An enticing cookbook arrived at Starfish HQ recently: Venetian Republic.
Written by West Australian Nino Zoccali, now a big name in the Sydney restaurant scene, it’s full of tantalising dishes from the floating city and beyond.
Its also a tribute to the north part of Italy spanning four regions: Venice and the lagoon islands, the surrounding Veneto, the Croatian coast and the Greek Islands.
Nino, who has two acclaimed Sydney restaurants, Pendolino and La Rosa, points out that due to the merchant routes connecting all four regions, the cuisine from this entire area is all connected in ways which still surprise many.
Nino chats to The Starfish.
Congrats on this fine book!
Thanks, it’s first and foremost, a cookbook. But it’s also a travel book and an historical book.
And a personal celebration of what the Veneto Region and your friends and associates there mean to you?
Very much so. My wife, Krissoula, is from the Greek island of Ithaca, which became part of the Veneto Republic in the 16th Century. And my dear friend Ino, an amazing Croatian chef, has taught me so much about the food from his part of the world. The connections are endless – and yet surprisingly many people don’t yet know about them. The film-maker George Miller, who is Greek, was at our book launch a few days ago and he said he’d had no idea; he was fascinated.
Can you tell us a little about your WA past?
Yes, I grew up in Bunbury. My first restaurant was in Dunsborough. Later I moved to Melbourne, where I worked at Fiorentino’s, and then a year later I moved to Sydney. Then I opened Otto down at the Woolloomooloo Wharf with Maurice Terzini.
What a scene that was!
When we opened, it was incredible. Every big name you can imagine was flocking there: Quentin Tarantino, Bill Clinton, every US president who came here. We opened a few months before the Sydney Olympics. I’ve cooked for every living prime minister in Australia. Paparazzi were always focused on who was eating there.
Back to this cookbook. It’s clear that you’re passionate about Venice: how often did you go there to do your research for the book?
Three times in seven months. A lot goes into doing a book like this! And I’ve also been going there since I was 21. I’m obsessed with the place!
We’re off there soon. Can you tell us some of your favourite places to go over there?
How long have you got?
Be sure to catch the free ferry across from St Mark’s Square to the JW Marriot Resort which is set on a private island, Isola delle Rose. Going to the island is like a James Bond experience! Have an apparitivo on the roof bar. Another island experience is to take a boat, past the island of Morano to Burano and lunch at the wonderful fish restaurant Trattoria al Gatto Nero. The fish risotto is a must!
Another great experience is going to Enoiteca Mascareta, the restaurant/wine bar of Mauro Lorenzon. He has an amazing knowledge and collection of wine. http://www.ostemaurolorenzon.com
What else do you suggest?
Go to the Gritti Palace hotel (Campo Santa Maria del Giglio) and check out their exquisite glass and fabric work. Also visit Caffe Florian, the oldest cafe in Piazza San Marco, located under the arches. Been going since 1720. And the latest Dolce & Gabbana store in Venice, located within the 19th centre Palazzo Torres (Calle Larga XXII Marzo) is so incredible, it’s worth checking out! As is the Michelin-star restaurant Quadri. The building is designed by Philippe Stack and even if you don’t eat there, just ask to go in and look at it! Another favourite restaurant is Osteria all Testiere.
Thanks for all these recommendations. And are you saying some of the classic Venice dishes can be found elsewhere along the original merchant’s routes?
Yes, take a sweet and sour sardine dish that in Venice they call Sarde In Saor; sardines in vinegar with pine nuts and raisins. It’s still very popular in Venice today. Before refrigeration, marinating the fish in vinegar was a way to preserve it. But this method extended all the way to Croatia and the Greek Islands. They have a different name for the dish there and serve the fish whole but it’s essentially the same dish.
Throughout your research for the book, you continually found patterns of cuisine following the sea merchant’s routes?
Yes, and yet a few miles away in each region they may not have ever heard of it! It’s fascinating.
Thanks, Nino. And when’s your new Sydney restaurant, Venetian Republic opening?
(Sigh) That’s another story. There have been some complications, which have made a few headlines here in Sydney – one day I woke to see it on page one of the Sydney Morning Herald. No need to go into that at the moment!
See one of Nino’s wonderful Veneto recipes in this edition of The Starfish at http://www.thestarfish.com.au/recipe-venetian-creme-rosada/