There’s nothing quite like a quality Continental breakfast, especially the way the Italians do it. The Maleti Bar on Venice’s Lido island knows exactly how to get the day off to a good start with just a few, simple ingredients:
Excellent coffee with a proper Italian kick, just the way I like it. Freshly squeezed orange juice. Warm brioches, the Northern name for croissants, one hiding a soft chocolate filling. My waistline didn’t thank me for that particular indulgence, but my tastebuds rose in a standing ovation.
One of my favourite lunchtime bites is the Venetian take on a sandwich: the tramezzino. The Maleti Bar tempted us via its counters filled with snacking potential. The tramezzini sit in fattened white triangles on the bottom shelf. If you ask me, a tuna and onion sandwich made Venetian-style is the world champ of its species.
If you’re more of a wrap-enthusiast, check out the top shelf here. Have you ever seen anything so artfully appetising? These wraps are colourful, stylish and huge; the Pavarottis of the wrap world.
Ah, Italy. Repeatedly, you win my heart, and always through my stomach.
*To find the Bar Maleti, take a vaporetto to the Lido. Get off at Lido Santa Maria Elisabetta. The Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta is the long road in front of you, moving away from the water. The Bar Maleti, a favourite with Lido locals, is about halfway down on the left hand side.
So dark was our room at the Vecellio that Monsieur and I found it difficult to predict the outside weather when we woke each morning. Today, our third together in Venice, saw the curtains draw back to reveal a glimpse of the lagoon and a blue (yes, blue!) sky. This was indeed fortunate as we wouldn’t spend precious hours squelching about in puddles, but it also meant that the air was even more icy than before.
Monsieur and I ducked out of the toasty hotel, into a very different Algiubagio – that of the day time, when the bar is stocked with snacks and locals stand about stylishly sipping on their first coffees of the weekend as they share local chit chat with their neighbours. I was dying for a tramezzino, or layered sandwich half in soft white crustless bread. The fillings are spread so thick that the sandwiches bulge inelegantly at their centre. The combinations are endless – tuna with baby onions, tuna with egg mayonnaise, cream cheese with grapes, ham and cheese, tomato and egg mayo… This morning’s choice would be tuna and onion, a savoury bite to start the day’s adventures. Monsieur, meanwhile, a creature of habit, remained unmoved from his desire for something more familiar, taking his staple breakfast of a croissant and coffee.
Now running on full tanks, so to speak, we took a vaporetto out across the lagoon to Burano. Being Sunday, there were lots of people dressed in their Sunday best, travelling to the islands to spend time with relatives and friends. This was a festive bunch, mingling alongside the tourists replete with signature baseball caps and gigantic cameras, or the likes of ourselves, relaxed to the point of nodding off at intervals on the long boat ride. As I took photos of San Michele and some abandoned islands, Monsieur dozed on my shoulder. Now and then, mist would descend on a patch of water, but mostly the weather and conditions were fine. In fact, our eyes ached with the brightness of light, having spent two days in the lifeless grey of winter and rain. We stopped twice at Murano to let people off and others on, and did the same at a place called Mazzorbo. From the vaporetto stop at the latter I noticed the houses, neatly lined up in colourful rows, the rainbow increasing as we pulled into Burano.
Although excited to be there and show Monsieur the fisherfolks’ houses, each painted a different hue to allow their owners to find their way home in heavy Venetian fog, it was a wrench to leave the warmth of the boat and be back outside in the bitter air. A path of Astroturf led away from the water, towards the centre of the island. Along the way we passed a house with ample front garden, boasting a couple of mature fruit trees and a resident cat on the prowl. Apparently, this house was for sale, or so said a sign hung on its gates. I wondered who would buy it. The commute into Venice proper would take a while, unless you ignored all the speed restrictions to zoom about in your own, private boat. Besides which, living in the relative isolation of Burano would drive most people slightly potty, no matter how picturesque it may be.
