Looking out of the grimy basement window onto a sodden garden, on a raw London morning in March, and I’m suddenly thinking how pleasant it would be if the clock was to whirr forward, and by some form of occult osmosis, I was plonked bang in the middle of Venice on a fresh, sunny April morning, enlivened (here and there) with the odd shower. Actually, thinking about it, not in the very middle as such, more to the left and down a bit: on the unfashionable side of the Grand Canal, slightly off the beaten track. At the Locanda Montin.
You may or may not have heard of the Locanda Montin. It’s one of those old-fashioned insititutions, loved by Venetians, enterprising visitors and the enlightened readership of The Greasy Spoon. It’s a restaurant with rooms. The star of the show is the pretty garden with its romantic arbours, starched linen table cloths, twisty trees and trailing vines lit by hanging lanterns. But more of that later.
I’ve developed an interest in the food of the Veneto. It’s different- in its subtle way- from the food of Tuscany or the Mediterranean glories of the Arcadian South. We’re talking risottos, white fish from the Lagoon, black squid ink of a Gothic persuasion, carpaccio, gnocchi, stuff in breadcrumbs, fried; prosecco.
And for English readers, there’s a surprisingly large number of decent books on the subject. It would be fun to build up a small reference library. The Harry’s Bar Cookbook is a must, as is Russell Norman’s Polpo. I haven’t as yet bought Julia dell Croce’s Veneto: Authentic Recipes from Venice and the Italian North East, but I read that it is excellent. Tessa Kiros’s books are sumptious, and I’ve also got a sneaky liking for Francesco da Mosto’s Francesco’s Kitchen, in as much that I suspect the food in it is genuine- although, perhaps unfairly, you do wonder who actually wrote the thing.
Tony Musante and Florinda Bolkan in The Anonymous Venetian, 1970.
On what must have been my second memorable visit to Italy in the late 1980’s, we had dinner with some rather sybaritic aquaintances of my parents in Milan, two pretty chain smoking daughters on tow- and Montin was their number one recommendation; the restaurant’s cult status enhanced by its appearance in the romantic 1970 Euro-flick The Anonymous Venetian, which with its technicolor soft focus and harpsichord tinted soundtrack is now looking decidedly nostalgic, yet despite all this, regrettably not available with English sub-titles.
Montin also stars in the late Glynn Boyd Harte’s delightfully illustrated travelogue, Glynn Boyd Harte’s Venice, published in 1988. Here he describes eating at Montin:
There are pink table-cloths, the friendly waiters wear white jackets...Dinner for us here is almost a ritual. I always have antipasto Montin with shrimps, squid and mussels, tagliatele al salmone, followed by either boiled tongue with salsa verde or fegato all Veneziana with polenta. With this we drink elegant carafes of fizzy Prosecco or Pinot Bianco (della case) and perhaps finish with tirimisu or the aptly named zuppa inglese.
Look- you don’t got to Montin for a “gourmet experience”. But I like that. I’m suddenly rather suspicious of this current obsession with “fane daning”. Continuity, atmosphere and association are as important in a restaurant as a celebrity chef with a big buck television deal and God knows how many Michelin stars. Are they not?