I was reminded today of the most exciting meal I’ve ever had, and wouldn’t you know it, it was in Venice, a city which, only a decade or so ago, was notorious rather than noted, for its food. This visit, food, glorious Italian food, was almost top of my agenda, and so I made a mini-excursion into the wilds of the Venice Lagoon so I could eat at Venissa: a Michelin-style restaurant that’s part of a project rehabilitating an ancient vineyard and farm buildings on the little island of Mazzorbo. I couldn’t have chosen a more evocative day to set out: grey, misty Venice – the clouds capsizing onto the campaniles, subsiding into the campos and along the quayside fondamentas; the wind making frosty shakes as it collided with the downpour. I’m glad I bought those (cyclamen pink leather) gloves.
While my lunch near the Rialto the previous Sunday had showcased the best of traditional local recipes cooked to perfection, at Venissa, I tasted the simplest ingredients infused by alchemy into the sublime.
To start, the chef sent out a titbit of langoustine, immersed in a small ladle-full of onion soup. Onion soup? The quintessence of onion soup. I don’t know how she did it, but I’ve never tasted anything so unadorned, and yet so titillating to the palate, that is, till I tasted the razor clams, Baked, with just the faintest drizzle of parsley oil – each perfect morsel tasting of ocean-infused shellfish sweetness; the texture just shy of al dente. A small rest was called for, to savour the flavours a little longer, before finishing my glass of deliciously fresh Prosecco, and sampling a couple of the breads (so I could tell my friend Mohara about them) which gave my palate a bit of a rest before the wild duck arrived. Teamed with baked radiccio and wild cherry glaze, the meat was creamy with a hint of the wild, the slightly bitter after-taste of the radiccio tempered by the sour/sweetish cherry. To finish, since I’d decided against a pasta course, I chose a poached pear – sweet as, slightly gritty against the satiny texture of vanilla-infused whipped ricotta and velvety burnt caramel – and, wait for it, slowly melting caramel ice, and three slightly floury wild raspberries and a sprig of wild thyme …
Accompanying each course was a succession of wines (by the glass, how civilized!) recommended – after a little discussion as to preferences – by the sommelier. A performance which he topped off with a herbal digestive, followed by a local Grappa, with the coffee – which was accompanied by slightly candied orange peel and the lightest, shortest, least sweet of shortbread (oh, and chocolate, but I didn’t taste them) cookies.
What an experience!