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.