Continuing with our Venissa journey, exploring the many facets of this wine resort… It’s a winery, a farm; a boutique hotel and a gourmet destination. In fact, our most sophisticated dining experience in Venice happened right here on Mazzorbo, at Ristorante Venissa.
We walked out across the terrace past the white rose garden, which separates the hotel from the Venissa restaurant. Large egg-shape lanterns glowed in the twilight and illuminated the way. Kent and myself had both dressed for the occasion, even though we were in the middle of a remote lagoon island, we felt this experience demanded a little formal effort and would be part of the fun. On arrival, after a moments hesitation and a second look, the head waiter greeted Kent with, ‘You are the photographer!’ Recognising this now besuited man had been in the restaurant earlier documenting the interior in 360 prior to service.
As you might expect when in Italy, we each started the night with a Campari Spritz. Our drinks were prepared on a chunky-smoothed-Oregon-wood side table, minimal in its design, like the rest of the interior; the space wears it’s countryside style with modern attitude. Well I thought; one could not have a complete Venissa experience without trying their Michelin-starred take on fine dining. I was excited, so was Kent. We had the tasting menu on our mind and the smaller Itinerary 5 with the rare Dorona as one of the matching wines, well it seemed perfect. The decision was made and we were ready for a gourmet journey…
These pre-meal ‘mouth amusers’.., playful, colourful and creative; were a nice surprise when they were brought to our table. They definitely offered a preliminary glimpse of the chefs’ style. My favourite from the set were the green herb sponges decorated with seaweed and fish, looking like mini Christmas trees! The sponge itself was very light and fluffy.
Another playful treat, the paper-thin tuna bite; when it hit the table we could not tell, ‘Is it fish?’ ‘Is it beef?’ as our eyes were tricked by the similarity in colour and texture between a cured raw beef and tuna.
From time to time we hear people saying that how disappointed they are, regarding what they consider to be abnormally small portions when it comes to new cuisine. Here’s what I think: there are times when I enjoy a simple bowl of Pea and Ham Soup or a Wood-fired Pizza, but for occasion like this; it is a time to celebrate innovative cooking. For example, each mouthful of these bite-sized appetisers was a fresh experiment, just like our menu ‘Itinerary 5’ suggested, a food and flavour journey of discovery.
Cuttlefish, Red Onion & Sage
Pairing Wine: Eugenio Rosi – Anisos Bianco 2015
The first of our four savoury entrées was very pretty. White and pink, what an eye catching colour combination! What made this dish a standout to me was the smoky flavour of the cuttlefish. I also enjoyed the sweetness from red caramelised onions; which surprisingly to me, did not over power the cuttlefish.
Our pairing wine was light and simple and it gave the freshness it needed to a seafood plate like this.
Red Mullet, Carrot, Sea Fennel & Dill
Pairing Wine: Maeli – Bianco ‘Infinito’ 2014
Before our second entrées were ready, our sommelier came with the wine pairing for our upcoming dish. While chatting with him about his career we realised this young Italian man was no stranger to Sydney, having worked in Neil Perry’s flagship Sydney restaurant Rockpool.
Our white wine? It was smooth and a great choice for seafood.
The red mullet was very tender, garnished with carrot, sea fennel and bathed in dill oil. Venissa prides itself on using seasonal ingredients; top quality vegetables and more than 22 types of aromatic herbs from their own farm. I totally adore this farm-to-table fare, it’s a food philosophy I’ve been longing to be part of.
Meanwhile, we loved watching the chefs in action through the pass into the open kitchen. It definitely connects dinners with the people who make the food and the whole food making process. It almost felt like they were cooking for us and us only – well it doesn’t cost anything to daydream, does it?!!!
Chard Ravioli, Pine Nuts, Wormwood & Lagoon Herbs
Pairing Wine: Tenuta Venissa – Bianco Da Uve Dorona 2014
Here’s a reminder (you can read our previous post here for more details) of our pairing wine, the rare Dorona by Venissa’s ‘little’ history…
Dorona di Venezia, a native vine to the Venetian lagoon islands. Due to its rich golden colour and distinguished taste; it had been considered one of the rarest varieties in the world…
However, for decades it was believed to be lost to history after the devastating flood in 1966, which destroyed most of the agriculture industry on the lagoon islands… That is until Venetian winemaker Gianluca Bisol rediscovered the last surviving golden grapes in 2002 on Torcello and brought this ancient Dorona stock back to life. And this, is what had brought us here. Kent and I read about the Venissa story and we wanted to witness, and mostly to touch the vines and taste this miraculous wine ourselves.
You can’t decant a rare wine without a special bottle.
Designed by the Bisol family, the wine bottles are made by Murano glassmaker Carlo Moretti, Betta Battilora crafts the paper-thin gold leaf as label, together a complete Venissa legend was born.
