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BAHRAIN’S latest celebrity chef, Michelin-starred Chef Giancarlo Perbellini touched down in the kingdom as preparations were being put in place to transform one of the kingdom’s oldest Italian dining destinations into one of his international signature restaurants.
The Gulf Hotel Bahrain Convention Centre & Spa’s La Pergola will be rebranded as La Pergola by Perbellini following a redesign and extensive refurbishment. It is being carried out following high level talks and an agreement with the culinary master’s architect and likely to cost more than BD200,000.
Chef Giancarlo has already appointed two leading members of his existing team to work the kitchens in Bahrain, alongside another senior chef from Italy, and he will be alongside them for the opening in late summer.
“It’s very exciting times,” he told GulfWeekly in an exclusive interview. “The reason we are here is because we must look at the layout of the restaurant and the kitchen and speak about the Italian chefs we are bringing in. We need to decide on the timing for their arrival. We’re looking at the middle of July.”
He loves to define himself as an ‘artisan cook’.
Xbe (pronounced Perbe) is Perbellini’s brand, his ‘corporate’ logo and it is also the nickname that friends have always given him. It is on his uniforms at all official events, bringing his way of understanding cuisine and of doing business both within and outside the national boundaries.
He told GulfWeekly that the new design of La Pergola by Perbellini will be inspired by his outlet Al Capitan, a winning vibe that will also be mirrored at his new restaurant in Milan which opens at the end of March.
As well as celebrating the cuisine, restaurant reviewers have also highlighted its ‘warm and welcoming ambience in the heart of Verona’.
He says the aim will be to create a similar buzz in Bahrain with a feel that encapsulates the desert sands alongside the waves and beauty of the Arabian Gulf.
As well as the look he knows Italian food connoisseurs and regulars of the Gulf Hotel outlet will judge him on the quality of the fare on offer.
“I believe in bringing real Italian cuisine and traditional recipes to the table with my own twist,” he explained. “You must always remember that taste is the most important thing, you may make the dishes in a new way but you must always remember the taste.”
Garfield Jones, CEO of Gulf Hotels Group, is delighted to have signed up such a culinary legend and thinks the vast sums to be invested in the restaurant’s refurbishment, will be money well spent. Work will start in mid-May and it will remain closed until the grand reopening ceremony.
This will be the hotel’s second venture with a Michelin-starred chef, following on from the introduction of Rasoi by Vineet in 2015, which was not only voted best Indian restaurant but picked up the plumb prize of ‘Best Restaurant’ in the whole kingdom at last year’s Bahrain Food and Travel Awards.
“Following on from the success of Rasoi by Vineet, we certainly expect great things from Chef Perbellini who will deliver the very best in Italian cuisine,” Garfield added.
Not much pressure then?
Although he will be a frequent visitor to the island in the coming months and conducting the kitchen orchestra well before the opening date, Xbe has already appointed a pair of safe hands - Zeno Bevilaqua and Matteo Mez – who are well-versed to the standards he sets.
One currently works in the kitchens of his Italian gourmet restaurant and the other was sous chef at his Hong Kong operation. “They know very well what we want to do here in Bahrain,” he said. “We will make something fresh. A new concept – we look at traditional Italian cuisine in a modern way, with our eyes and with our hearts.”
Long-standing favourites on the current menu will remain in place such as the famous La Pergola Salad and he’s not adverse to amending his own dishes to take account of local tastes, something he successfully adopted for the Chinese market in Hong Kong.
To tempt the taste buds, on the menu will be his unique Carbonara creation, an Italian pasta dish originating from Rome made with egg, hard cheese, guanciale and pepper and given a ‘Xbe twist’ with shrimps and there’s also his take on Mozzarella cheese, which originates in Naples, and comes served with bread on the side. Langoustines with peas and mandarin and Mille-feuille ‘strachin’ are firm favourites too.
Coming from a long line of pastry makers held in high regard since 1890, it’s no surprise that Giancarlo is known for his desserts.
Despite working with some of Europe’s greatest chefs, he says the most influential mentor he ever had was his grandfather. “My grandfather was a very important figure in my life,” he explained. “From a young age he taught me how to make amazing pastry.”
He keeps his memory alive in the kitchen, where his chefs often wear traditional waistcoats and flat caps, just as his grandfather would have done.
Born in 1964 in Bovolone, a quiet town located in the Verona valley, Xbe’s roots lie in the great Italian rural tradition, where the land and its produce are a fundamental resource. He grew up while cultivating a passion for pastry-making, kept alive by his family, and for cuisine, to which he decided to dedicate his studies and career.
His first steps were taken at the restaurant Marconi and 12 Apostoli in Verona, to then take off at San Domenico in Imola. The elegant and refined atmosphere at Gianluigi Morini’s grande maison and the French inspiration of Nino Bergese’s cuisine led him to important restaurants outside Italy, placing refinement alongside tradition.
From Taillevent to Ambroisie, as well as Terrasse in Juan Les Pins and Chateau d’Esclimont, thanks to his experience at these temples of cuisine, he created a foundation within haute cuisine.
In 1989, he opened an eponymous restaurant in Isola Rizza, where he was able to temper the taste of tradition with innovation. Three years later, in 1992, his hard work produced its first results - he was awarded the Chef Europeen du Poisson.
In 1996, Giancarlo Perbellini earned his first Michelin star and in 1998 he was named Emerging Chef by the Espresso Guide. His second star was awarded in 2002, to which were added three forks from the Gambero Rosso Guide in 2005. He has been President of the Italian Commission of the prestigious competition for chefs, the Bocuse d’Or, since 2010.
He disseminated his knowledge at four other restaurants and, along with other partners, endorsed the opening of the gourmet pizzeria Du de Cope, Locanda Quattro Cuochi, the restaurant Al Capitan della Cittadella and Tapasotto.
During the same years, he exported Italian culinary excellence abroad, curating the opening of the restaurant Rana in New York in November 2012. Then, in March 2014, he endorsed Locanda for the Indian group Dining Concepts, which opened in Hong Kong in the centrally-located Ocean Centre in Kowloon.
The Xbe world continues to be a contrast of the old and the new. It’s one in constant evolution ... a gastronomic restaurant, a tapas bar, a pizzeria, a seafood table and even a boutique hotel. In Verona, Venice, New York, Hong Kong and now a venture into the Middle East with La Pergola by Perbellini in Bahrain.