• Nicoletta Fornaro

Il Mercante: modern design for a historical Venetian cafe


Venice. My city, one of the most controversial places on earth, where novelties take a bit more to be introduced, but then appear all together and all of a sudden. Finally the elegant and minimalist design has found its perfect expression and one of the trendiest bars from this point of view is undoubtedly Il Mercante located in front of the Frari Church. The new management that has taken over this historical cafe, opened in 1870, one of the few places with an original spiral staircase, has been able to make it even more beautiful than what it already was.

A two-storey cafe with Venetian style pavement, thonet chairs, small round wooden tables and paintings by Gianluciano Sormani dating back to the XIX century depicting Carnival scenes and a very famous cat named Nini (cats, at the time, were very important for Venice because they helped fight rats and were a sort of good luck symbol, at least until the black rat from the Orient arrived and spread the plague...). It is said that this Nini cat was so popular that people would leave a signature on a book after seeing his picture and, among the different signatures, there is the one of Tzar Alexander III.

Anyway, the location is very fancy and the design chosen really adds an international breath to the bar, finally Venetians have a really cool place where they can enjoy a nice coffee with a piece of cake (I suggest the cheese cake) in the morning and afternoon and well prepared cocktails in the evening. Il Mercante is a mix between wine and cocktail bar, with a nice food offer consisting in salads, gourmet toasted sandwiches and absolutely delicious crostini with creative toppings. Many of my friends go there in the evening, while I admit that I hadn't yet stopped by (I am not exactly the best socialite in the world...sorry!) and was extremely curious, so I went with my mum.

As you know, I came back from Dublin on Tuesday and wanted to meet mum to catch up on family stuff and spend some time together outside of her house and without her having to work for everyone, so we went to Ca'Pesaro and re-visited the Hockney exhibition and had a quick bite while waiting for my 15-year-old brother Matteo who studies close by. We were both enchanted by the atmosphere and, although we sat on the ground floor, we couldn't resist the temptation to visit the upper floor.... so beautiful and contemporary I could easily live there.

Every detail and piece of furniture is just right, a blue velvet sofa -my favourite- and other 2 button tufted brown leather sofas... wow, my house is so small I don't even have a proper couch and these ones are so tempting I want them all! The small asymmetrical tables, the wooden cupboard, the plants, the old maps and globe and the super cool lighting with free bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Nice! Not to mention the view from the windows, which face one of the most important churches in Venice: the Franciscan Frari's basilica, one of the highest examples of Venetian gothic architecture.

The location alone is worth seeing and if to this we add the quality of the drinks, I think you really ought to stop by and add Il Mercante to your to-go-places list. Now, let's discuss the food. The best things in my opinion are the nibbles, the crostini: generous portions, mouthwatering toppings and creative but well thought combinations. When they serve them, they cut them in half so you can easily share a variety and taste a bit of everything. We first ordered a glass of wine, a cabernet sauvignon for me and a schioppettino for my mum and then I glanced at the menu.

My mother had a selection of crostini, it's just stronger than her: whenever she sees small sandwiches, tramezzini, crostini or anything to nibble with that's what she'll go for; I think she likes the idea of savouring more things and the fun part of sharing, while I opted for a salad (on the contrary, I like the idea of a filling meal that will keep me going at least until the afternoon, such a selfish and individualist brat I am...). I enjoyed her choice, she chose the ones toped with mixed vegetables (bell peppers, aubergines, zucchini and basil), curry and prawns and one with ricotta, tomatoes and baby mozzarellas. Yum!

After these we also had one with Parma ham, figs and a balsamic vinegar reduction and one with smoked salmon (to die for !!!!), while I ordered a Caesar salad. My dish was simple and filling; as required by the recipe, it had chicken, bacon, Roman lettuce, parmesan, pan-fried bread and a lemon, garlic, olive oil and Worcestershire dressing. The dressing was served aside, so one can choose how much to indulge... and I used it all! Personally, I love garlic and, as a solution, my husband and I have agreed that, in order not to "disturb" each other, when one has garlic the other must eat it too! Anyway, it was nice and a perfect lunch solution. Very good value for money too (overall, for 4 crostini, 1 salad, 3 glasses of wine and a coffee I spent 27,00 euros).

I was satisfied, while mum had a second glass of wine and started chatting with a lovely -and very well dressed- Chinese girl sitting next to our table who was explaining how frustrating it is when her government every now and then blocks the use of WhatsApp and she has to find another way to communicate with her international friends. The girl was very talkative and my mother -just one word: Irish- couldn't hope for anything better, so we drank a coffee together and then I left because, you know, I have to work too! I suppose you imagine me wandering around the city doing nothing but eating and drinking, but actually reality is quite different!

With regard to this, I am afraid that people are starting to think of me as the crazy woman that takes pictures of food and asks lots of questions. Oh my... to console myself from this idea, on my way back I stopped at Dinamo Manufatti, a really really nice housewares with arty and refined hand made objects, and bought myself a wooden spoon. Do I need it? Nope...but it's beautiful and as soon as I'll make a dessert it will end up in one of my food photos!!! That was my day done, from that moment just work and responsibilities...

But, you who have more free time than me, should really take a moment to stop in this cafe and enjoy the nice ambience. At Il Mercante the contemporary design is perfectly integrated with the historical paintings and furniture, the view is stunning and drinks and food very good, I am sure you will love it! So, bye for now and let me know what you think!

Il Mercante

Address: Dorsoduro, Fondamenta dei Frati 2564, 30125, Venezia (VE)

Phone: +39 041 476 7305 Find it on Google Maps clicking HERE

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