This article is dedicated to Signora Linda who departed these shores the last weekend in January, 2021. RIP.
For the last thirty years a trip for me across the Venetian Lagoon has to include a visit to the island of Torcello for churches and mosaics, followed by a fabulous fish lunch at ‘Da Romano’ on the fishermen’s island of Burano. This is the perfect way of exploring the vast, natural wetlands of the Venetian lagoon. The combination of a boat trip, fresh air, wonderful panoramas and breath-taking natural beauty is true nourishment for the soul. In fact such a trip is necessary, vital even, at least once a year. I’ve written numerous articles about the lagoon of Venice and the island of Torcello. You might enjoy reading Torcello – Island of legends where I discuss Locanda Cipriani and Ernest Hemingway. But this article is about the island of Burano and the very special family-run trattoria ‘Da Romano’ which has been offering delicious fresh fish to locals and visitors for more than a century.
DA ROMANO, BURANO – I’ve been meaning to write about the unique, family-run trattoria of ‘Da Romano’ for months and months, perhaps even years. Somehow I just never got round to it. Then yesterday I received some very sad news, La Signora Linda, who has worked in the restaurant every day for the last sixty years, and was the head of the family, had passed away. I felt enormously sad and a profound wave of melancholy flooded over me. This smiling lady, wearing her pale blue and white overall was a ubiquitous presence in the restaurant, always pleasant, always welcoming and always so humble. The Barbaro family have run a restaurant on the island of Burano for generations. They started off with a general store and then started running a small restaurant. In 1947 they moved into the impressive building on the main street (formerly a lace-making workshop) and they have been there ever since. Romano Barbaro was a great art lover, he encouraged artists to visit Burano and to sketch or paint for the restaurant. Today the walls are covered with paintings, sketches and cartoons created by diners and visitors over the years. When Romano died his son Orazio took over, and he and his lovely, young wife Signora Linda continued the family tradition of welcoming locals, Venetians and overseas visitors. But ‘Da Romano’ was never just a restaurant, it was and still is, a focus for island life and a meeting point. The Italians call it ‘un punto di riferimento’ quite literally a place worth noticing. On any given day a casual visitor will find a couple of local men standing at the bar enjoying a glass of wine or a coffee, probably discussing the next rowing regatta and how the mighty rowers of Burano will fare against the rowers of Murano, Giudecca or Lido. Meanwhile family groups, couples and tourists occupy tables throughout the spacious restaurant.
FISH – as you’d expect ‘Da Romano’ is a fish restaurant. The island of Burano is surrounded by the waters of the Venetian Lagoon and so ‘cucina di mare‘ is the order of the day. There’s a huge range of fish and crustaceans to be found locally. Fresh fish and risotto are the specialities. Fish is purchased daily from the local fishermen. In fact in September last year, Signora Linda explained a typical day to me. Well into her 80’s, I was too polite to ask her exact age, she explained that she lived above the restaurant and every day, around about 7.30 or 8.00 am there’d be a knock at the door, with the local fishermen offering their daily catch. She would then make her way downstairs, select the fish for the restaurant and then organise for it to be delivered directly into the kitchen for cleaning and preparation. That’s all before a morning cup of coffee. Illy probably, roasted and ground in Trieste (just up the road). Made in an old fashioned ‘Bialetti’ coffee machine, ‘ovviamente cara’ (obviously, my dear)…….When I asked her how many years she’d been opening the door to the local fishermen, she laughed and said, ‘tantissimi anni’ which means many years. She then thought about it again and said, ‘mi sembra piu di cinquant’ anni’.….I think more than fifty years.
