May 22, 2012 / 9:29 AM / in 6 years

A taste of Venice in London's east end

LONDON (Reuters) - On the surface the picturesque UNESCO World Heritage site Venice may seem to have little in common with Hackney, a gritty but rapidly regenerating district in east London.

But the similarities appear very clear to Venetian chef Andrea Michelon, who along with compatriot architect Paolo Mozzato and four British and Irish partners, decided to set up their buzzing, bohemian neighborhood restaurant Ombra.

Beyond the tourist sites, Venice like east London is home to close-knit neighborhoods used to welcoming newcomers thanks to a past as a port destinations, Michelon says.

Here are a few other comments he had to make on his restaurant and the cultural connections between neighborhoods and their eateries.

Q: Venice is a cultural destination for tourists from around the world. Would it be fair to say it has almost nothing in common with the East London location that you’ve chosen to call home and set up your restaurant?

A: No, in fact this part of London reminds me of Venice, in particular Castello, which was a working class and sometimes criminal district, though it is disappearing now as there’s a lack of work. It had the feeling of a village, and Hackney has that feel, and we have the canal, so there is the feeling of being on an island, like in Venice. And of course Britain itself is an island!

Q: What were you doing before you set up in London?

A: I was working at a restaurant in Mikenos, Greece for four years. I also worked for years on boats around the Mediterranean serving small groups of people. But I started at Paradiso Perduto in Venice. It was a place which was always lively and had important musicians playing. I wanted to catch the spirit of this place.

Q: What is your sourcing policy?

A: We try to source the best possible ingredients for what we offer. This means that we locate the best Italian produce like mortadella, hams, wine and cheeses from Italy, but we get our bread from the E5 Bakery in Hackney and buy vegetables from the nearby Queen Mary university organic garden and our meat from the Ginger Pig, (a small chain of high-end butchers which also has a store in Hackney).

Q: How do you create the friendly, lively atmosphere?

A: We are trying to educate British people to eat food with their drink. There’s no aggression here, and there’s a different vibe from many places. That’s partly because people are not getting too drunk, but also because of the mood of the staff who are very friendly.

Q: You started up just under a year ago and you’re already very busy. Do you have plans to expand?

A: We are building a deck at the front which will be great for the summer. And who knows, perhaps we’ll open more branches...

Recipe: Baccalà Mantecato 1 Stoccafisso (air-dried cod, which is used in Venice while salt cod is used in the rest of Italy) 1 white onion 2-3 bay leaves 1 Liter of olive oil for each 1 kg of air-dried cod

1. Marinate the ‘stoccafisso’ in water for at least 48 hours (changing the water at least twice a day in order to avoid unpleasant smells), clean the fish from any stray bones (Don’t throw away the skin of the fish). 2. Add the cleaned meat of the fish to a boiling pot of water with a white onion and a couple of bay leaves together with the skin of the fish. Simmer for about 20 minutes. 3. Let it rest away from the cooker for about 10 minutes, without removing it from the water. 4. Drain the fish and skin, remove the onion and the bay leaves. Place the boiled fish and its skin in a food processor. Gently mix or blend to obtain a smooth paste, but maintain some visible fish. 5. Very slowly drizzle the oil into the fish as you mixing it, continue doing that until the fish has formed a nice, smooth and shiny paste. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

In Venice it is usually served on a ‘crostino’ (crutons) of grilled polenta.

Reporting by Simon Falush, editing by Paul Casciato

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