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Venice – Thursday

April 26, 2012

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As we sat over breakfast looking out on to Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo‘s pretty courtyard, we knew it was a good weather sign to see Walter dismantling the gazebo that covers it during rainy days. We’d decided to cross over the Lagoon to Murano and Burano for the day. After a short traghetto ride across the Grand Canal, we crossed Cannaregio to the other side by foot to get a vaporetto to the islands. A half-day’s ticket was €16 – travelling by boat here isn’t cheap. However, it was lovely to be out on the water on such a lovely day. It’s a 7-minute ride direct to Murano and another 20 minutes to Burano.

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We disembarked at Burano and were immediately captivated by the brightly coloured fishermans’ cottages and houses. As we followed a path into the main streets, we passed a Judas tree (identified by Annie for me!) in blossom, its pink flowers so pretty against the azure blue sky. We’d only intended to stay on the island for a short time and then head back to Murano, but in the end we loved this quieter island more and stayed for about four hours! It is touristy, inevitably, but if you move away for the main streets (and it’s such a small island there aren’t many), you can find little squares and streets with not a tourist in sight.

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Over a coffee in a canalside cafe we looked at the guide book and saw a restaurant, Al Gatto Nero, had a fantastic write-up. Although the book said you needed to book we thought it worth taking a look and we were lucky to get a table by the canal for 12.30. We wandered on a little more, enjoying the sun and views before heading back for lunch.

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As soon as we sat down at our table, glasses of complimentary prosecco came for us to enjoy while we chose what to eat. We decided on a special Gatto Nero mixed fish antipasti to start with and pappardelle with scampi and smoked ricotta to follow. When the three dishes with the starters arrived, I probably exclaimed in my delight. They looked wonderful. And they tasted wonderful: gorgeous sweet little baby clams and razor clams; tender and tasty mussels; delicious little scallops; carpaccio of swordfish; and excellent baccala manetecato, which had a soft, creamy consistency. It was all exceptionally good.

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We slowly made our way through it all, delighting in the tastes, and enjoying some delicious cool house white wine with it. I think the sign of an excellent restaurant is that they serve good house wine. If the special Gatto Nero starter was very good, the pappardelle was amazing! It was simply stunningly good. Sweet scampi with a slightly smoky ricotta; tiny sweet cherry tomatoes and basil creating a lovely sauce to cover the thick strands of pasta.

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I couldn’t resist a dessert, having seen a pannacotta pass by. I only managed to persuade Annie to have a couple of spoonfuls, even though she agreed it was delicious. The strawberry pannacotta was a very good, light consistency and had a compote of sweet little wild strawberries on top. We followed this with coffee and chatted to the sommelier, Massimiliano, for a while, who gave us complimentary limoncello as digestifs. We told him how much we’d enjoyed the meal. Indeed, we agreed it was without doubt the best meal of the holiday – especially that wonderful pappardelle! In fact, I can now say without any doubt it’s my favourite restaurant in Venice. And if you ever think of going there, do book. We were lucky as most tables were already reserved when we arrived and while we ate there, many people were turned away so another time, I’d definitely ring and book ahead.

We made a short stop at Murano on the way back, but Burano and Al Gatto Nero had been real highlights of our trip.

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It had taken the whole of our stay to get a table at Osteria la Zucca near our hotel. It gets great write-ups and is obviously a thriving business. As we’d had a large and wonderful lunch, we didn’t want a big meal. And I’m glad we didn’t and that we hadn’t counted on our last meal (home tomorrow) being special. Zucca was a huge disappointment. It’s hard to understand where its fine reputation comes from. I joked that it was a bit like an Oodles from 1970s London – a health food cafe. Although the outside had a pretty traditional Venetian front, the decor inside with its weird modern wood panels was completely at odds with what one expected. I had a lasagne that didn’t have a touch of Italian about it and I almost forgot I was in Italy! We’d had such a brilliant lunch though, it didn’t matter too much.

It was still early when we came out so we decided to go for a walk and went on into the nearby Campo S. Giacomo which looked so pretty in the near dark. Turning off into a calle I noticed a lively bar that looked inviting and had ’tisanes’ on their menu in the window – Osteria da Filo. We didn’t want more alcohol so this seemed perfect. The friendly barman seemed a little bemused by my request at that time of night but invited me to come behind the bar and look at their choices. They had loads. We chose a mint and basil – a combination I’d never had before but which was good. It was a great place; seemed to be full of students, and a cosy place to sit and chat for a while.

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We wandered slowly on in the warm night. And got temporarily lost! Although I confidently thought I knew the area well, it’s amazing how far one travels in a short time here. When Annie decided to get out her map and check our location, I couldn’t believe how far we’d walked. It didn’t matter though. It was so nice out, peaceful with mainly locals around, that we enjoyed our little nighttime excursion. Eventually we made our way (and it had been a very circular route!) back to the Rialto area and soon we were being buzzed into the hotel’s lovely little courtyard.

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