What I adore about this collaboration is that it combines the traditions of Venetian lagoon islands: wine making, glass blowing and fine gold work. The minimalism of the label which has no wording, no picture. That gold leaf ‘label’ for me is a symbol of genius, not only does it tell me, Dorona the golden wine; together this complete artisan product is a story of survival and revival celebrating the comeback of Dorona and Venetian glory.
How was the taste of Dorona the rare wine?
First of all, I was immediately attracted by its Amber colour, such a rich tone of warm gold! Taking a first sip, my brain couldn’t tell if it was wine or spirit. ‘It reminds me of whisky.’ I remember saying that to Kent and our sommelier. On the palate, it has good interaction between the acidity, saltiness and spice. Kent said it reminded him of muscat grapes and fortified wines, something he enjoys, and the comment seemed to receive a nod of agreement from our sommelier. I’m sure he would have heard all sorts of feedback regarding the taste of Dorona; one thing I’m pretty sure about, it is unlike any wine I had tried before. Very unique indeed!
Our ravioli.., again, the chefs used a variety of fresh herbs from Venissa’s community gardens. I especially liked the bitter aromatic taste from the wormwood.
Albacore Tuna, Fig Leaves Cream, Candied Chilli & Walnuts
Pairing Wine: Skerk – Ograde Bianco 2016
As a seafood lover, I was glad to have another fish dish. And how fresh was our locally caught tuna, very as you can see from this image! The chilli flavour was quite subtle and I did like the addition of walnuts. I don’t remember much about our pairing wine, I think my brain was still trying to figure out Dorona the rare wine at this stage!
Here’s what I gleaned from the latest Michelin Guide regarding Venissa dining: ‘…a young brigade, Chiara, Simone, Francesca, reinterprets with talent. The fish and molluscs of local fishermen, vegetables grown on the estate by natives who supply every day Venissa, as well as the wild herbs that grow among the rows of vines…’
Gianluca’s son Matteo is the director of Venissa; he and his wife Veronica work closely on their culinary establishment. Since its first one-Michelin-star was awarded in 2012, Venissa has kept the title eight years in a row to date. It shows you the consistency in high quality food and the dedication from the team.
So far we had five amuse-bouches and four entrées.., time to move on for some sweet treats!
Lemon Sponge With Licorice Sorbet
More a palate cleanser than a dessert. Although I’m not a fan of licorice, I really liked this licorice sorbet and the lemon sponge was a delight. I think sponges have officially become my new favourite food!
After 8 With Quinine & Mint
Pairing Wine: Cappellano – Barolo Chinato
The dark mint chocolate came in two forms: chocolate mousse and tempered chocolate. The mint ice cream was smooth and each mouthful delivered a silky-meets-crunchy satisfaction.
This dessert transported me back to the late ’80s when living with my mother and my English stepfather in Perth. After my much younger half sisters went to bed, the three of us often shared a mint chocolate while watching the 8:30PM TV movies in the lounge room.
Our pairing wine was Barolo Chinato, an aromatic, popular after-dinner drink.
And a few drinks definitely helped opening up conversations with fellow diners.., we were exchanging thoughts with our nearby table – four ladies from NYC. It’s a Michelin-starred fine dining venue yet the atmosphere here was pretty laid back and unpretentious; everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in this cosy, intimate environment.
Meeting Head Chef Chiara Pavan
I did a little bit of ‘home work’ before our dinner, knowing the current Head Chef Chiara Pavan started working in Venissa in 2016 alongside Chef Francesco Brutto, who later left to begin his own restaurant in Treviso. Towards the end of our meal, Chiara came to the dining room to greet us all with her irresistible smile and her modest charm. We clapped with appreciation and each took turn having our photos taken with this young talented woman who was crowned ‘Chef of the Year’ by Le Guide de L’Espresso in 2018.
After a barrage of photo taking and chatting with fellow dinners about their meal, we returned to our table and received one more surprise – petit fours. The tiny fruit (orange?) jellies had interesting textures – sticky, soft and firm all at the same time. This is what I love about fine dining; you keep discovering new flavours and new scents!
An Evening To Remember
Australian chef and author Pete Evans once said on My Kitchen Rules, a cooking show he has been co-hosting for more than a decade, that he was ‘looking for memory’ when it comes to food. I knew I too was looking for memory the minute we arrived at Venissa. From a hidden winery on a remote lagoon island, to tasting one of the world’s rarest wines; meeting an Italian Chef of the Year, to be indulged in a Michelin-starred culinary establishment… Each of these experience was keenly felt and is now, a deeply cherished memory.
Kent and I thought our dinner was innovative and delicious. What impressed us most was that each ingredient was clearly treated with loving care. Not only did we feel that our Venissa adventure was completed after this meal; in fact, this dining event was a perfect climax to our stay on the beautiful island of Mazzorbo. We owe our thanks to the Venissa team who made our evening so memorable.
‘Grazie mille!’ We hope to see you again.