CHECK OTHER REVIEWS FOR THIS PLACE:
Harry's Bar Beirut Makes a Come Back with a New Chef (Restaurant Closed)
For our annual dinner, organized by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina of which I am a proud member, we were honored by being the first to try Harry’s Bar, which is scheduled to open on the 19th of December in Downtown, Beirut. Tonight, the meticulously crafted menu will be prepared by chef Alberico Penati, a famous figure in the world of Italian cuisine and a man who has toured around the kitchens of Italy and the United Kingdom before landing in his own restaurant, named Penati, in Paris.
I was so excited to be the very first to lay eyes on the interior of Harry’s Bar …
We were there at 8:30pm sharp, where a professional valet service welcomed us. This was the sort of valet that has vanished from our country, the type that should be available at all hotels. Yes, Harry’s Bar has those professional and smiley majordomos wearing a hat and a clean suit, making sure the car is taken away safely while you’re shown to the restaurant’s entrance.
A beautiful space, large and relaxing, a high ceiling, white walls, dimmed lighting and a bar, a small bar, wooden and old, where the drinks are prepared. On the menu was the famous Bellini: A mixture of Prosecco sparkling wine and peach purée. This cocktail originated in Venice, Italy, and was invented sometime between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy. He named the drink the Bellini because its unique pink color reminded him of the toga of a saint in a painting by the 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.
While we enjoyed our drink, trays of appetizers proceeded around the space. Fried spinach bites, cheese croquettes, rice croquettes, eggplant bruschetta, tapenade and Parmesan biscuits: Bites that all looked dull, golden and fried, none of them looked inspiring, but all offered a crispy flavor that was oil-free and enjoyable. I was expecting more by way of a first impression.
That night’s dinner was special on all fronts. It was held at the famous Harry’s Bar and the wine selection was carefully chosen by Enoteca and Vintage. Chef Alberico Penati, the famous Italian chef, was there himself, a master who has spent 20 years at the Harry’s Bar in London. Had the chance to talk with chef Alberico who told me about his love for Lebanon and its fresh produces specially fish and vegetables.
A first impression... The details I liked:
- They use sohat glass bottles
- Fine, silver cutlery decorates all the tables
- Porcelain plates with gold lines add finesse and luxury
- The service is very good and professional. It has a certain class rarely seen in our country.
- The waiters wear white jackets and black ties
The Harry’s Bar story:
Harry's Bar was opened in 1931 by bartender Giuseppe Cipriani. According to the company history, Harry Pickering—a rich, young Bostonian—had been frequenting Hotel Europa in Venice, where Giuseppe Cipriani was a bartender. When Pickering suddenly stopped coming to the hotel bar, Cipriani asked him why. When Pickering explained that he was broke because his family found out his drinking habits and cut him off financially, Cipriani loaned him 10,000 lire (about $5,000 US). Two years later, Pickering returned to the hotel bar, ordered a drink, and gave Cipriani 50,000 lire in return. "Mr. Cipriani, thank you," he said, according to the Cipriani website. "Here's the money. And to show you my appreciation, here's 40,000 more, enough to open a bar. We will call it Harry's Bar.” The Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs declared it a national landmark in 2001.
The architectural details:
- Large green reflective marble tiles cover the floor
- A bar welcomes you at the entrance. A wooden, yet simple, bar with a touch of English style
- A high ceiling of old arcades is painted in white, making the place look bigger
- Old wooden chairs covered in green leather fill the space
- Large glass facades let the restaurant blend with the surroundings
- Round and square tables, choose what you’d prefer
- Nice looking toilets, clean and luxurious with walls covered with wood
- The warm lighting is relaxing and soothing
- Echoes travel around this noisy space, something that should get better after the installation of paintings
- Guest by Frette tablecloths, I personally love those
Dinner is served:
- The First Wine: Gavi di Gavi. Marchese di Barolo 2013. Historically, the Marchese di Barolo was the Italian royal family wine suppliers. Their biggest success in the Gavi di Gavi voted Italy's best white wine.
