Revisiting Cipriani Hong Kong, And A Recipe To Bring Back Home
Secluded atop the mid-century Bank of China Building and just one floor below the opulence of the China Club, Cipriani Hong Kong belies its age. Certainly, the hand-blown Murano glass chandeliers, limestone floors, white-suited waitstaff and the Art Deco mural that dominates the main dining room hint at an institution that has been around for 30, 40, perhaps even 50 years; an unchanging rock in the tides of time. Yet this members-only supper club is a relatively modern addition to Hong Kong's dining scene, opened in the midst of the SARS epidemic of 2003 by the late Sir David Tang and fourth-generation owner Giuseppe Cipriani.
That's not to say that Cipriani doesn't bear the weight of history upon its shoulders. Upon the parting of the elevator doors on the 12th floor, guests enter a space redolent of a classic Venetian watering hole—or rather, one in particular. Harry's Bar, known from every listicle on essential cocktails as the birthplace of the Bellini (that sessionable peach-based staple of brunch spots worldwide), is the originator of the Cipriani empire today—and it is an empire indeed, with 17 locations worldwide spanning Moscow to Miami, Monte Carlo to Mexico City.
The story goes that, in 1931, Bostonian scion Harry Pickering was so grateful to the first Giuseppe Cipriani, a bartender, for loaning him money during his time of need, that he repaid Cipriani by helping him open his own bar, with that catch that the bar would be named Harry's Bar (of course, Cipriani got his dues from naming almost every subsequent opening after himself thereafter). In its time, the Venice bar has seen a who's who of American cultural royalty grace its doors: George Clooney, Woody Allen, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, and most prominently Ernest Hemingway, who mentioned the bar repeatedly in his 1950 novel, Across the River and Into the Trees.
In its 17 years high above the fork of Queen's Road Central and Des Voeux Road, Cipriani has already seen its fair share of turbulence. Its opening was marred by SARS, delayed when three Italian chefs refused to come to Hong Kong; through 2019, anti-government demonstrations would pass by the foot of the building with weekly regularity, at first peacefully, and later, descending into pitched street battles—conditions hardly amenable to the stated purpose of Venetian escapism. With the coronavirus pandemic following on the coattails of social unrest, the impact on the club revenue is starting to show; in an effort to attract more members, Cipriani has just revamped its membership scheme, with joining fees starting from HK$10,000 for single memberships, and a recurring annual fee of HK$3,000 thereafter. However, there's a chance on the odd slow day that you'll snag a table as a non-member walk-in.
Being what is essentially a glorified restaurant, the food is Cipriani's be-all and end-all—and thankfully, it delivers. Alongside multiple Bellinis (which can also be purchased pre-mixed in an attractive baby blue bottle), guests are encouraged to order the excellent beef carpaccio, which the company also claims was invented to please an Italian countess on a diet that barred cooked meat; as well as the decadent baked tagliolini with ham, and the creamy burrata with house-marinated cherry tomatoes. Save some space for the dessert tray; a sweet feast for the eyes and mouth, it consists of no less than five cakes on any given day, anchored by a majestic vanilla meringue cake with a crown of whipped egg white peaks. Says executive chef Stefano Poli: "We follow the original recipes of Cipriani—all the food you enjoy at Cipriani Hong Kong are just the same as what you would have in the other regions."
Don't be surprised by the bill when it comes however, given Cipriani's main clientele of besuited financiers and corporate lawyers with expense accounts, rare as they are nowadays. As they say, some things really never do change.
Cipriani, 12/F, Bank of China Building, Bank Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2501 0222
See also: 11 Best Steak Tartares In Hong Kong
Recipe: Pollo al Curry
Adapted from 'The Harry's Bar Cookbook'
Served at every Cipriani worldwide, the curried chicken originated at Harry's Bar in Venice and has remained a staple on the menu in the intervening decades since.
- 1/4 cup olive oil (60ml)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 leeks, white part only, thoroughly washed and thinly sliced
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp brandy
- freshly ground pepper
- 2 to 3 tsp curry powder, to taste
- 1/4 cup flour (35g)
- 3 cups boiling chicken or fish stock (750ml)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (125ml)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, and celery and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until they are wilted. Add the apple and cool the mixture, stirring from time to time, for about 30 minutes, until everything is soft. Pour on the brandy, warm it and carefully ignite it, and carefully swirl the skillet until the flames die out. Add some salt and pepper, the curry powder and flour, stir well and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the hot chicken stock, cook the sauce and continue to whisk until it thickens. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Strain the sauce into a saucepan—it should be a thin cream sauce with a delicate curry flavour. Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan and add it to the sauce. If necessary, season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper and let it simmer gently for another 10 minutes.
Pollo al Curry
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 chicken thigh drumsticks
- Curry sauce (recipe above)
- Freshly ground pepper
Remove skin from the chicken and cut it into pieces. Dry the chicken gently, season it with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with some flour. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on medium heat and brown the chicken on both sides until they are golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes (you can do this in batches if necessary). Pour in the curry sauce, stir it and let it cook for about 10 more minutes. Place the chicken on a warm plate and finish with the sauce. Serve with rice pilaf.