Italian cuisine is a favorite amongst locals and expats alike here in Riyadh. It’s an easy favorite for its mild and harmless dishes like pasta and pizza. It’s very rare that we get to be hands-up-in-the-air impressed by Italian food but dining at Cipriani recently got all our tastebuds on standing ovation, applauding every bite. And at this point, yearning to come back for more.
Cipriani is known to be a chain of luxury restaurants specializing in traditional Italian food. It was the brainchild of a man named Giuseppe Cipriani who is a renowned figure in the culinary world, having also popularized dishes like the Carpaccio and of course, the Italian, Peach Bellini drink. We are so fortunate to finally have one of their restaurants here in Riyadh — one of many that have opened worldwide. Each branch is reminscent of the same design and ambience as the original Cipriani, which is made to depict a feeling of being in a yacht.
The glossy wooden panels, white linen tablecloth, glowing chandeliers, and black and white portraits of men and women from the big band era surround our senses as we are led to our table. The light jazz music in the background completes the ambience of sass and class. Before ordering, Janelle and I took turns in going to the little ladies room, and w-o-w. We have always been told by our elders that “you can tell a lot by a person’s home/business once you see their bathroom.” And boy, it was one Elegant bathroom (yes, with a capital E). We reckon it beats out half of the hotel bathrooms that we’ve been to. The faucet handles were wrapped in gold with cursive words of Hot and Cold on each handle. The marble floors and walls were luxurious and fresh lavender plants accented a table nearby. The restaurant in its entiretly is a work of art, and we were told by the manager, Mr. Juan Paulo, that the Riyadh branch was specifically designed by a worldclass Swedish architect.
The menu then arrives and we pour over the selections that are clearly upscale in design and value. When we spoke to our waiter about their bestsellers, we also learned that all of the chefs in their kitchen are Italians, so we can be assured that all their dishes has the approval of a native Italian chef. We eventually relied on his recommendations and boy, we were glad we did! Here are the plates (and glasses) that began to arrive:
They have a separate burrata selection that actually starts from 500 SAR and up. But this burrata came from their appetizeers list and it already knocked our socks off. There was a lot of creaminess inside and some firmness from the outside and as it melted in our mouths, the milkiness of the cheese seeped through. I particualrly loved their olives even though I am not a big fan of it normally as it gave each bite a nice touch of brine-ness, elevating the taste of the burrata even further.
We were told that the Downtown Salad is one of their bestsellers. It’s healthy mix of prawns, cherry tomatoes, beans, black olives and avocado. The taste was mild for me and serving size-wise, I thought it was quite pricey considering that it wasn’t that large of a plate and the ingredients involved aren’t that special (except for the prawns, probably).
It looks like even Cipriani is not immune to the popularity of the “dynamite shrimp” hence they have this version available in their menu. Each tempura is brought to life by dipping it to the creamy wasabi sauce that wasn’t hitting us with an explosive kind of spice but rather a subtle and fading touch of wasabi instead. We ordered it for the sake of trying a “dynamite shrimp” recipe in an upsclae restaurant, but for the pure Italian experience, I’d say we can focus on the other lovely items on their menu.
Now, unto the main courses:
The aroma of our table blossomed as our main dishes arrived. The whiff of the Baked White Tagliolini was intoxicating, and from the plate I could see the top part of the crust still bubbling a bit as it were hot from the oven. The waiter cut it in quarters and started placing each slice in our plates. It was love at first bite. It was made of slender pasta cooked to perfection with the cream sauce and tiny bits of turkey ham. The original recipe of this requires prosciutto but even with the turkey as a replacement, the dish was already great. Janelle and I were in unison in “mmmm’s” and “ammmm’s” after each bite and even more so when we paired it with the veal! These two dishes for us, are actually proof of how simple dishes — when done excellently — make a huge difference.
Lucky for Janelle and I, we both have a sweet tooth. Unlike our husbands who aren’t fans of dessert…We feel bad for them that they cannot appreciate these God-given desserts because they are hands-down, a slice of heaven! The Cipriani Vanilla Meringue in particular is something that Janelle and I locked eyes on and after our first bite, we both knew that we have chanced upon a new discovery that have changed our lives forever! The meringue taste is ever so light and not coyingly sweet at all. The cake was so soft and easily melted in our mouths. I mindlessly blurted out, “OH MY GOD. Angels made these.” We could not stop taking another bite just so it could be etched in our memory til our final breath (dramatic, I know…but yeah, that’s me with great tasting food :P). The panna cotta was something I ordered out of tradition and honestly, it didn’t really wow me in terms of taste. It was simple and okay. Then there was the Pistachio Ice Cream, which is freshly made as it is ordered. It was ultra creamy and again, it notched the perfect balance of sweetness and flavor — that measure which is always hard to hit with most desserts; and the addition of chocolate syrup and roasted hazelnuts gave it more texture and depth. Janelle and I were also totally in love with this dessert. My oh my, we can keep coming back for these. With a resounding Yaaaassssss please!
With so many drinks that night from cocktails to tea, we almost forgot to order their signature drink, the Bellini! It is a staple in all Cipriani restaurants and even other Italian restaurants serve it. It is essentially made of sparkling water and peach nectar. To you Cipriani, we raise a toast! The restaurant overall is pristine and the service is impeccable. Yes, the prices of the menu are high but bear in mind that this is a luxury restaurant and their clientele is geared towards the upper class folks, those whose price knows no limit. From the dishes that we tried, we highly recommend the Baked White Tagliolini, Veal Piccatine, Vanilla Meringue Cake and the Pistacio Ice Cream. There’s still a lot left for us to try, especially in their pizza and pasta selection but for now, that’s what we will leave you with. Consider Cipriani for your next special occasion or when a company VIP comes to town, they’ll know that you have good taste if you do.