Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th March 2010.
It's often said that Venice is a poor place for food. But that's only true if you're prepared to look no farther than your nose – or rather, no farther than busy St Mark's Square and the Rialto. Armed with the right addresses, you'll find a growing clutch of places specialising in local cuisine; tiny retreats with a great neighbourhood feel.
The neighbourhood osterie, trattorie and bacari (wine and snack bars) where the Venetians themselves eat and drink are often buried deep in quiet backwaters. Many are tiny: it's best to book at any time of the year.
As for fine dining, there are only a handful of places worthy of your money; the two best, described below, are both hotel restaurants close to St Mark's.
Here's my selection of the best places to eat in the city:
ALLA MADONNA Calle della Madonna, San Polo 594 (0039 041 522 3824;www.ristoranteallamadonna.com)
This famous trattoria, tucked down a side street by the Rialto Bridge, was opened in 1954 and makes a great choice for a large group of friends. Always busy, often with a queue outside, it's memorable not so much for its traditional dishes as for the bustle, the old-fashioned ambience and the swift service from uniformed waiters. Speed is the key here: you can be in and out inside an hour.
AL PORTEGO Calle la Malvasia, Castello 6015 (041 522 9038)
For a typical, and good-value Venetian bacaro (wine bar), try this upper–floor, wood-lined place with prettily curtained windows and a separate eating area for those who want to be removed from the buzz.
Choose from the range of cicheti (snacks) or hot dishes such as pasta e fasioi or bigoli in salsa, or simply stand at the bar with the locals and have a glass of wine.
ANICE STELLATO Fondamente della Sensa, Cannaregio 3272 (041 720744)
On a romantic canal in a slow-moving corner of Cannaregio, this simple, family-run osteria has gained a reputation for traditional dishes that are carefully cooked and often subtly flavoured. You might try carpacci di pesce (thin slices of tuna or salmon dressed with olive oil and fragrant herbs) or tagliatelle with prawns and courgette flowers, or the fish risotto. Whichever, you'll find excellent cooking at very reasonable prices.
ANTICHE CARAMPANE Rio Terrà de la Carampane, San Polo 1911 (524 0165; antichecarampane.com)
Don't even think of venturing to Antiche Carampane, not far from the Rialto but well hidden, without working out the route (details on the website). A long-time favourite with city dignitaries and their wives, the white-walled restaurant, hung with pictures, is both cosy and elegant and the seafood, especially the delicatefritto misto di pesce con le moeche (soft-shell crabs), is beautifully cooked. Service is brisk, but warm.
CORTE SCONTA Calle del Pestrin, Castello 3886 (041 522 7024)
Despite its cult status, especially among British visitors, no recommendation of Venetian places to eat would be complete without this well-known restaurant. Choose the tasting menu and expect a parade of little fish dishes: marinated anchovies, soft-shell crab, spider crab paté, schie (tiny shrimp) with polenta,garusoli (spiny-shelled snails), sarde in soar, latti di sepie and more. Then perhaps a primo piatto of pasta made on the premises; you are unlikely to have room for more. But be warned: it may come across as a humble trattoria, but the prices are high.
DALLA MARISA Fondamente di San Giobbe, Cannaregio 652b (041 720211)
Marisa comes from a family of butchers and her wonderful menu is mainly meat-based, an antidote to the many fish restaurants in Venice. Dishes include the unusual risotto con le secoe, made with a cut of beef around the backbone,bollito misto, tripe and succulent ragouts. A small, no-nonsense place with tables inside and on the pavement. Once found, it will become a favourite.
DE PISIS, HOTEL BAUER Campo San Moisè, San Marco 1459 (041 520 7022; bauervenezia.com)
With sensational views – perhaps the best in Venice – there is simply no more romantic place to dine than the terrace of De Pisis. Not only is it seductive, by candlelight and under moonlight, but the food lives up to the setting. The delicate, widely influenced dishes make a refreshing change from the usual Venetian diet. Choose from the seasonal tasting menu (highly recommended), the traditional Venetian or short à la carte menus: the desserts are particularly delicious.
MET, HOTEL METROPOLE Riva degli Schiavoni, Castello 4149 (041 520 5044; hotelmetropole.com)
Of the half dozen or more hotels along the Riva degli Schiavoni, with its matchless views of the lagoon, this is my favourite. Still in private hands, it has endearing touches (the owner is a collector: everywhere you look are carved angels, lecterns, church pews, crucifixes, fans) and a core of twinkly-eyed staff who have been there forever. But while the hotel retains its personality, it has also kept up with the times with the arrival of the Zodiac bar and the Met restaurant. You can dine in the intimate wood-panelled former chapel where Vivaldi taught orphan girls to sing, the velvet-hung salone or the shady garden.
VINI DA GIGIO Fondamente San Felice, Cannaregio 3628a (041 528 5140; vinidagigio.com )
Vini da Gigio is not secret, and nor should it be, for it is one of the best-value restaurants in Venice, filled with locals, with a cosy yet buzzing atmosphere and colourful owner. The comfortable dining room and small tables are ideal for groups of four or five, and though it's always busy, the service is courteous and you never feel hurried. Specialities include raw fish antipasto, beef carpaccio, meatballs and masorino alla buranella (Burano-style duck). You must leave room for pudding.
Italian specialist Citalia (0871 664 0253; citalia.com) can tailor-make trips to Venice with flights and a wide choice of hotels.
Three nights at the three-star Hotel Do Pozzi, for example, cost from £259 (departing Gatwick on March 24); four nights at the four-star Bonvecchiati from £419 (departing Gatwick April 22); three nights at the five-star Danieli from £499 (departing Gatwick on July 6); and three nights at the Hotel Bauer from £719 (departing Heathrow April 26).
All prices are per person and include b-&-b and return flight. Call or visit the Citalia website for more offers and last-minute deals.