Cicchetti...There could hardly be a nicer word for a little snack. So much more charming than tapas, more refined than its Portuguese cousin pesticos, less pretentious than pintxos... pronounced in the strange reverse sounding Italian way [Chi-ke-ti]... it's hard not to succumb to this grazing tradition of the Venetians.
It's harder still to not succumb to the delicious versions of them served up in the richly frescoed and chandelier-dripping interiors of the Aman Venice - housed in the beautifully renovated 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli on the Grand Canal.
Venice's traditional baccari and osteria serve up a pretty delicious selection of cicchetti so there is no shortage of traditional pickings. But if you fear that picking one of the city's more lavish settings for a special meal might come at the expense of the authenticity of the food, you need not worry when dining at the Aman Venice.
"My menu focuses on just two things - local produce and seasonality," says Chef Andrea Torre, the new Executive Chef at this intimate 24-room property. Chef Torre has returned to his homeland via culinary-stimulating stints in Bali, Marrakech, Dubai, Istanbul and London - where he worked as Head Chef of 1 Michelin starred Zafferano, Senior Sous Chef at Shoreditch House, and the iconic Italian restaurant Cecconi, where he led a team of 40 as Head Chef before heading back to Italy and to the Aman Venice.
Having abandoned the restaurant's previous dalliance with Asian food, the new menu is proudly Italian, and even more proudly Venetian. Chef Torre trained in sustainable fishing in Norway early in his culinary career, giving him a long-term appreciation for sourcing locally as far as possible.
Much of the ingredients he uses in his kitchen in Venice are ordered from suppliers you would find selling their produce in the nearby Rialto Market - one of the world's oldest fresh markets dating back to 1097. Many of the ingredients are transported from within a few square miles of the city.
A highlight of our cicchetti selection included the local favourite 'mantecato' - a paste of cod served on polenta that you will find in almost every bacari in Venice. At the Aman, it turned up light and subtle, served with crunchy polenta chips. My mouth is watering just mentally reliving the perfect little bites.
Another dish that stood out was a delicate pink serving of veal with a 'tonnato" dressing - a tuna dressing with the sharp zing of caper berries. (Yep, you heard right. Tuna and beef?? Don't knock it until you try it!) While originating a little further North and probably a little summery for a cold, wintry evening in Venice, the dish's lively flavour was a highlight of our pre-dinner bites.
As for dinner itself - it could only be described as divine. It is hard not to feel like you've stepped into a sumptuous giant jewel box when dining at Aman Venice - from the ornate gilded ceilings, silk clad walls and wavering lights glinting off the Grand Canal, it is the definition of the word stunning.
More importantly, the food stands up to the splendid setting, although I would highly recommend putting aside the more traditional three-course format - abandon ordering the mains altogether and order abundantly instead from the antipasti and pasta selection.
The antipasti were not overly complicated, allowing the richness and freshness of the ingredents to dominate the plate instead of their presentation. One of my favourite dishes was a rustic Roasted Pumpkin with Cashewnuts and Quinoa, while the Burrata came not in a perfectly presented orb, but split open to enable its contents to be expertly seasoned, and served on a bed of sun-dried tomatoes (as according to Chef Torre "fresh tomoatoes were out of season"). The jammy consistency of the compote was a perfect foil to the creaminess of the burrata, dare I say an even better accompaniment than a juicy bite of fresh tomato itself.
There were a few menu contenders that sounded a bit unusual but ended up being beautifully balanced and nuanced in flavor - the seared tuna served with orange, celery and hazelnuts being a prime example.
There was also a couple of Michelin-flourishes from Creative Culinary Consultant for the Aman Venice - Chef Davide Oldani - such as a beautifully sweet, crunchy caramalized onion served with a subtly nutty-tasting Grana Padano cheese icecream.... mmmm heaven!
You can't really eat local in Italy and skip the pasta, so I was glad we didn't as the tagliolini with black truffle sourced from Norcia (one of the few places in the world where you can find this black culinary diamond) was absolutely delicious, with the truffle's fragrant, earthy flavours complemented perfectly by a rich egg dressing.
The meal was accompanied by wine pairings favoring regional wines, including a beautiful Soave (probably my favorite white wine discovery in Venice) and a berry heavy Valpolicella, again one of the nicest reds I drank in the city.
Dessert was suitably Italian, a bouquet of flavoured chocolates and white tiramisu... although for me the true highlight of the meal was the boldly flavoursome cicchetti, antipasti and pasta selection.
If ever there was a city to indulge in a romantic dinner, there are few who would argue that Venice would be it. So by all means, try the authentic cicchetti lining the atmospheric fondamentas and calles all across the city, take a gondola to them if you have to - I can't think of a better way to spend an evening in Venice!
But if you want to get a true taste of the city's fabulously sumptuous and prosperous past, then a meal at the Aman Venice is a must-do.
Disclaimer: Platetrotter dined as a guest of Aman Hotels, but opinions shared above are free and fairly represented - on a chilly, winter night in Venice there couldn't have been a more beautiful sanctuary to enjoy a delicious dinner and wonderfully warm service than this gorgeous hotel on the Grand Canal.
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