BURANO’S LANDMARK – There is no doubt that over the years ‘Da Romano’ has built up a loyal clientele. Even in recent years as tourists swamped Venice, the trattoria of ‘Da Romano’ has always maintained a large number of loyal Italian families dining at the restaurant year in year out. This strong Venetian and Italian tradition has kept standards high and integrity and authenticity stratospheric. ‘Da Romano’ is what the Italians refer to, as I mentioned earlier as ‘un punto di riferimento’ which literally means a ‘reference point’ although in this context it really means a ‘top quality, not to be missed trattoria’. So now we need to talk about the food. Well, the dishes are just perfect. Simple, fresh and aromatic, ‘per dire la verita, secondo gli italiani, i piatti sono prelibati’ according to the Italians the dishes are just delicious…….‘Niente di piu’ nothing more…. One of the signature dishes of ‘Da Romano’ is risotto, especially ‘Risotto di Go’ which is a fish risotto made from a small, spiky, boney, little lagoon fish called ‘Go’ which in the correct hands can be filleted and gently fried into the most delicious fish-based risotto ever. It goes without saying that the ‘frittura mista’ is spectacular (always Andrew’s first choice). ‘Frittura Mista’ is the standard Adriatic offering, a dish of fish and vegetables, lightly coated in tempura batter and gently fried – usually a delightful melange of shrimp and prawns, tiny calamari, alici (anchovies), small fish fillets and the occasional red mullet to beef up the plate. Just writing this makes my mouth water……………There’s also bigger fish to fry, bake or poach; branzino, san pietro, triglio.…..sea bass, john dory, red mullet.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY – and it’s not just the food, it’s the atmosphere and ambience. I feel so welcome when I walk through the door. It’s like eating with friends. Over the years I’ve eaten here with my husband, with my children, with extended family groups, with nephews and nieces, with American friends and with valued clients. I don’t know how many people I’ve taken to ‘Da Romano’ over the years, but it’s many, I’m guessing at least one hundred. I’d love those guests to think back to their visit and to wish the family well. Linda will have been there, even if you may not have noticed, in the background, probably in the kitchen. I invite you to recall the flavours of the dishes placed in front of you, the quality of the food and the quality of the welcome. The speciality of the house ‘risotto’ comes in three variations; shrimp or prawn, squid ink or ‘go’ (the little fish unique to the Venetian lagoon). Typically the whole table has risotto and it is delivered to the table so that we can serve ourselves, family-style or of course, the waiters will serve you. Meanwhile the freshest of salads are displayed on an old-fashioned trolley where Signora Linda is quite likely to be found serving portions to diners, with a smile on her face and a kind word for all.
BELONGING – over the years ‘Da Romano’ has offered a welcoming dining room to visitors, locals and people from all over the world. Guests have included The Duke of Edinburgh, Robert de Niro, Sylvester Stallone, First Lady Rosalind Carter, Members of the Rolling Stones, Katharine Hepburn, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Philippe Starck and Maria Callas, even John McEnroe has enjoyed lunch here – I hope he was well behaved. For me there is no other place on the lagoon to eat lunch – even though there are several other fabulous restaurants I keep meaning to visit one day. But it’s so hard – I can never persuade myself to miss out on lunch at ‘Da Romano’. For a place to eat lunch which feels truly like home (only with better food) it keeps drawing me back.
‘Da Romano’ for me is a blend of Venetian and Italian heritage. It is the manifestation of life in the lagoon of Venice. Big skies, huge horizons, clear air, a place where human beings occupy their proper place, neither more, nor less. Life here depends on respect for the environment, acceptance of the high tides and floods and appreciation of nature’s bounty. It’s also a very local life, where the rhythms of the seasons influence the fishermen and the food that ends up on your plate. It’s fun to browse the paintings on the walls. I especially like the cartoon of Ernest Hemingway – whom I love as a writer – I smile to myself at his depiction on the walls of ‘Da Romano‘ as a crazed duck hunter, with a truly maniacal look in his eye. Art, food, passion, dedication, it’s all here in Burano, where the enigmatic Signora Linda spent her entire life and where she will watch over us all for months and years to come. Onward and upward is the only way.
Other articles on the lagoon of Venice:
- Venice and the lagoon, a vast natural harbour
- Venice – A day on the water of the lagoon
- Burano,Venice, Italy – The kindness of women and the story of Olga!
- To visit ‘Da Romano’ website: www.daromano.it
- This article is dedicated to Signora Linda, a shining example of dedication, hard work and authenticity.
- Signora Linda died on 31st January, 2021.
- RIP Linda – we will miss you! One of a kind.
- 2nd February, 2021