Two European cities spring to mind when I think of boats. There is Amsterdam, sometimes called the Venice of the North, and there is La Serenissima herself.
Other than a roll stuffed with nieuwe haring and pickles, I have never actually eaten on a boat in Amsterdam, but the possibility now exists. One of the city’s best chefs, Dennis Kuipers, of the Michelin-starred Vinkeles restaurant in the Dylan Hotel, about whom I have written before, has launched Vinkeles on the Water: lunch or dinner aboard a vintage saloon boat for up to four people. Kuipers’ tasting menu with matching wines would, I think, be one of the finest gastronomic experiences afloat. Combined with a trip to the beautifully restored and recently reopened Rijksmuseum, it has the makings of a terrific weekend.
In Venice, the closest I have come to eating on a gondola was having dinner on the lovely terrace at Hotel Danieli with the delightful Alex Hai, Venice’s first female gondolier. A stray gust from the lagoon blew away one of our tempura-battered courgette flowers – a compliment to the chef’s lightness of touch, I suppose – prompting Alex to bemoan the problems caused by Venice’s capricious wind: “It is like a sail you don’t want.” Alex and her beautifully restored gondola, Pegaso, are available for hire by guests at a small group of Venice hotels, for whom she acts as house gondoliera.
At Danieli, everyone pushes the boat out. The ferocious prices belie some gentle, harmonious cooking, though, as chef Gian Nicola Colucci’s delicate dishes rarely disappoint. I particularly enjoyed a tangle of maltagliati, the pasta perked up with sweet little mussels, the new season’s broad beans and shavings of bottarga (the intensely savoury preserved roe of grey mullet). A perfectly cooked slab of stone bass came with little gamberi rossi (red prawns), roasted peppers, crushed potatoes and a delicate herb oil: a very happy dish.
The wines were excellent – a bracing Greco di Tufo and a delicately spicy Nebbiolo from Pio Cesare – but service was a little haphazard.
Osteria Ca’ d’Oro – known locally as Alla Vedova, and a short stroll from the Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop – is, by contrast, a simple bacaro, serving great snacks and mostly local wines. Try the sarde in saor (sardine fillets in vinegar, with onions, raisins and pine nuts), and its polpette (meatballs) – like Scotch eggs without the egg. Prices are reasonable, by Venetian standards, which probably accounts for the crowd of well-fed locals at the bar. Well-watered, too.