Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck enjoy a romantic evening at the Belmond Cipriani Hotel, Venice
We were staying almost next door to this famous hotel on the island of Giudecca in Venice and although it is reputed to be the most expensive hotel in the world we were determined not to leave without at least dining there. Having already tried Harry’s Bar ( expensive but worth it for atmosphere) and the Locanda Cipriani on Torcello (expensive and good on a first visit but disappointing more recently) we felt a Cipriani hat-trick was in order and so booked a table for our last evening.
It was Giuseppe Cipriani who having accumulated enough money from the famous Harry’s Bar, which was frequented by Earnest Hemmingway, Charlie Chaplin, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor et al, who opened the Hotel Cipriani in 1958 with the help of Lord Iveagh, head of Guinness Brewery. It was sold and eventually it passed to the Orient Express Group who in 2014 renamed it the Belmond Hotel Cipriani as part of a rebranding.
Before dinner we were able to take a stroll around the extensive grounds. There is a big swimming pool – a rarity in Venice – which apparently owes its size to an error. The English designer gave the measurements in feet and the continental builders interpreted them in meters. The attractive and well maintained gardens were in fact part of an early botanical garden and one area is named the ‘Casanova’s Garden’ because of its proximity to The Zitelle, a nearby convent which took in and taught beautiful girls from poor families who, having no dowries might otherwise have fallen into prostitution. Unsurprisingly, that reprobate Casanova reputedly spent many happy hours with the young girls housed there.
A little vineyard continues to produces grapes for the ‘salt red wine’ – evidence of the salinity of the lagoon once again. Now, as well as the pleasure gardens with abundant flowers and statues, vegetables and fruit are grown organically for use in the hotel’s restaurant and there are chickens and even a pet rabbit to provide enjoyment for guest and their children.
After our walk and a peek at some of the exquisitely furnished and decorated public rooms we made our way to the waterfront restaurant known as Cip’s Club. The sunset was magical and from our waterside table we had an unrivalled view of Venice across the Giudecca Canal. A view which changed minute by minute until darkness fell and the buildings became shadows leaving only myriad reflected lights dancing on the water.
We drank bellinis while we studied the menu which was very much to our taste. We both began with a classic – the famous Cipriani Carpaccio, something which many restaurants emulate, invariably without success. This was perfect, quality beef full of flavour, sliced paper thin and served with the authentic mayonnaise sauce with just a touch of lemon and a touch of Worcestershire sauce.
Patricia then chose a porcini risotto, risotto being something she adores – if done properly – for this too is something of a benchmark dish, very easy to get wrong if scrimped or hurried. This one was bliss… Full marks to chef Roberto Gatto for the so-important consistency and full marks for the flavour of the wonderful seasonal porcini and the wild herbs. Chef Gatto is known to be a perfectionist. He remembers making turbot with artichokes at least 200 times before finding the right recipe. He joined Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice as Chef de Partie in 1993 and then worked is way up to become Head Chef of Cip’s Club. Apparently he loves it when customers return years later hoping to find a dish that enchanted them during a previous visit. So message to chef – ‘We’ll be back!’
Then there was the service. We are fortunate in that we eat in many lovely restaurants and we sense immediately the attitude of the staff. From the most rustic little osteria to the grandest establishment, the people who serve you add to the enjoyment, or otherwise, of your experience. Here, from the outset we were served with both professionalism and warmth. Immediately Dennis mentioned that he liked shellfish, lobster was suggested and nothing could have been more acceptable. And it proved superlative, lots of it, beautifully cooked and served with a side dish of vegetables including endive which chimed perfectly for flavour.
Next came the unfortunate part – these dishes had proved so good and so copious that sadly we could go no further – so the delicious- sounding tiramisù or Majani chocolate mousse, to say noting of the cheeses, will have to wait for another visit.. However as an alternative to desert we opted for something which always slips down well – an Irish Coffee. This is yet another of our personal benchmarks and I cannot tell you what odd concoctions in its name we have tasted all over the world. One of the worst actually being in rural Ireland while once in the Caribbean Dennis himself actually made and served it in the restaurant, to applause. Here of course it was made to perfection.
A memorable meal in an unforgettably romantic setting beside the Giudecca Canal with the lights of Venice twinkling on the water.
A perfect end to our week in the city.
Cip’s Club Belmond Cipriani Hotel