Truly Italian

Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo was ordered by her doctor not to eat cooked meat, so when she entered Harry’s Bar and told the owner about her restrictions, he came up with an idea of very thin slices of beef, which he dressed with mustard sauce.

By (Silvia Radan)

Published: Sun 26 Jun 2011, 12:44 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:02 AM

The red and yellow colours of the food reminded the chef of the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, so he named the dish after the painter. This was Venice 1950 and the invention of the famous Italian dish Carpaccio by the equally famous chef and restaurateur Giuseppe Cipriani.

While the legendary Harry’s Bar still looks and serves the same great Italian classics in Venice today, the Cipriani brand has expanded globally in a few selected locations, the latest being Abu Dhabi.

“We opened the day before the Formula 1 started, on November 11, 2010,” said Tito Piazza, Cipriani executive chef and consultant.

The beautiful glass building in the Marina on Yas Island actually hosts two Cipriani restaurants — the classic Italian Cipriani and, for the first time in the restaurant’s history, a Japanese establishment too, called Yotto.

“We did have some problems with the food suppliers in the opening night, but in the end everything went smoothly and we had a great service,” added Piazza.

“We started with about 38 0r 39 dishes and now we have a menu of 53 items, plus deserts.”

Light room, white table cloths, a flower here and there, spaced out tables, nothing detracts from a really good bowl of minestrone. Simplicity is, after all, Cipriani’s middle name. Its first name, though, is service from the heart. Good food apart, what really made and kept the restaurant famous all those years is the very friendly, unpretentious service. At Cipriani you eat like in your mother’s kitchen.

No wonder that when Giuseppe Cipriani opened the first restaurant, Harry’s Bar, in 1931 in a small stone building along one of the canals around Piazza San Marco in Venice, the establishment became hugely popular with the high society of the day, from writers to politicians and aristocrats. Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Princess Aspasia of Greece, Woody Allen were among the customers of Harry’s Bar. In fact, the place has reached such significance that in 2001 the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs declared Harry’s Bar a national landmark.

“There is this superb reality about Harry’s Bar. Going there is like going to a museum,” says Piazza, who worked most of his career for Cipriani.

“I was 24 years old when I started working for Harry’s Bar. I was already working in another milestone Italian restaurant in 1991, when I heard Harry’s Bar is looking to hire. I thought it’s very good opportunity and I went for it.”

“I started on heavy-duty training, preparing food 12 hours a day, for four years. Then I began to know people better and I gradually developed a small career and got pushed up to the main kitchen.”

“It was still cranking work, but I was doing it arm to arm with the super chefs.”

After three years of cooking at Harry’s Bar, Piazza was offered to take over as a chef at a new Cipriani restaurant in Buenos Aires. His dream was to work in New York, but this too was too good an opportunity to pass, so he said an excited yes. As it happened, the opening in the Argentinean capital was dropped because of business and political matters, but it looked like some new opportunities in New York were coming up.

“So I went there and never came back,” said the chef.

“When I got to New York, there were only two Cipriani restaurants. Now there are eight and I’ve opened every one of them.”

After 14 years in New York, Piazza got a harder challenge: Cipriani Abu Dhabi.

“Here everything is imported, so we work with about 20 food suppliers. It took a while until we got the right quality food that we need to have, and we do serve the Italian classics that our customers are used to having.”

And not just any Italian, but some Venetian specialities too, like the Bacalla, which is salted cod. There is also the Scampi alla Carlina, named after Carla Cipriani, the daughter of founder Giuseppe and sister of present manager Arrigo, which are pan seared then baked scampi served with four ingredients. The curry on the menu was not inspired by the region and eating habits, but it is actually one of the Cipriani’s “exoticised” dishes, using curry leaves, but cooked in an Italian technique.

“All our menus have the basic Cipriani dishes, but we do leave some space for chefs to add new things,” explained Piazza. For the time being, he keeps Cipriani here close to the original Italian menu and leaves the next door Yotto to go wild with sushi and other Japanese delicacies. What is also kept true to the original Cipriani is the service.

“Here, 90 per cent of the employees are Italian, who take great pride in being waiters, as they should. This is not an easy job, it is a skilful trade.”

A cigar bar and a nightclub are also set to open under Cipriani’s brand in the same location.

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