There’s a myth that says you can’t eat well in Venice: you can – extremely well in fact, though you’ll have to be prepared to pay rather more than elsewhere. In order to eat well, however, you must follow one, crucial rule: don’t take pot luck. More than anywhere else in Italy, following your nose in La Serenissima is likely to lead you to over-priced tourist-trap disappointment. Stick to the places I recommend, consult the best foody guide books or obtain tips from reliable, disinterested locals.
Drinking, on the other hand, can bring you pleasurably close to the locals and be very cheap indeed.
Rules to remember:
- The words ‘café’ and ‘bar’ mean more or less the same: a place where you can have everything from breakfast cappuccino and pastries through sandwiches at lunch time to aperitivi in the evening. Meals are not generally served in cafés.
- If you plan to occupy a table at a café or bar, sit down and wait to be served. You will be charged a surplus for the privilege – a hefty one if you’re sitting in a scenic location.
- If you don’t wish to sit down, decide what you want to consume, pay for it at the till, then present the receipt when you order at the counter. You should not then take your food and/or drink to a table.
- The bacaro (the stress is on the first A) is a Venetian institution and can be anything from a dark drinking den to a trat with a handful of tables and great food.
- The counter in a bacaro will be piled high with cicheti (bar snacks, like tapas). Each generally costs about 1 euro to 2.50 euros. Keep a count as you eat. A selection of these can easily replace a meal.
- Many bacari prepare a couple of simple pasta dishes and a main course or two at meal times: you can eat these standing at the counter or pay more and occupy a table where, however, you’ll be expected to eat a proper meal.
- Favourite Venetian aperitivo drinks are spritz (white wine, Campari and selzer or sparkling water – you can replace the Campari with low-alcohol Aperol); a small glass of wine known as an ombra – specify di bianco (white) or di rosso (red); and prosecco, a dry white wine which generally has bubbles though the spento version does not. Standing at the counter, in a regular bar frequented by locals, any of these should cost about 2 euros.
- Venetians dine earlier than most Italians so be prepared to eat lunch from noon and dinner from 7pm. Simpler (cheaper) restaurants will rarely serve after 9pm.
- Unless you stick to snacking at counters, eating out in Venice is more expensive than elsewhere in Italy. A pasta course, a main course and a dessert is unlikely to cost much less than 30 euros a head without wine even in the humblest eaterie, so budget accordingly.
- You’ll have no trouble taking your children to Venetian restaurants, most of which will provide a high-chair (seggiolone) on request.