You are here:   Art > Serendipity In La Serenissima
Venice, Joseph Brodsky wrote, is “the greatest masterpiece our species produced.” Nowhere does one feel this more strongly than at the Biennale Pavilions in the Giardini, where the reliable poverty of the artistic offerings only serves to glorify the impossibly extravagant beauty of the vista behind them. Harry’s Bar serves a similar function. In this city of the eye, there is nothing to look at except the joyless grotesques who make up the clientele: Harry’s has no view, no focus beyond its own pomposity. If Casanova is the presiding genius of the rest of Venice, Harry’s will always belong to the late Michael Winner. You can eat a toasted cheese sandwich which the great director once declared “historic”, there is also a mixed salad which would be worthy of any British Airways Executive Lounge, and of course the famous Bellinis, invented by Arrigo himself, tepid and bland and violently expensive.

People who go to Harry’s only have themselves to blame, but like the Biennale, it makes what is outside so very much better. Yes, one can eat badly in Venice, as one can in any major tourist trap — the pizzas at the Rialto are indeed just as nasty as the ones in Leicester Square, but the difference is, you are in Venice. Despite the hardy perennial themes flogged out at the Pavilions, great art has not been, historically, all that democratic. It was made mostly by geniuses to be looked at by rich people. Grumbling that the grub’s a bit dull when you are eating with a view of the Grand Canal entirely misses the point. In Venice, the visitor can become the art, step into the canvas, lend their own flimsy mortality momentarily to the refractions of the lagoon and inhabit this otherworld more perfectly than anything the cack-handed hucksters of the Biennale could dream of conjuring with a couple of Seventies TVs, a nylon hairpiece and a blow-up of Britney Spears. This is the only installation worth seeing, ever, and a mediocre spaghetti alle vongole seems a reasonable price to pay.

And there are wonderful things to eat in Venice. The tumbling spiked mysteries of the shellfish at Rialto market, snails and tiny crabs, the artichokes bobbing ready in plastic barrels on the floating fruitstalls near the Scuola San Rocco, smears of salt cod on baked polenta, squid ink risotto black as a Byronic beauty’s eyes. Brioche con marmellata in the little square at San Basegio, mint ice cream from Da Nico on the Zattere, the almond-shellfish pasta on the roof terrace at the Danieli if you’re feeling extravagant and fat little fregole, the giant couscous that came to the city — like so much else — from Byzantium, with sardines at the Pane e Vino in the landlocked square of San Raffaele Arcangelo if you’re not. Everyone who loves Venice knows this — and everyone has a tip, somewhere that no one has heard of and no one can find, which makes the discovery all the better.

View Full Article
June 5th, 2015
3:06 PM
"Go now, if you possibly can, before the Michelin inspectors do." Lisa Hilton has left it rather too late for that - Venissa on Mazzorbo appears in my Michelin guide from 2013 with a star. Indeed Ms Hilton has left it rather late in general in finding this hotel and restaurant - the Guardian, Telegraph, New York Times, Conde Naste Traveller and Hotel Guru all got there before her.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.