As Italian food icon Cipriani opens a new chapter in Dubai, Giuseppe Cipriani reflects on his family legacy of bold moves, glamour, and Venetian simplicity.
It would not be hyperbole to say that if you want class, you head to a Cipriani establishment. Its reputation for classic luxury is embodied by velvet banquettes and butterscotch leather walls, seamless service, and Italian fare that looks beyond the cliché pizza and pasta – although that is on the menu too, ovviamente. Robust yet nuanced dishes such as squid ink risotto and thinly sliced calf liver reveal Cipriani’s Venetian roots, before fresh white table linen is swapped in for dessert: a triumphant tower of precariously toppling vanilla meringue cake, and pistachio ice cream with a side of tart cherries and candied nuts. Looking up, you could be excused for being crestfallen to be in Dubai and not, as your palate would have you believe, in Venice.
The history of Cipriani is a tale of classic Italian verve, with a hint of intrigue and a soupçon of scandal, as all the most interesting dynasties have. Young Giuseppe Cipriani was tending bar at the Hotel Europa in Venice in 1927, when in walked an American student. A rich young man, Henry Pickering was traveling around the continent with his aunt, and struck up a friendship with Giuseppe. When Pickering’s aunt left him nearly destitute after an argument, Giuseppe – even though he had been saving up to open his own establishment – scraped together 10 000 lira for his new friend. Pickering left Venice and the years rolled by, not a loaned lira in sight. But in 1931, Pickering returned to the hotel, where Giuseppe was still dutifully working. In his hand, an envelope stuffed with 40 000 lira, enough for Giuseppe to open his own space. The name? Harry’s Bar, of course.
The tiny, out-of-the-way spot was an immediate success with the beautiful people of the time; the jet-set leisured class bored with grand yet anemic hotels. Ernest Hemingway had his own corner table and declared it his favorite bar; Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Proust, and Maria Callas dropped by; Evelyn Waugh wrote about it in Brideshead Revisited. Orson Welles sipped sundowners overlooking the St Mark’s bay waterfront; Truman Capote always ordered prawn sandwiches. Behind the mahogany bar, Giuseppe invented the still-famed Bellini in 1948, an intoxicating concoction of pureed white peaches and bubbles. It’s not the only legend Cipriani created – in 1950, he sliced paper-thin slivers of raw filet mignon for a countess on a raw-meat diet, naming the dish after the 15th century Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio.
Giuseppe’s son, Arrigo – Italian for Harry – took the Cipriani magic global when he opened a Harry’s Bar in New York in 1985. It was the first of many expansions and today, there are Cipriani restaurants and lounges the world over – from Ibiza, New York, and Moscow, to Monte Carlo, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Miami, Mexico City, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. Arrigo (who once told Vanity Fair he is “an ordinary man caught between two geniuses named Giuseppe,” his father and his son) is still the majority owner but it is the younger Giuseppe who manages the empire. “A career-defining moment for me was receiving my report cards at school – clearly I was not meant to be in the academic world,” Giuseppe laughs. “The past is in my DNA and experiences, now I concentrate on the future,” continues the heir, whose best-loved memories of the grandfather he was named after is “his intelligent sense of humor and quick perception of people.”
Now it’s time for another new chapter, with the launch of Cipriani Dolci in the Dubai Mall this month. “It is a combination of an Italian pasticceria concept, where you would go at any time of day typically for a sweet treat or to buy pastries and chocolate to take home, a cafe, and a relaxed restaurant,” explains Giuseppe. “Its location in the Fashion Avenue makes it ideal as a meeting point where tradition, Cipriani classics, and service welcome an eclectic crowd.” The design stays faithful to the overall Cipriani aesthetic, with nautical accents and colors, glossy wood, and chrome details. “The open layout has a great atmosphere and energy,” he shares. On the menu, expect the Cipriani signatures, as well as a classic vetrina that will display tramezzini (“Always addictive at any time of the day,” according to Giuseppe), bomboloni, cannoli, and other traditional Italian mono pastries. “At Cipriani Dubai we truly wanted to add a richer selection of cakes, desserts, and wonderful artisanal creations, like our families enjoy in Italy. And if you like ice cream, you might never leave the place,” he says.
Despite the global Cipriani footprint, Giuseppe still gets excited for each new opening – and about keeping the family legacy alive. “We are talking about 90 years and four generations. We try not to compromise our values. My family gave me the passion for this wonderful job and taught me the value of hard work.” As for the best compliment you could give? “I had a wonderful evening, I am coming back tomorrow” ranks right at the top.
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Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Vogue Man Arabia