My favourite restaurant on the island of Burano is called ‘Da Romano’. It is a traditional trattoria, that has recently celebrated a century of what the Italians call ‘attivita’ and we would call ‘being in business’. The restaurant is warm and welcoming. The spacious dining room has high ceilings and is lined with solid travertine columns marching silently along the length of the room. The colour scheme is patriotic, red, white and green – the colours of the Italian flag. White and red glass spheres from nearby Murano provide the lighting. The floor is polished stone. The building used to be the Lace School, it has seen hundreds of young women passing through it’s doors to learn the precise and painstaking art of lace-making. The walls are covered with paintings, in all shapes and sizes; water colours, oils and numerous colourful cartoons. Da Romano exudes warmth and hospitality.
Earlier this year the art collection from ‘Da Romano’ was moved to Palazzo Querini Stampalia, a vast historic palace in the centre of Venice. The paintings formed a temporary exhibition highlighting the importance of the canvases and cartoons that decorate the walls of the restaurant. I visited the exhibition last week and was thoroughly impressed and entertained by the quality of the event. I’ve written extensively about the food and the service at ‘Da Romano‘ in previous articles. This article is about the restaurant’s extraordinary art collection.
ART IN THE LAGOON – The story of the art collection really began in the 1930s when two artists and writers from Milan started to visit the island of Burano, during the summer months. Just like me they were enchanted by the island and it’s tranquil location in the northern reaches of the Venetian lagoon. In the 1930s the island was filled with small fishermen’s cottages. Hundreds of small boats would set out daily at dawn to reap the harvests of the lagoon; shell fish, shrimps, prawns, tiny clams, all manner of fish, sea urchins, octopus, calamari. The daily haul would be examined and sorted, then prepared and cooked by Orazio Barbaro and his wife.
From the early days ‘Da Romano’ was much more than a place to eat. It was a meeting point, a place to greet your friends, a ‘punto di riferimento’ as the Italians say. Here at the bar locals drink coffee or enjoy a grappa or a spritz even when the restaurant is packed with diners. It’s part of the community, located right in the middle of the main street of Burano. It’s impossible to miss this landmark building and the familiar faces who work there, and have done for decades.
Mario Vellani Marchi and Orio Vergani were friends from Milan – Marchi was an artist and designer whilst Vergani was a gifted writer and photographer. They would come to Burano every summer and soak in the atmosphere of the lagoon. In fact Mario Marchi exhibited his paintings at the Venice Biennale, in the 1920s. The Biennale is an art exhibition that runs every other year in Venice with a focus on modern and contemporary art. These artists would host dinners at ‘Da Romano’ and enjoy the fantastic fish dishes of the island. They would also create and decorate the menus ‘Le Liste’ as a souvenir of the event. The ‘lista’ below was signed by all this present at the dinner and dates from February, 1945.
These artists created a tradition of painting, conversation and friendship that continued for decades. Da Romano has hundreds of sketches, oils and water colours on it’s walls. There are photographs too of famous visitors, drawn by the food, the welcome and the art. Ernest Hemingway features in one of the cartoons, Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) is in a black and white photograph. Hollywood stars, politicians and sports stars have visited and left a sketch or a signature.
The exceptional thing about ‘Da Romano’ is that Orazio and his family created an atmosphere and a welcome on the island of Burano in the 1920s that endures to this very day. Great food, a wonderful atmosphere and walls filled with art.
In a few days Stanley Tucci’s TV programme ‘Searching for Italy’ will be shown on televisions all over the world. Let’s hope they show ‘Da Romano’ as the fantastic, fishy experience that I’ve enjoyed for the last 30 years. Just last week I was having lunch at ‘Da Romano’ with my friend Sue. Carciofi (artichokes) of Sant’Erasmo were in season, so we tried them – delicious, perfectly cooked, tender, served with a drizzle of olive oil. We moved on to the famous ‘risotto’ of the house, made with the tiny local fish ‘go’ and also some risotto gamberi too – with shrimps. As usual the food was divine.
‘Da Romano’ on the island of Burano, in the northern reaches of the Venetian Lagoon offers superb food, incredible art and a genuine welcome. What more could any visitor ask?!
- You can read more about Da Romano and the fantastic food at: Da Romano – Burano, Italy an article I wrote a year or so ago.
- You can read numerous articles I’ve written about Venice and the Lagoon here. The Venetian Lagoon
- I’ve also written about Torcello: Torcello – Island of legends – Cipriani, Hemingway, Venice
- Janet Simmonds is a tour guide, travel company owner and Italy expert. She has been guiding and writing about Italy for many years. You can read numerous articles about Italy, especially Venice and the Lagoon on her blog www.educated-traveller.com
- Janet also creates unique journeys and exceptional travel itineraries for clients in Venice, Veneto and across the Italian Peninsula. You can discover more at her business website: www.grand-tourist.com
- With thanks to Palazzo Querini Stampalia, Venice – who put on a great ‘Da Romano’ show from Jan-March, 2022
28th April, 2022
Updated: 8th May 2022