Venetian restaurants know I’m English from the back

I don’t mind, though. It’s just the déshabillé of the perfectly emancipated Englishwoman

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

The Gatto Nero — or ‘Black Cat’ — is in Burano, a tiny island in the Venetian lagoon. It is close to ‘haunted’ Torcello, with its ancient campanile and its branch of the Cipriani restaurant. (The only equivalent thing I can imagine is a branch of Soho House at Dracula’s castle, or possibly Chernobyl.) I like the name Black Cat; it reminds me of the Blue Parrot in Casablanca. I like that you must leave San Marco, with its tat and wonders combining queasily, to get here; I like the brightly coloured houses like Bratz dolls fighting; it looks, to me, like Notting Hill with fish, lace and a soul. I like that the Black Cat has a black cat; or at least it used to. I do not see it today. Perhaps it left suddenly, or died?

It is hard to find a good restaurant in Venice; there are as many bad restaurants as foul lumps of Murano glass smelted into swans or dancing rabbis, and if you do find one they have to deal with the fact that you are English. It is a strange alchemy by which Venetians have learnt to read nationality from bad clothing, bad haircuts and thighs. I am often recognised as English from the back — the back! — but I do not mind because Jan Morris called it the déshabillé of the perfectly emancipated Englishwoman. I like this too — who, beyond Catherine Cambridge, can be bothered to put cuticle oil on their toes when there is so much else to do? Bad restaurants drink in tourists with photographs of food — the first principle of the loathsome restaurant — multilingual menus with national flags, which imply that eating pizza can be a act of patriotism or aggression; but all restaurants have amazing Eurovision-style ‘sight’, or ‘Euro-sight’.

The Black Cat is inconspicuous. That is the peculiar kind of narcissism of the good Venetian restaurant. It sits by a side canal, with bright blue walls, dark green awning and interiors modelled on the home of some long-dead grandmother. The floor is pink stone; there is a portrait of a black cat, as dignified as a Velázquez; a strangely tasteful Murano chandelier; pottery, which might be 9th century or earlier, dredged by fishermen and placed by the coffee machine, which is a piece of cognitive dissonance I cherish.

A gentleman who says he once worked at the Savoy brings food of such grace and splendour — mussels, oysters, clams, grilled sole and scampi, dredged plate after plate — that we are soon throbbing muscles of joy. It is a meal for every summer, more beautiful because it is eaten in a city made principally of metaphor and condensation.

Later, in Castello — ‘haunted’ Castello, where Daphne du Maurier placed her murderous dwarf in Don’t Look Now — I visit a restaurant suggested by a gondolier with dyed blond hair. I always laughed at gondolas until I sat in one, at night, behind La Fenice — the silence! The darkness! The opportunity for evil at 3 mph! It is called Trattoria da Remigio and it is crammed under a bright orange house. It is so self-consciously Italian, with its lanterns and golden signage, that it could be Little Italy, clinging to identity with ever more preposterous acts of Italianism — overdependence on breadsticks, for instance. The waiters look aghast at the déshabillé of the perfectly emancipated Englishwoman but then the amazing Euro-sight comes. ‘Inglese,’ I watch them thinking.

We are treated as infants — our imbecility is not being Venetian. But what else holds up this prostitute-city which used to be a queen? Tomatoes? The food comes — piles of spaghetti pomodoro and tagliatelle with mushrooms, perfect in its simplicity, although the bread, of course, is awful, stale white rolls from 1957.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Trattoria al Gatto Nero, Fondamenta della Giudecca, Venice; tel: +39 041 730120. Trattoria da Remigio, Salizada dei Greci, Venice; tel: +39 041 523 0089.

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Show comments
  • hodgingthemarkets

    Try wearing Laura Ashley and changing your accent. They’ll think you’re American.

    • Reggie Poistlethwaite

      You didn’t get: we are not racists, preferring americans (why? they put 103 military bases in italy, they’re the last nation we can love) to english. We just were for 1200 years the kings of commerce in mediterranean sea, we’ve got more art in venice than in the whole UK, so we just hate ignorants like Tanya Gold and Sue Smith, coming here TO EAT, BUY CHINESE SOUVENIRS MADE IN SHANGAI AND POO.

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        On the UN World heritage list 30% of all the World’s art treasures are in Italy and 50% of those are in Florence.

        • chiefwhippet

          I was staggered to learn that most Italians don’t make pasta and that they buy dried stuff in supermarkets. Too busy with other things but it is divine if you can be bothered. Presumably, tourists nostrils are not acclimatized to the “smells”.

