Italy, Venice, Burano: The secret ingredient that makes this risotto taste so good

In my mind, I am spooning the creamy risotto into my mouth. The vaporetto is still cutting its way across the lagoon to the island of Burano, but already I'm looking forward to sampling Venice's most iconic dish, a risotto made with a stock that is simmered for not one, not two, but at least six hours.

It was Nino Zoccali, the owner of Sydney's Restaurant Pendolino and La Rosa The Strand restaurants, who first shared the secret of Venice's risotto da go with me. The risotto gets its heady flavour from the small go fish, which are added whole to the stock. After an entire day of simmering, the fish disintegrates completely, leaving behind nothing but its heady flavour. "The flavour is amazing, but there's not a single piece of fish in the risotto," Zoccali told me, eyes gleaming with enthusiasm.

Fortunately, Zoccali also told me where to try this fabulous risotto: Trattoria al Gatto Nero, a small family-run restaurant on the island of Burano, a 50-minute boat ride from the heart of Venice. "They are the masters," he assured me.

So here I sit as the vaporetto pulls into the dock, ready for a memorable meal. Finding Al Gatto Nero is not difficult; finding anything on the compact island of Burano is not difficult. The blue-painted building fronts on to a canal, with a fleet of small tables looking across the water. Each one already has a "reserved" sign on it.

I am greeted by Massimo Bovo, the son of Ruggero, who still mans the pans in the kitchen although he is well into his 70s. After three generations in business, the Bovos have built an unrivalled network of local fishermen who supply their fish; Massimo himself regularly throws a line in the water.

"I can tell if a fish is fresh just by the smell," Bovo says. "It's like a sommelier; when you are continually exposed to smells and flavours, you learn a lot."

As we speak, someone walks into the restaurant carrying a squelching plastic bag; after a quick wave at Bovo, he heads straight for the kitchen. It's a local fisherman who just caught a hefty seabass, which will be added to the lunch menu. It's not the only late addition to the menu. "Someone else just brought us 30 small scallops. I'll put some aside for you," Bovo says.

Unfortunately, today's catch does not include go. It's a huge blow, and for a moment I consider ditching lunch entirely. Once Bovo sends out his first dish, however – a pitch-perfect Venetian classic, baccala with polenta – I change my mind. From there on in, every course is a revelation. I hoover up the heaped platter of perfectly-grilled seafood, which includes not just the tiny scallops but also some amazing razor clams.

By the time the pasta rolls around – a huge plate of ribbon pasta topped with prawns, cherry tomatoes and zucchini blossoms – I realise I've peaked too early. I'm too full to fit in more than a few forkfuls. Bovo senior is not impressed. He comes out to scold me in Italian for not eating enough, and tells me that next time, I need to bring my appetite. I promise him I will, particularly if risotto da go on the menu.

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TRIP NOTES

Ute Junker was a guest of St Regis Venice and Trattoria al Gatto Nero.

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traveller.com.au/venice

italia.it/en

STAY

A new addition to the Venice hotel scene, the St Regis has a central yet secluded location and a private garden directly on the Grand Canal. From €650 for a double room, breakfast included. See stregis.com

EAT

Trattoria al Gatto Nero, Burano, is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Sunday. Reservations recommended. See gattonero.com

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