Wandering along Venice’s Ruga dei Spezieri, one might smell peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Strongest of all, however, is the scent of history, for almost 1,000 years ago Venice’s wealth was built on spices, sitting as it did at the heart of the trade routes between Asia and Europe.
Ruga dei Spezieri is also part of what London’s Salt Yard Group chef Ben Tish describes as the best food market in the world, and its history is part of the inspiration behind the company’s latest restaurant – Veneta, opening at St James’s Market in London on Monday November 7 (and now taking bookings).
“There are some really exotic Venetian recipes that modern chefs in Venice have shunned because they deem them old fashioned, but we wanted to dig into that,” says Tish, who will be chef director at Veneta. He’s particularly excited about a chicken braised in almond milk with saffron and medjool dates (£8), which encapsulates both the Moorish flavours that will be prominent in many of the restaurant’s dishes and the northern Italian penchant for sweetness.
“Venetians have got incredibly sweet teeth,” says Salt Yard co-founder Simon Mullins. “They love their pastries, cakes and hot chocolates, and we’re really going to town on these.” There will be fritelle (£5.50) – little doughnuts with cinnamon cream and hot chocolate compote – as well as hot chocolates spiced with cinnamon, cumin and syrup, and a polenta (£4) that is laced with cream and topped with muscovado sugar, raisins and cinnamon before being blowtorched like a crème brûlée.
Breakfasts will run from 7am to 11am, with one of the headline acts a Venetian-inspired reimagining of the full English (£12.50), featuring pork and fennel sausages, thick-cut pancetta, roasted beef heart tomatoes, panfritto, free-range eggs and a sweet Italian blood sausage.
All-day options will be available from midday to midnight, with some of the most intriguing drawing on Venice’s seafood traditions. Tish expects the spiced baby-squid ragout with potato gnocchi (£7) to be an autumn hit, while among the larger sharing plates is half a grilled octopus with roasted peperonata and marjoram (£32.50). There will also be a raw bar featuring spider crab with spiced mayonnaise (£11.50) and red tuna with cumin and apple vinegar (£7.50).
The Venetian theme even feeds into the building, the exterior of which Mullins describes as having a “flowing nautical art deco line”, while inside Murano glass dividers will sit between the banquettes.