- Purea Di Ceci All'Olio Aromatico Con Gamberoni e Speck: A bizarre plate... a plate which doesn't look too appetizing at first, but that hides a collection of delicious wonders. A handful of textures, which start with the crunchy cooked al dente chickpeas surrounding a chickpea purée, topped with chewy slices of speck and two beautifully cooked shrimps. More than the textures, the flavors are as good as you’d expect. Honesty, nobody on the table that night understood it, or even liked it, but personally, I did. A plate that feels classic and shows know how, reordering simplicity into innovative wonder. A great start... Let's wait for the upcoming plates.
- The Second Wine: Le Serre Nuove, Ornellaia 2011. Ornellaia's seond wine and Ornellaia is considered Italy's best and world famous red wine. 2011 is one their best years.
- Risotto Ai Funghi Selvatici e Gorgonzola: The presentation wasn’t great, but it was a great risotto. Not only cooked al dente, but tender on the outside and hard on the inside, fresh, aromatic and flavorful... That's a good risotto. Every bite is a journey, every portion caresses your taste buds as it flows around your tongue. A certain freshness, a boost, appears as you swallow it. I've had plenty of risotto, but this one is special. PS: The portion is too big and doesn't look too appetizing. I believe it should be smaller and smoother, with some decoration.
- The Third Wine: Tignanello 2011. A super Tuscan wine. A great favorite among Marchese Antinori wide production. The first San Giovese to be aged in Barriques for about 12 months, and a further 12 months in the bottles. Tignanello is a milestone.
- Lombata Di Vitello Speziata e Arrostita, Infusione di Spugnole Carciofi alla Romana, Lattuga Brasata, Indivia Gratimata: After the good impression from the first two plates, this was something that left me neutral. I didn't feel anything, didn't understand anything. Other than being dull, there were no colors and it didn’t look appetizing, like everything tonight, this plate was nothing to write home about. Grilled vegetables, two slices of vealfull of gelatin... Anyway, I expected something more flavorful and kinder to the eye.
- Granita Al Pompelmo Rosa: Very interesting indeed... Crushed ice soaked in grapefruit syrup. A subtle sweetness and an after note of bitterness; simple yet tasty and enjoyable. I loved it, despite its strong flavor which many didn’t like, and I can understand why they didn’t. When you think the experience is done, bite into one of those thinly-cut lemon confit fingers to add a zest of enjoyment. A martini cup filled with crushed ice and a sweet juice, I think it’s a great way to end a meal.
Is that dessert? I thought it was only a "trou Normand". I was expecting a nice cake, an innovative tiramisu or maybe a Panacota to tease the eye... I was deceived!
After all that, plates of biscuits landed on the table, four choices of almond-based biscuits, intense buttery flavors and a bit too sweet for my taste. We would have loved to have coffee, but no one offered it.
I was honestly expecting to be amazed and surely wasn't:
- To start with, the plates are too full, too dark and lack color and life. As we all know, Italian cuisine is known to be joyful.
- Shouldn't plates be recited when served? Like they do in almost all brasseries and fine dining restaurants?
- Not a single hint of decorative spirit... It's Christmas!
- The food was good, but not great
- The air conditioning system needs a boost
- The place is too noisy, they’re hoping to have that fixed after the paintings and decorative items are installed
- I’m still waiting for the ice cream... It landed on some tables, but not ours
We paid $130 after all. It should have been much better. I would have added a course to the meal, decorated the plates and added a dessert.
Some things I enjoyed at Harry's Bar:
- The service was professional and synchronized
- The water and wine glasses were filled at all times to the right level
- The cutlery and other details have a certain class and finesse
The verdict: I enjoyed the beautiful setup of the place, which will be even better in few days. I loved the fine wines and was impressed by the professionalism of the service. I expected a bit more from the food and more specifically the decoration and final touches, which are a bit below the standards of Harry’s Bar.
I'll surely visit after the opening for a detailed review and let you know my impressions. Stay tuned for the big day on the 19th.