Monsieur and I wandered past the souvenir shops selling Burano lace table cloths and parasols, Murano beads and vases of glass, plates and goblets and more tacky tees. Following a twist of canals, we saw the houses for which this place is so renowned; red, blue and green of various depths, next to pastel pink, lemon yellow and terracotta. The fine day allowed us to take some wonderful photos. Here, with such bright subjects, it seems impossible to be a bad photographer. Considering this, we looked up at the wall of a green house overlooking a tiny communal square. There was a shrine to the Virgin Mary, fresh flowers laid at her feet by some reverent local. Returning to Burano’s main square, we were no longer alone. The islanders strolled around, going about their Sunday business, tourists seeking inspiration stared at menus outside restaurants and others fingered lace-trimmed tableware on display outside specialist shops. The proprietors must have been only too happy of the potential to make a few Euros in the off-season. In spite of the fine, blue sky, the air was still arctic, so we trudged back to the vaporetto stop, huddling in the shelter until our transport arrived.
Back on the boat, we traversed the lagoon, this time visiting Murano. A fellow passenger took advantage of the longish journey to apply a full face of make up without a single smudge. By the time Murano came into view, she was transformed from blank canvas to a blue eyeshadowed diva with fire engine-red lips. I wondered where she was going; hot date with a member of the Vigili del Fuoco, perhaps? Such saucy lips would certainly match his fire boat.
On the glass-making island, we shivered in the already-fading sunlight and walked briskly in search of a restaurant for lunch. Ai Frati had been recommended by one of our guides so once we found it, in we went. The dining room was large and somewhat Spartan, with a tiled floor and simple wood furniture. Our table looked into the open kitchen, with the ruddy chefs working at speed to create meals to satisfy the extended families seated around us. So far, it looked as if our tastebuds would be safe here. Wrong again. To start, we ordered gamberetti (tiny prawns) with polenta. Although tasty, it looked like fake plastic prawn babies on a big block of Styrofoam with vague grill marks. It could even have been toy food created to go into a toy oven on a pink plastic plate so I prayed that the main course would be more inspiring. My spaghetti alle vongole was a reliable choice, tasted exactly as I’d expected it to and disappeared down a satisfied throat, mind you, in Venice it’s hard to find a bad spag vongole. Monsieur’s meal, a plate of ravioli Bolognese, had the air of something bought off a supermarket shelf, added to which, it was depressingly small. Need I say here that the disappointment of the lunch had a direct effect on the mood of that afternoon? Shame on you, Ai Frati! You should know better than to cheat a Frenchman out of a decent lunch. You should know that this is capable of ruining his day. Frenchmen in Venice, be warned. The ravioli at this place will not make you glow with gastronomic pleasure. Head back to Algiubagio for a more reliable feast.
Forcing smiles as we braved the great Venetian outdoors, we walked to the nearby Glass Museum. The highlight of this was that Monsieur immediately homed in on a warm spot in the stairwell, so we basked there for a good few minutes before entering the much cooler exhibition areas. In one room to the rear of the building I stood at a window and gazed out at a cluster of gardens. They’re such a rare delight in Venice that I was curious to peep over the walls from an advantageous height, before continuing to learn about glass from its ancient beginnings through to pretty millefiori paperweights and elaborate chandeliers. It amazes me how sand and heat can create something so beautiful, that is, when you look at tasteful glass items. I coveted the crystal clear wine glasses with a curl of opaque white climbing up their stems like twists of DNA and feared for the contents of certain display cases as our footsteps caused them to rattle in an ominous fashion. There were glass table services causing me to imagine what damage could be done to such plates whilst dragging a knife through a cut of meat. Only the seriously wealthy could afford such risk.
Back outside in the late afternoon we took photos of the canal with its pretty row of houses and the nearby Romanesque church of Santo Donato. “Can you SMILE, please?” urged Monsieur as the camera pointed my way. I hadn’t realised that my face had frozen into a frown.
We were now too late for the glass-blowing demonstrations at the big furnaces on Murano, but that saved us the awkwardness of the hard-sell at the end. In a bead shop, we smiled at how the displays looked edible, more like buckets of hard-boiled sweets in a confectioner’s than glass accessories aimed at tourists, but we could tarry no longer. The sun was now sinking so it was back to Venice proper for us, for yet another culinary adventure, Venetian style.
I’ve been reviewing a lot for Qype recently – a site where real people review what’s hot and what’s not in their hometown or in places they visit. I’m having a lot of fun remembering some of my best (and worst) meals, and learning a lot more about what’s going on in this hectic city; don’t you find it’s too easy to take living in a place for granted, thus forgetting to make an effort to do/see/visit what a visitor would? I certainly do, but one hometown that I could never take for granted is Venice.
