Eating out in Venice is notoriously hit and miss, with too many mediocre restaurants dishing up uninspiring tourist fare - but I've found a little local gem that's well worth booking
Venice: described by some as the most romantic city on earth. A gem of European cultural history, where you can witness the most incredible sunsets, as twilight descends over its intricate maze of waterways and canals. A place of proposals, of unembarrassed love, where countless couples stroll arm in arm as they revel in the romantic atmosphere. A city of true Italian cuisine, of homemade pastas and calzones. And, if you’re not careful, a place where you can easily pay through the nose for what can only be described as a mediocre pizza!
I absolutely adore Venice, soaking up its history and modern cosmopolitan atmosphere, ambling down the oldest of tiny streets, as the eyes of hundreds of Venetian masks seem to follow your every step. Yet after a day of trying to push your way through large groups of pointing and clicking tourists, where on the Grand Canal can you find a unique, different venue for a spot of lunch and a refreshing glass of pinot grigio?
The answer: Naranzaria. I virtually stumbled upon this place while trying to find an alternative to the average €20 ‘slice of pizza and glass of house white wine’ deal. If, like me, you appear to be on a constant seafood diet (you see great food and have to eat it), then this small, bohemian wine bar/restaurant could be right up your street.
Naranzaria is located next to the fish market in the heart of bustling Rialto, and seems to be as busy with young trendy locals as it is with other fortunate diners who know of its whereabouts. Being a die-hard sushi fan, I found the lunchtime menu instantly appealing, with a seemingly endless array of well-prepared nigiri and maki making their way to my table. Yet the evening menu was awash with other flavours and aromas, an impressive, delectable list of fresh fish and raw meats, creating what seemed to be a fusion of Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine.
The only problem I experienced with the service was down to my own rusty knowledge of Italian. Yet it was actually quite refreshing, having to think about communicating in a different tongue, rather than expecting every waitress to have a comprehensive command of the English language. I felt as though I had dined in the heart of a small, busy Italian community, rather than a tourist haunt.
There's outdoor seating for around 50 people, some tiny tables and bar stools in the downstairs dining area, and a constant stream of customers, jostling for space to enjoy some relaxation time. While the furniture and décor is modest and understated, I found the upstairs area to be particularly cosy and intimate, with a truly magnificent view over the Grand Canal. For €25, I feasted on a combination of sushi and salad, washed down with a chilled glass of chardonnay, and was incredibly pleased to have found an alternative to the usual lunchtime pizza.
Having already decided to try to return for dinner the same evening, I managed - with a combination of my limited Italian vocabulary, the waitress’s almost comical grasp of English, and a whole host of gestures and sign language - to reserve a table for two. I also discovered that although sushi is not listed on the evening menu, it is possible to pre-order it, and have it served either as an accompaniment to your meal or as a replacement for one of the a la carte menu dishes (a fact for which my dining partner was truly grateful).
For roughly €80, we gorged ourselves on some of the finest food I’ve had the pleasure of tasting in Italy, bursting with freshness and flavour. Service was efficient, yet never imposing.
If you enjoy fresh meat and fish, and you fancy escaping the usual run-of-the-mill tourist restaurants that line the Grand Canal, try Naranzaria. The only thing I would advise is to book a table to avoid disappointment, as it can get very busy. But let’s face it, any restaurant that has a huge local clientele in the centre of what is essentially a tourist district must be doing something right. Right?
Naranzaria: San Polo 130; 041 72 41 035. Open from 12.00pm – 2.00am. Closed on Mondays.