          Italian art is fab if you go for religious depictions and like a bit of blood and guts. How can you not get Paris? What a pity!

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            Love the art. Just not Paris itself.
            Youa re correct.Giorgio Locatelli confirms that it is very rare for an Italian to make there own pasta, like the grannies you see on the cooking programmes and Italian supermarkets do not really stock what we know as “fresh pasta”, they much prefer the dried stuff.

      • rtj1211

        Hw soon can you apply for a job in the Venice Tourism Bureau?!

  • Sue Smith

    I loathed Venice; it’s dirty, smelly, over-rated and bog-standard in the food department. Everything is in decay and it’s merely a theme park these days. Same as Strasbourg. These ‘ancient’ tourist haunts should be avoided. There are far, far better places in Europe to be visiting, where they have real people with authentic jobs.

    • Reggie Poistlethwaite

      we don’t want indeed ignorant tourists that don’t care of art, fill with their dirt our city and then complain it’s dirty. So please stay far from venice, or we start to shoot to every idiot with IQ 60 like you coming into our glorious city (ah, sorry, I forgot it’s useless to speak of history with an ignorant engiish twat).

      • Sue Smith

        I’m not English and I’m widely travelled. Venice is filthy and we were totally ripped off by those clip joints. You can have it, and your filthy comments. I’m sure Venice was wonderful during the era of the Doge.

        In peak tourist time it’s more of a nightmare.

        • Felixthecat

          To be honest most of these “museum” cities are dumps. In this era of cheap flights, there are far more interesting places to go. Tiblisi, Georgia is well work a look for example, or Budapest if you want closer to home.

          • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

            For genuine Italy try Trapani or Ragusa in Sicily or Perugia in Umbria.

        • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

          It does smell a lot, but some of the views are sublime. Food is a bit of an issue as most Venetians don’t eat much. They live on cigs and ameretto.

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    • Rock Doctor

      Strange. I quite liked the place as it was unlike any city I’ve ever been in especially after all the day trippers had gone. It gave me an idea what a city would have been like before all the modern conveniences arrived that we take for granted. You also get to see what a city would be like without cars. It`s a small place barely 8km2 with 60,000 inhabitants living there. As far as decay is concerned Venice has been decaying since the first pile was driven into the Venetian Lagoon. It`s what happens with manmade structures placed in saltwater. I`ll take the Serenissima anyday over your apparent desire to visit some antiseptic industrial city in Mittel Europe. Fortunately for you all those Mittel Europeans will probably be visiting Venice so you`ll have the place all to yourself.

  • Nigel Farrage

    I have been to Venice twice. Once was at peak ‘tourist’ time (Sue Smith below sums it up very well). Hated it with a passion…Fortunately I had also been there out of season in the winter. It was grey and overcast during the day and foggy at night. I loved it. For me the buildings and history came alive. IMO Venice is a city break, not a 2 week holiday. Walking round an empty Venice is a joy.

    • Reggie Poistlethwaite

      thanks, THIS is a clever and honest point of view I – a venetian – can only agree with. And thanks for appreciating the art.

      • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

        Reggie , the art is beyond belief excellent. I do not think anyone doubts that. It is the streets, the infrastructure, the predatory staff of the service industries that make it a grim ordeal.

    • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

      I also found Salzburg a dull and unpleasant little place. As for Paris. I just don’t get it.

  • Richardbsimmons

    rhytmythfjhll With World.ssppeectator.

  • WFB56

    An excellent and accurate review of the Black Cat as well as the comment, “It is hard to find a good restaurant in Venice; there are as many bad restaurants as foul lumps of Murano glass smelted into swans or dancing rabbis..”
    Venice is overpriced and overrated and the worst of this comes together at Harry’s Bar. The food, service and ambience at its London namesake, with unrelated ownership, is vastly superior.

  • Yvonne Stuart-Hargreaves

    Had an excellent meal with of clams in Venice, but it is too commercial. Siena much better. I liked Florian and the Byzantine/Roman horses, but won’t hurry back. Biggest surprise is 75% of the tourist eateries arevrun by Indians ,but you cannot get a curry.

  • Vickitweaver

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  • BoiledCabbage

    In Italy [especially], if you find plumbers and plasterers at the next table, youre in the right place. If not, beware, its some hideous pretentious fine dining con-job.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I say, does anyone here speak English?”

    • Too Old To Actually Join UKIP

      … With a strong Oriental accent …