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The Burger King Bellini
The Venetian branch of Burger King is an unlikely attraction, right in the middle of the rat runs round Rialto, but it’s worth a visit- not we hasten to add with the intention of going inside, but because opposite is the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo, an eleventh century foundation rebuilt in the late 1400s by one of Venice’s most important architects, Mauro Codussi, master of the great optical-illusion staircase at San Giovanni Evangelista and the church of San Michele on the eponymous graveyard island. The greasy whiffs of Whopper don’t encourage lingering beneath the (painfully lovely) facade, but inside, just to the right of the doorway, is one of the city’s many hidden treasures, Santi Girolamo Cristoforo e Agostino, one of the last works of Giovanni Bellini. Anywhere else this painting would be worth security guards, queues and admission tickets, but it just sits here, in between the phone-cover and mask shops, its lapidary brushstrokes almost hidden in the gloom of the nave (though for 1 euro you can light it up for four minutes). Though there is something poignant about the neglect of this masterpiece, the fact that it has remained for six centuries is somehow reassuring. Big Macs too shall pass.
Even contemplating a dinner that doesn’t include vongole or baccala can make one feel heretical here: Venice is so beautiful, so refined, that one feels one has to live up to it. Even a hastily-snatched slice of pizza can be guilt-inducing, but we’re all human- you can’t move for gondoliers in the KFC by the station. So that said, if the urge for a burger comes upon you, there are some decent options available.
Scoffing in the street however, could land you with a fine, as the consumption of take-away food in or around Piazza San Marco has technically been illegal since 2016. That year, the council also banned any new fast food outlets from opening, to protect the city’s gastronomic identity, but for possibly the world’s poshest burger the Gritti Palace terrace serves a cheddar-glazed patty which combined with the view of the Salute church really hits the spot. Another unlikely place for a bun fix is the cafe of the Rossini cinema does a very fancy pulled pork version (pronounced locally as “pull-ed pok”), whilst the Hamburger Gastronomica in Campo Santa Margherita has a gamey wild-boar version which is pretty great with their home made pickles.
We’re not going to insult you with a recipe for a burger, but for those of you lucky enough to be able to barbecue (cooking over open flames is strictly forbidden in the city), the two easy relishes below will have you feeling extremely smug when the first tang of charcoal scents the air.
Tamarind Caramel (day before or day of burger)
This recipe is from one of my favourite chefs, Tom Kime. A slightly bizarre but very much delicious trick up the sleeve. Tamarind has a tanginess that is almost too much but with the sweetness and saltiness it is rounded off perfectly. Lathered onto a burger just before the final stages of cooking/grilling gives the meat an extra layer of flavour, making it taste richer. Goes well with most braised meats. Can be stored in the fridge for a week.
Serves 4-6 burgers
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped, deseeded
4cm chunk ginger, sliced
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp tamarind pulp (or 1 concentrate with 3 water)
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 juice lime
Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli in the oil over medium heat until the garlic is just about to turn brown. Add the soft brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the tamarind pulp (or concentrate + water) and the fish sauce and simmer gently for 4 minutes until the sauce becomes syrupy. Add the lime juice.
- Paint onto burgers that are almost cooked, don’t put it on at the beginning otherwise it will burn and become bitter.
Oven-roasted Shallot and Tomato Relish (week of burger)
This is a classic but a goodie, and if you don’t already have a favourite go-to relish this is a good one to know about. Very low maintenance work but high reward and if stored properly will get better with time.
Makes 1 Jar
Will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge after being opened
4 tbsp olive oil
12 shallots, roughly chopped
5 cm piece garlic, peeled and chopped
4 garlic clove, roughly chopped
2 red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped
20 cherry tomatoes or 6 large ones, halved
salt and pepper
1 tsp of sugar
juice of 2 limes
Preheat the oven to 190c. Chop the shallots roughly, along with the garlic and ginger. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until the onions and garlic are beginning to get some colour, this will add flavour. Move the garlic and shallots to one side and then add the chopped tomatoes and chilli. Roast until the shallots have really taken on a charred colour and then remove them, leaving the tomatoes to cook further.
In the meantime, pound the garlic, shallots and ginger in a pestle and motar along with the sugar and salt. Remove the tomatoes and let them cool slightly, remove what you can of the skin. In a bowl press the tomatoes, but gently so the liquid doesn’t squirt out and add the shallot mix, add the lime juice and adjust for seasoning.
Lemon-Turmeric Onion Marmalade (Months before burger)
This recipe works really well in sandwiches, chicken, cheese, but if you are only going to use it in burgers feel free to emit the lemon altogether and balance the acidity with just the vinegar. I personally like the lemon with the burger bun because it is not overly strong but it is a bit unusual.
Makes 1 jar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 garlic cloves
2 red chillis, finely chopped and deseeded
2 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper
4 medium onions
2 tbsp of red wine vinegar
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat, add the oil, fry the garlic, chilli for 1 minute, then add the mustard seed and turmeric and stir for a few more seconds. Follow with the onions, salt, pepper and sugar and continue to cook over low heat until onions are completely soft and golden.
If the sugar starts to catch just add a splash of water and stir to lift off the caught part and continue. When finished add the lemon juice and vinegar and stir until absorbed.