At 10.45pm one evening last week an elderly, immaculately dressed man with
a twinkle in his eye and a slightly anxious smile, approached
the empty table for six behind me and made sure that it was
correctly laid up.
He then set off to patrol his new London restaurant for the
umpteenth time that day before returning with two plates of
tuna tartare for those who had just sat down. Then he set off
again around his restaurant before finally returning three
minutes later to sit down to join his wife and his general
manager, who had flown in that morning from running their
restaurant in Hong Kong, for a late and hard earned supper.
Welcome to Arrigo Cipriani who, with his very particular style
of restaurants, has now paid London the compliment of opening
here in what has to be its perfect location – in Mayfair,
close to the shops, hotels, offices and corporate headquarters
that will keep it busy at lunch and dinner.
And as in Cipriani's other locations, most notably Harry's Bar
in Venice as well as his outposts in New York, Hong Kong and
in the not too distant future in Las Vegas, there is the
Cipriani sense of style and elegance coupled with the fact
such hospitality comes on the management's terms.
There is in my opinion more exciting Italian food available in
London – at Assaggi, the River Cafe, Locanda Locatelli, Riva
and Zafferano for example – and no other restaurant would
serve its very expensive wines in such unflattering, stumpy
glassware. But then no other restaurateur would work so hard
to convince you that these factors are relatively unimportant.
This management style has even surprised Jason Philips, the
seemingly unflappable manager who now fronts Cipriani London
and who has worked in several of the city's other top
restaurants. "When we started here we were told to forget most
of what we had learnt elsewhere. Then we were told we have to
look after our customers the Cipriani way."
This approach involves a sea of white jacketed waiters and
well dressed managers sweeping through a large, beautifully
designed room where the impression of being on a grand ocean
liner is enhanced by a porthole at the entrance through which
is a continuous video of the ocean blue.
The sea has played another significant role in the
restaurant's creation as its lacquered wood interior was
designed by Hong Kong's David Tang and then made in China
before being shipped and rebuilt in London. (A particularly
clever and practical desgn feature is that the three small
rooms at the end fold into each other to form a boardroom
style private dining room that can seat up to 30).
While the room therefore bears a strong physical resemblance
to the Cipriani in Hong Kong (a private members' club that is
an association between Cipriani and Tang, and indeed Tang's
China Club in Hong Kong) there are are also several close
associations with Venice, most obviously the low level tables
and chairs; the Bellinis, the peach and prosecco combination,
which are suggested as soon as you sit down; and, most
importantly, a great deal of the menu.
Happily, at the moment at least, the menu is considerably less
expensive than that in Venice as Cipriani has appreciated that
he will need to woo hard-bitten Londoners more assiduously
than once-in-a-lifetime visitors to La Serenissima. Most of
the first courses are around the £10-12 mark and
mains around £18-20 and the lunchtime set menu is
just £21 for three courses. Venetian generosity with
the portion size seems to prevail here too.
A first course of fried calamari came piled high, although the
batter was not the lightest we had encountered. Tagliatelle
with squid had slightly coagulated en route from the kitchen,
as had the risotto with my osso bucco. But a seafood salad was
as fresh as any by the Grand Canal and a thick veal chop with
sage and then a bowl of hazelnut ice cream were absolutely
delightful. And the intuition with which our East European
waitress pointed out that one request for a pasta dish
followed by a main course that came with rice and should in
her opinion be replaced with a salad was an obvious case of
just how immediately the Cipriani induction process takes
effect. This training, as well as the good times the
restaurant will generate, is undoubtedly going to be one of
the long term benfits this opening will bring to London.
Finally, to reflect the confidence of all that it offers,
Cipriani is open from 10.00 for coffee and throughout the
afternoon as well as lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Cipriani London 25 Davies Street London W1K 3DE 020 7399 0500
9 May 2004