Put simply, Venice blew my mind when I lived there as a student intern in the mid-nineties. It seeped into my veins in the time I was there and left its indelible watery mark, to the point where I am now writing a book about it. Naturally, when I found out that well-travelled Monsieur had never been to Venice, I was in shock; it became a priority to ensure he knew about doges and Bellinis (the artists, not the drink!) and how to cross canals without slipping in greasy dog poop, so off we went for a wintry weekend and it was then that we came across one of my favourite restaurants in the world. Here’s what I wrote for Qype:
When I lived in Venice, it took a while to seek out the truly good eateries that didn’t have point-and-eat menus in multiple languages, or charge the earth for mediocre offerings. Unfortunately for me back then, I didn’t find Algiubagio, even though it’s been run by the same family for 50 odd years. On a more recent visit to Venice, Monsieur and I stayed at a hotel on the Fondamente Nuove, looking out across the lagoon at San Michele, however, when we arrived it was late at night and not many places in the vicinity were still serving food. We were starving so the hotel receptionist pointed us a few doors down the Fondamenta to Algiubagio. This was to be one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had in Venice make that Italy.
In spite of our lateness, the staff were welcoming and a waiter who’d once worked in London carefully guided us through the menu. We chose a starter selection platter to kick off with, including a most unusual mix of tastes, from carpaccio of reindeer to a spoonful of creamy cheese from the Veneto topped with slices of lagoon-grown grapes. The carbon footprint of most of the food served at Algiubagio is low, because wherever possible, they use local produce. Even the olive oil, pressed by a firm called Planeta, was out of this world – probably hence the name. We fought over the trofie, small handmade twirls of pasta, simply drizzled with oil and tossed with cherry tomatoes, diced mozzarella, just warm without melting, and rocket, and I tried their juicy wild duck breast, which was flavoured in a semi-Asiatic way with aromatic spices. The menu boasts Argentinian Angus beef in a number of tempting guises, including one fillet served with apple and chocolate sauce. If you’re into beef and can forget about food miles for a moment, this is an Algiubagio signature dish.
Vegetarians won’t be left out in the cold, however; there is plenty of choice: a number of fresh salads, various warm vegetable dishes and pastas.
In spite of the richness of the dishes on Algiubagio’s menu, the prices are varied to suit wallets of different sizes. For instance, the wine list, which typically features local wine, starts at 14 Euros per bottle – not bad for pricey Venice.
In addition to formal dining, Algiubagio offers informal daytime snacks of tramezzini sandwiches or pastries and rich coffee from their bar overlooking the lagoon. When Monsieur and I grabbed a quick breakfast here on our way to explore the sights, it was apparent that this place is no secret from the locals; they flock here for their morning repast and the latest local gossip. On summer evenings the terrace is littered with candlelit tables, from which diners enjoy gazing out at the islands of the lagoon and passing water traffic, whilst in winter the dining room is warmly lit, providing a comforting respite from the chill Venetian air.
The building in which Algiubagio is located used to be a boat-house, or barchessa, which you can see from its long, low structure, but has been sensitively refurbished to provide a traditional feel with modern accents. The kitchen is open to the dining room, which I always appreciate because it shows that the chefs have nothing to hide, with the sort of modern extractor hood that is so modern and metallic that you wouldn’t be surprised if it took off skyward. The open kitchen also provides added entertainment for the patrons, if they enjoy watching pans flick and flames flash in the preparation of their food, like I do.
The staff were attentive and helpful and multi-lingual and knew the menu from experience. They’d tasted the food and not once did our questions about some of the unusual combinations send them off in search of an answer; they knew all the answers. Trust me on this: much to Monsieur’s mortification I ask a LOT of questions in restaurants that pique my interest, so the Algiubagio staff thoroughly earned this compliment. On our second and third visits, a waiter remembered us, appearing with flutes of complimentary prosecco as we were seated and chatting with us about our day treading the stones of Venice before launching into a confident recital of the day’s specials. Impressive.
Algiubagio has passed The Monsieur and Epic 3x test; we visited the restaurant three times during our last stay. It has also passed the recommended-to-a-friend test; when a colleague visited Venice I insisted she try Algiubagio and she was so thrilled by her experience that she brought me back a gift.
For all of the above reasons, Algiubagio is a must-try restaurant; it’s almost worth booking a weekend in Venice to eat here and the mere writing of this post makes my itch to return almost unbearable.