There are lots of good settings in Venice, but this is certainly one of the best. The terrace juts out into the Giudecca canal and provides the guests of La Calcina, the charming and historic hotel to which the restaurant is attached, with a lovely outside option for breakfast – and lunch, dinner and all things in between for anyone who fancies sitting in the sun and enjoying the views. Which, if you’re lucky, may include a close-up of a ten-storey high liner sailing serenely past you in the deep central channel, complete with serried rows of waving passengers. It’s one of the most surreal sights in Venice.
La Piscina is a classy outfit and vegetarians should take note, for every course there’s a whole section of dishes that will please. The fact that you can dip in and out of the menu – there are no set meal times so you can order as much or as little as you want – is another bonus.
As antipasti you might try one of the crostini varieties – all at €8. There’s the classic olio, aglio e pomodoro or better value, go for the misti vegetariani – four good sized crostini with, respectively, zucchini and olive, aubergine, radicchio and seasonal vegetable toppings. Even better value, try the cheese or fish versions, again with four varieties for €8. Of the other antipasti we tried the carpaccio di salmone con fagiolini e salsa basilico. This looked beautiful, wafer thin salmon swirled round tender green beans. Unfortunately it was so cold that the salmon was virtually tasteless.
Primi (€10 – €12) include some interesting soups (vellutata di zucchini al profumo di dragoncello, crema di fagioli) and variations on classic pasta (fusilli con Sant’Erasmo pesto al basilico e pomodoro).
During this spring visit the nearby market garden island of Sant’Erasmo featured on many menus, particularly for its famed baby artichokes, which featured in tagliata di petto d’anatra con carciofi. This was a star of the secondi menu (€15 – €20), a tender, generous fan of slices with an excellent sauce. Treccia di branzino con salsa di pinot grigio e verdure di stagione looked absolutely spectacular – the sea bass plaited and interleaved with the seasonal vegetables. However a little like the salmon starter, the presentation was better than the flavour.
That could not be said of the dolci, though, and I would recommend a visit here just on the strength of the best pudding I’ve had in Venice – or almost anywhere else. They’re not cheap at €8 but trust me, they’re worth it. The tortino di cioccolato con salsa al nocciole e spuma di cocco was one of those intensely flavoured little chocolate cakes with a liquid centre, and it was a killer, the addition of the hazelnut and coconut sauces adding the coup de grace. Next time I have to try the crespella con crema di pasticcera e mele, or the sfogliata con crema al mascarpone e pere con salsa al caramello… There’s a real pudding lover at work in the kitchen here and that’s a rarity in Italy.
The all-Italian wine list is well chosen and offers plenty of choice around the €20 mark.
Service is pleasant and friendly (not surprising as all the staff at La Calcina are charming) and although on occasion it seems that presentation has overtaken taste, and this is certainly not an inexpensive restaurant for a full meal, the glorious views do make it worthwhile.