Tel: +39 041 523 6651
Address: Calle dei Fabbri, San Marco 4685
We tend to avoid the streets just North of Piazza San Marco, partly because of the crowds and partly because there are all too many restaurants that cater solely for the tourist trade and as a result are both disappointing and expensive. However here is one establishment that restores my faith in Venetian hospitality.
Le Bistrot de Venise is owned and run by Sergio Fragiacomo, who combines a love of wine, a fascination with historic Venetian cooking and a determination that everyone coming through his doors is going to have a good time. The warm, inviting interior helps – dark wood, tiled floors, cream walls with old photographs and posters, art nouveau style glass and red candles. Le Bistrot is also a meeting place for artists of all kinds – painters, poets, photographers – and hosts a regular programme of late afternoon events (see the website for details).
The menu is fascinating. I found the historic recipes irresistible, partly because many of them were so unusual – for example my antipasto of Fagottini Croccanti: wonderfully crunchy potato packets filled with scampi and flavoured with anchovy. Young sea bass fillets with asparagus were also excellent, as was the traditional risi e bisi that followed (risotto with fresh peas, bacon and lots of black pepper).
When we reached the secondi my eye was caught by sturgeon. Sturgeon? Well, it was a recipe from the 15th Century… baked with grapes and prunes in a sweet & sour sauce, and a taste to remember. Slightly less exotic tuna steak, served with huge capers and cherry tomatoes, was of wonderful quality and flavour. If cut slightly thinner it could have been cooked faster and so retained more moisture, but that’s a minor quibble.
Dolci seemed impossible after this feast but I know my duty. It lay in yet another ancient recipe, one of the few that according to Sergio can be made virtually without adjustment for the tastes of today. Who could resist Fritelle da Imperador Magnifici, a 14th Century recipe of cheese and almond fritters in a sweet red wine sauce. I would return to Le Bistrot de Venise for that dish alone: it was indescribably good. The closest I can get is ultra thin waffles with a light (mascarpone-based? Curd cheese?) filling.
We had so far been ignoring the award-winning list of over 140 carefully chosen wines, drinking the energetic and flavourful house red (Marca Trevigiana, needs ten minutes to develop after opening). For the pudding though something more special was required, and the recommended glass – Passito de Pantelleria – was an experience in itself. It was like drinking toffee, and it coped perfectly with the sweet red wine sauce of the Fritelle.
You can spend a small fortune in Venice to little effect. Le Bistrot de Venise is not cheap – antipasto and pasta dishes range from €10 upwards, secondi are mostly around €20 – but the overall experience is worth every cent.