Last year, you may remember, I was in Padua searching for its most famous traditional cake whilst waiting for the rain to stop. It was almost impossible to find the pazientina but a long search led me to one of the last patisseries still making it and the only one I could find. Imagine my surprise then when a few days ago I came across the cake in Venice.
Not so suprising when you think that I found it in Amo, the café owned by the Alajmo brothers—two extremely famous restaurateurs from Padua—0n the ground floor of the historic Fondaco dei Tedeschi at the Rialto. Raf and Max Alajmo run Le Calandre in Padova, one of only eight restaurants in Italy to boast three Michelin stars.
Amo takes the eighteenth century Venetian cafés such as Caffé Florian and I Quadri as its reference for interior decoration, although it seems a pity that they seem to have gone for a metal, rather than Murano glass chandelier. They serve a variety of patisserie including tiramisù and the pazientina. The one I had was completely delicious and not as heavy as you would think bearing in mind that it’s covered in chocolate. If you can’t get to the Fondaco dei Tedeschi and have the patience to try it, here’s my version of the recipe.
I have a few issues with the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. However, the fact that it was recently converted from its nineteenth and twentieth century use as Venice’s central post office to a luxury shopping centre isn’t one of them. The name of the sixteenth century building literally means ‘the German warehouse’ and its original function was as a base for German merchants in Venice to sell their wares from. So its return to use as a commercial centre is highly appropriate.
One of the problems I have with the place is that they decided to call it Fondaco dei Tedeschi using the standard Italian rather than the more appropriate Venetian version Fontego dei Tedeschi. The word, which derives from the Greek word for hotel πάνδοκος (pandokos) through the Arabic فندق (funduq), was rarely in common use outside Venice and then only in port cities such as Genoa, Pisa, and Ancona. In Naples and Sicily it has a slightly different but derivative meaning. This anomaly is emphasized even more by the fact that the street signs around it all use the Venetian form. To me, it just seems a shame to have its Venetian identity watered down in this way.
Whatever it’s called, the building is well worth a visit. The restoration work inside is very nicely done preserving and emphasizing its original features. When I was a kid, I used to visit it often, as there was a set of telephone cabins from which you could make international calls and I used to use them to phone my mum in the UK when I was staying with my step nonna in Venice. In those days the central courtyard was open to the elements, but today there’s a glass roof covering the atrium which now houses a restaurant.The facade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi today is pure white, but back in the 16th century it was covered in frescos by Giorgione and Titian, two of the greatest Venetian artists of their generation.Unfortunately, due to the humid Venetian climate, these are long gone.
One of the best reasons to visit the building, however, is the new terrace they constructed on the roof which affords stunning views of Venice and is free. At busy periods you have to book a time slot.