season are used for this delightful and simple risotto. To make an authentic Rìsi e Bìsi you need to use young peas, the smallest and tenderest you can find. This is not one of those dishes where frozen peas will do. Absolutely not. Sorry. You must use fresh peas. And you must shell them. You may want to buy twenty per cent more peas than you actually need so that you can reward yourself whilst shelling by popping the occasional raw pea in your mouth.

For six:

2kg fresh peas in their pods

2 onions, 1 cut in half and 1 finely chopped

Flaky sea salt and black pepper

50ml extra virgin olive oil

60g unsalted butter

150g small pancetta lardons (optional)

400g risotto rice – carnaroli is best

1 handful of mint leaves, chopped

1 handful of flat parsley leaves, chopped

1 large handful of grated Parmesan

Shell the peas in advance because you are going to make a simple stock with the empty pods. In a large pan, bring 2.5 litres of water to the boil. When all the peas are shelled, place the pods (but not the peas) in the pan with the halved onion. (Move the freshly podded peas to one side, out of temptation’s way.)

Bring the pods to the boil for only a minute or two and then take off the heat. Remove and discard the pods. Now you have your stock for making the risotto.

Sweat the finely chopped onion with a few pinches of salt in the olive oil and half the butter in a heavy-based pan. This should be a slow process on a low heat – you don’t want it to turn brown at all. The onion should become clear, shiny and translucent. Add the pancetta lardons, if using, and continue to sauté for a few minutes. Add a twist of black pepper.

Now add the rice and stir slowly for 2 minutes. You want to coat every grain in the oil and butter so that everything looks glossy and nothing is sticking. With a large ladle, put just enough stock in the pan to cover everything but not drown it. The contents will let off a satisfying hiss and a cloud of steam. This first ladleful will be absorbed and evaporate very quickly. Add another. If the pan continues to bubble, the heat is too high. Turn it down and stir slowly.

For the next 15 minutes or so you should continue to stir slowly and add a ladleful of stock every time the rice looks less than wet. You are continually letting the rice absorb the liquid and allowing the grains to release their starch. Towards the end, add the peas, half the chopped mint and half the chopped parsley. Taste and add more salt if needed, but not too much. Remember that the Parmesan will add a little salt to the balance.

Don’t be a slave to the clock; taste your grains to know when they are done. They should still have a little bite to them. When they are ready, make sure the mixture is nice and runny. Unlike a regular risotto, Rìsi e bìsi should be more liquid, rather like a thick soup. Take off the heat. Gently stir in the Parmesan, the remaining butter, mint and parsley. Cover the pan and let it rest for a few minutes, and then serve in wide shallow bowls.

THE BEST PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK IN VENICE – 2018

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

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