Italians are not very big on breakfast or ‘la colazione’, just an espresso and one piece of pastry will usually do the job. So what to do if you’re spending a weekend in Venice and you happen to be really into Sunday brunch like we are?
After a bit of research we quickly filtered our options down to three upmarket hotel restaurants. Thank heaven that the first two places we called had already been booked out, so we ended up with a reservation at the magnificent five-star American boutique hotel Palazzina Grassi (alternatively Palazzina G) right next to the Grand Canal, very close to the Westernmost point of the San Marco neighbourhood, roughly 15 to 20 minutes’ walk from St. Mark’s Square.
It took us longer, because we didn’t find the entrance in Calle Morolin/Ramo Grassi right away, there’s not much in terms of signs and not a great signal for your mobile. Typing the address into Googlemaps will hopefully lead you onto Calle de le Carrozze, which you’ll then follow nearly to the Grand Canal. The last alleyway on the right will be Ramo Grassi. Turn right into Ramo Grassi, the unremarkable entrance to the hotel will be on your left after just a few metres’ walk, where the street’s name changes to Calle Morolin.
Palazzina Grassi is the only hotel in Italy designed by the famous Philippe Starck and his elegant yet edgy signature design elements can be found literally everywhere you look. From the moment we entered the building the staff made us feel welcome and at ease. Several hotel guests were in the queue in front of us at the reception, so we had to wait a bit (which is fine, of course). Then one of the rather nicely dressed waiters picked us up and led us to our table. I think we could have just walked through the small hallway straight into the restaurant, but didn’t quite get the clue.
The atmosphere didn’t fail to impress us. A calming, inspiring, magic space. We were sat next to the large glass door that leads out onto an alleyway to the Canal, just two dozen yards away.
We ordered the Sunday brunch deal for €65 per person, including prosecco, coffee, water, and juice. Ms B went for the standard version, which is heavy on seafood. To spice it up, I ordered the meat version, despite my love for seafood, we were going to share all dishes anyway.
Our coffee, water and the first nibbles arrived very quickly.
I’ve never been a great fan of Italian bread and even most pastries in my mind lag behind French or Viennese ones by a million miles. However, these good people served some very acceptable homemade bread and pastries, including a selection of white, brown, and whole wheat bread, round oat bread and focaccia served with Normandy butter and chickpeas cream, and a French butter croissant. We also enjoyed the sfincione (Sicilian pizza) with burrata cheese and Culatello raw ham and the pumpkin foam with bits of baby artichoke hearts, served in a cocktail glass.
Next up was ‘moscardini’ (musky octopus; a fully grown, common and very small Mediterranean species of octopus, not to be mixed up with baby octopus) salad with potatoes and celery for Ms B, and steak tartare with black truffles for me. Both dishes were the highlights of our respective brunches. Extremely flavoursome, elegantly presented, and plenty to tuck into, considering each of these was just one of the minor courses of a seven-course-plus menu, depending on how you count.
The egg Benedict that followed was nicely presented, with the hollandaise sauce on the quarter slice of toast and lovely crispy bacon of the house and wild mushrooms.
Spaghetti vongole are most likely Ms B’s favourite Italian dish of all time and I can remember days when she would order it for lunch and dinner. As usual, the dish does not look like much, but boy did it taste lovely.
The respective main courses that followed were perhaps the least impressive courses of the meal, but still very decent. With one exception (Viennese schnitzel), neither Ms B nor I are huge fans of dishes that consist 50% of batter and 50% of meat, but we had to concede that for what it was, the monkfish cutlet with tartar sauce was professionally prepared. The beef fillet cubes were perhaps a tiny tad overdone and chewy, but rather tasty nonetheless.
To conclude our lavish brunch, the waiter brought out an amazing pineapple sorbet and the ‘frittelle Veneziane’ (typical for the Carnival) with mascarpone cheese sauce, covered with several thin leaves of real gold. We also picked some freshly squeezed fruit juices and some more coffee, all of which were state of the art.
Just before we asked for the bill and paid, we walked the few metres to the Canal and watched the boats pass by in quick succession. It’s a shame that this hotel is out of our league, with prices usually starting from around £500 per night. Otherwise we know where we’d stay. The whole experience was a clear 5 out of 5 in our book. We’ll come back for Sunday brunch during our next visit, probably later this year.
For some more restaurant reviews, feel welcome to have a look at our posts about the Robot Restaurant, Tokyo, Gruvelageret near the North Pole, Lafleur, Frankfurt, and The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold.