Dalla Marisa, by way of Buckingham Palace
October 22, 2019
Her Majesty the Queen owns the largest collection in the world of paintings by Canaletto. This was celebrated in November 2018 by an exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace: Canaletto and the Art of Venice.
One of the events organised at the gallery was a conversation on Venice with art historian Andrew Graham Dixon and restaurateur Russell Norman.
When asked in the Q & A which painting in the room they would like to take home, Russell immediately laid his claim for a large canvas depicting the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute.
Andrew confessed that Canaletto, although a fine painter, was not his favourite. If he were to be transported back to the 18th century to meet him, his first question would probably be ‘what can you tell me about Caravaggio?’
Another questioner asked what the pair thought of the food scene in Venice today.
Andrew agreed with Russell that if you see a restaurant with linen tablecloths, each place set with two knives, two forks and two glasses….
‘Don’t go there’
Instead, Russell Norman made reference to Dalla Marisa, a Venetian institution. He recently described it as
“The cacophonous canteen that is Dalla Marisa.
32 seated inside and close to 60 outside (no women inside at all). Everything cooked by a kitchen brigade of two, who both look like they’re in their 70’s. One washer-upper and two waiters. Three choices of pasta & 3 choices of meat course (it’s famous for its carne, being situated next to the old abbatoir) There are international art dealers side-by-side with paint-splattered labourers, gondoliere, politicians and a few cops”.
It seemed churlish not to follow his advice
I had read that there’s a fixed price of €35 for three courses including wine. It was to be lunch before an evening flight, so we decided to go for it. While they take bookings, it was Monday and the weather was good, so we took the risk and turned up to take our chances. Arriving at 1pm it was busy, so we loitered optimistically by the door, and a table outside soon became available.
Inside it’s a busy dining room. At the back you can catch a glimpse of the chef in her domain, an elderly lady in a white jacket and equally elderly slippers. She emerged to talk to a table of eight regulars (with a woman in charge) about their order.
There’s no printed menu, but a blackboard at the entrance indicated a more attemptable lunch for €17.
We opted to order in Italian. Three choices of pasta were offered by the waitress, ‘today we have tomato, ragú, or (something or other) with Bresaola’.
We both chose the Ragú, and I asked for 1/4 Vino bianco, a 250cl carafe of white wine.
The pasta arrived quite quickly, but the wine needed a reminder.
Half a litre came; it would have been rude to complain
it was was slightly frizzante, with a good head of froth.
The pasta were conchiglie, little shells that were the vehicle for the mildly seasoned, oily sauce.
Next up, per secondo: “stew”, pork chop, steak, chicken cutlet, pork with wine.
The stew looked great on neighbouring tables, chunks of meat in a rich sauce, and the chicken was simple and good, hot from the grill.
Contorni (vegetables on the side), a choice of chicory or peppers. The chicory was silky and savoury, the colour of the Cannaregio Canal.
We finished with two perfect espressi.
Towards the end of lunch, a grizzled ruffian shuffled out of the restaurant. I surmised he might be Marisa’s husband; bearded, with long hair, a crucifix earring and flip flops.
He picked up some leftover bread from a table, and threw it disconsolately into the canal for the gathering crowd of pigeons and gannets. He spent the next half hour or so ineffectually flapping his arms, trying to shoo them away when they inevitably came back for more.
Russell Norman again:
‘The portions are huge and the wine on other tables seems to be bottomless (are these people going back to work?!) There is nowhere else quite like it in Venice or, indeed, beyond. I’ve heard that it, like so many Venetian institutions, is changing hands soon. I hope its philosophy and legacy remain…’
I like the Cannaregio Canal. The Guglie Vaporetto stop is on the Allilaguna route to the airport, and a few tourists stray from the Strada Nuova, but it feels like a working thoroughfare. There are no gondolas, there’s a small fish market by the canal, and a Jewish café is a clue to its proximity to the Venetian Ghetto (the first in the world).
Like Dalla Marisa, there’s something uncompromising about it. It’s a reminder of how Venice used to be.
Da’a Marisa, Calle de la Canne, 652/B Cannaregio.
(near the Tre Archi bridge, Fondamenta San Giobbe)