A sense of time and place dictates the retrospective success of so many meals. Travel broadens and refines the palate, with sensations heightened and taste receptors arguably more finely tuned than at home. Maybe it’s the sense of distance, or relaxation, but flavours seem to sing out more clearly while produce always seems more beguiling.
Throw in views, sunshine and a sense of glamour to deliver the definition of a memorable meal. Cip’s Club at the ridiculously lovely Belmond Cipriani Hotel in Venice boasts one of the world’s greatest dining views, across the laguna to the skyline of a city still unmatched in beauty and grace. After maybe too long living in Asia, a water taxi down the Grand Canal initially felt like a ride from the Venetian Macau, until you remember that those buildings are real, not facades.
Leaving the tower of St Mark’s to your left, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum to your right, your water taxi pulls up to the island of Giudecca and one of the world’s chicest hotel parking spots before Roberto, a charming doorman straight out of Italian central casting, welcomes you with a flourish and up the steps from the jetty.
Straight through reception, via a flower decked trellis, lawns and herb gardens with vines to the left, then a stone passageway until the light at the end of the tunnel, in so many ways:
Call me an old sop, but there can be few more romantic or enchanting dining tables anywhere. Two peach Bellinis – invented at Harry’s Bar, about a mile across the water and named in honour of 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini – are placed in front of you before you barely have time to sit down.
A bread basket with olive oil is simple but brilliant and reminds that the Italians mastered it way before anyone else. And no balsamic. None.
From the broad à la carte menu – there’s also a full vegetarian menu – two dishes jump out. Carpaccio di manzo brings wafer thin slices of beef with a lattice of Cirpiani’s special sauce. The brilliant restaurant manager divulges that it contains mayonnaise and worcestershire sauce but won’t give up any of the others ingredients. I don’t blame him, because I’d bottle it if I could.
Thereafter, the spaghettino with vongole and asparagus, a bowl of perfect ingredients, simply but beautifully executed. The contrast of the briny little bullets works perfectly alongside the clean and green shards, with white wine and garlic making an appearance on the palate too. Perfetto.
The vegetarian couldn’t be happier with her Caprese, a tomato that reminds what tomatoes used to taste like in happier days and simpler times, mozzarella balls from happy local cows and a tiny sprig of basil. Add bread and olive oil for one very happy luncher.
To finish, we tick all the Italian cliché boxes and order the Ciprimisu – but we’re in the country for less than four hours in total, so can be cut slightly more slack than normal. The cocoa dusting is thick, the savoiardi boozy, the cream shameless.
Lunch prices here aren’t cheap – but they shouldn’t be. This is one very special table in one very special hotel in one very special city. Meals don’t come much more memorable than that.