Address: Calle Vallaresso, 1323, 30124 Venezia Italy
Telephone: +39 (0) 41 528 5777
When I visit a new restaurant I usually try to be as objective as possible in assessing the various aspects of it, but there are just times when I am too excited to be objective about a venue at all. One such occasion was when I visited the Michelin three-starred The Fat Duck in the UK (see my review here) – as an ardent fan of Heston Blumenthal, I felt like a fat kid in a candy store and I just couldn’t contain my excitement throughout the entire 3-hour meal! Another occasion that got me really jittery was my visit to Harry’s Bar in July this year. What made it so special? This revered establishment is not only the creator of one, but two, internationally-beloved Italian culinary inventions – the bellini cocktail and the beef carpaccio.
(As a side note, I was reading Dan Brown’s newest book Inferno while I was travelling in Italy, and Harry’s Bar got a one-line mention in it!)
Opened by Giuseppe Cipriani on 13 May 1931, Harry’s Bar takes a prominent location by the St Mark’s waterfront and has an impeccable view of the seductive Venetian waters. A playground amongst the European aristocracy since its early days, Harry’s Bar has not since then stopped attracting the rich and famous – its visitors included Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen and Nicole Kidman, just to name a few.
The decor is anything but glitzy or flamboyant; the restaurant exudes an elegant sense of tradition and decorum, and is classy in an understated way. Even though the restaurant attracts a flock of curious tourists everyday (including myself), it is also host to a long-standing clientele who have been eating here for years. Some of the staff – the waiters, the bartender, the chef – have worked here for decades!
These days, Harry’s Bar is operated under the Cipriani’s group, which also runs a few other outlets around Venice, but none of the other establishments are as illustrious as this ones!
(1) Naturally, we started our meal with a glass of bellini (€16.50). Invented by Giuseppe Cipriani in the 1930s, the bellini is a delicious cocktail simply made with white peach juice and sparkling prosecco, and was named after the fifteenth-century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini. Even though the original recipe uses prosecco instead of champagne, the bellini is now one of the most popular champagne cocktails in the world! The waiter explained to me that they always use fresh, premium white peach juice to make this drink. The result was a mouthwatering, sensuous and perfectly balanced drink!
(2) We were presented with some bread and grissini – the bread was decent but nothing much to rave about.
In addition to the bread basket, we were each served this cone-shaped pastry, which was quite delicious.
(3) A minestrone soup (€21) followed, and this soup boasted a mélange of natural, vibrant vegetal flavours. Its consistency was thicker than the minestrones at other restaurants, but it worked well.
(4) The bean soup (€21) was the epitome of simple Italian food at its best – there was nothing fancy about it, but this thick soup was full of sweet, natural flavours of beans and soothed us from the first spoonful to the last. Note, though, that this soup was rather filling!
(5) The fresh marinated salmon (€33) was a classic dish that was very satisfying. The quality of the salmon was pristine, and the portion was robust.
(6) Allow me to get excited once more, as I finally got to try the Cipriani Carpaccio (€48), a world famous dish invented by Harry’s Bar which is also one of my favourite Italian appetisers! Invented in 1961 for an Italian contessa who was on a diet free of cooked meats, this dish was named after an Italian painter, Vittore Carpaccio, who was famous for his use of deep reds in his paintings. Unlike most other Italian restaurants’ rendition of this dish, there was more dressing and no shaved Parmesan at all; salad was served on the side, not sprinkled over the beef. The beef had an utterly refined, meaty taste and the mayonnaise, with a mild tang, was completely complementary with it.
(7) Harry Bar’s house-made pasta is apparently to die for, and I was lucky enough to finally try it for myself! The staff recommended the baked tagliolini with ham (€34). Generously covered in baked cheese, the pasta was fully flavoured without being overwhelming, and the lingering taste of semolina heightened its taste. However, it was the house-made tagliolini that really stole my heart – the tagliolini was delicately thin, but still retained a good bite. This dish alone made my heart sing in joy.
(8) The primavera risotto (€35) was also ordered, and it was generally faultless. The rice was cooked to a desirable consistency, the ingredients were chopped in an appropriate size and the beautiful symphony of flavours in the risotto made it officially a crime not to finish it. The prices here may be hefty, but the portions were very generous. There was actually refill available for the risotto, but sadly it was beyond my means to eat any more of it.
(9) We moved on to the cuttle-fish with polenta (€53). The squid tasted sea fresh and was very hearty, with the plain polenta sponging up the squid’s delicious flavours.
(10) The calf’s liver à la veneziana (€53), even if a tad heavy, was a bold, full-bodied and well-cooked dish.
(11) Our desserts were many slices of Harry’s Dolci cakes (€26)! I was having a very difficult time deciding which cakes to order, and the kind waiter took pity on me and decided to give us a slice of every cake available! That was indeed a sugar overdose, as the cakes, in a traditional Italian fashion, were rather heavy on the sugar. What I enjoyed the most about these cakes was the whipped cream, which was smooth, rich and heavenly!
There were some set lunches, ranging from €42 – €73 for three courses, available. We ordered a mixture of set lunches and à la carte dishes and the bill was around €100 per head, including a glass of bellini for each of us. It was admittedly rather pricey, but the restaurant’s impressive heritage, seamless service and soul-comforting foods might just be able to help you forget about the wince in your wallet.