Food

THE HER­ITAGE OF ITALY’S SINK­ING CITY IS BROUGHT TO LIFE IN IM­MAC­U­LATE DE­TAIL AT SEPA IN MID-LEV­ELS. Char­maine Mok MEETS THE MAN BE­HIND THE TRANS­FOR­MA­TION

Hong Kong Tatler - - Con­tents -

The culi­nary and cul­tural her­itage of Venice is brought to life at Sepa

Gi­a­como mar­zotto’s ex­cite­ment is in­fec­tious as he gives us the grand tour of Sepa. We’re do­ing rapid rounds of the res­tau­rant, traips­ing up­stairs and back down, open­ing doors and cran­ing our necks as the vol­u­ble Ital­ian talks an­i­mat­edly about each and ev­ery de­tail of his pet project. Set on Caine Road in the shadow of the Mid-lev­els es­ca­la­tor, the mod­estly sized premises is a richly de­tailed trib­ute to the bacari of Venice, small wine bars that also serve fin­ger food. It’s full of lit­er­ary and cul­tural ref­er­ences and ar­ti­sanal relics, which all come to­gether to craft a story much big­ger than Sepa’s mere phys­i­cal form.

Most restau­rants are based on a con­cept, but Mar­zotto’s ap­proach is sev­eral lay­ers deep. At the cen­tre of Sepa’s vis­ual lan­guage is a fan­ci­ful nar­ra­tive fea­tur­ing the key char­ac­ters from Vene­tian play­wright Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 com­edy The Ser­vant of Two Mas­ters. Truf­faldino, com­i­cally tor­mented by an in­sa­tiable hunger, is the char­ac­ter most closely con­nected to the con­cept. The char­ac­ters show up as coast­ers, on busi­ness cards and as menu items. For ex­am­ple, the Florindo Mo­jito—de­vel­oped by cult mixol­o­gist Roge­rio Igarashi Vaz of Tokyo’s Bar Trench—is named af­ter the play’s drunk mur­derer. The vis­ual cues con­tinue with the at­tire of the staff, who wear the dis­tinct royal blue and white stripes of gon­do­liers as they de­liver ci­c­chetti, savoury snacks and small dishes typ­i­cally served in bacari, to the din­ers.

“Peo­ple usu­ally think that in Venice, you eat pretty badly. Which is true, if you don’t know your way around,” laughs Mar­zotto, who is driven by a de­sire to show­case the food of his up­bring­ing. Ci­c­chetti are of­ten de­scribed as the Vene­tian equiv­a­lent of tapas. “The con­cept of ci­c­chetti was born and de­vel­oped in Venice, but it never re­ally made its way out. Some may not even know what a bac­aro is all about,” says Mar­zotto, us­ing the sin­gu­lar form of the word.

The word bac­aro, he con­tin­ues, is deeply con­nected to wine, be­ing de­rived from the name of the Ro­man god of agri­cul­ture and wine, Bac­chus. And Sepa is a con­tem­po­rary

ren­di­tion of the tra­di­tional Vene­tian wine bar, as in­ter­preted by 33-year-old Ital­ian chef En­rico Bar­tolini, who formerly worked at the two-miche­lin-star Devero Ris­torante north of Mi­lan. “We want to give a bite­sized ex­pres­sion of the Vene­tian culi­nary land­scape,” says Mar­zotto. Much of the menu in­volves clas­sic fresh in­gre­di­ents from the sea, in­clud­ing the tit­u­lar cut­tle­fish ( sepa in the Vene­tian di­alect). But that isn’t all. “Peo­ple don’t know that the repub­lic of Venice used to ex­tend all the way to Mi­lan. So game, beef and lamb were also present on din­ing ta­bles through­out his­tory,” says Mar­zotto, and have a place on Sepa’s menu.

The for­mer Valentino ex­ec­u­tive’s pas­sion for his home­town ex­tends well be­yond its food. “There are plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to talk about Venice in a way that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily con­nected to food,” says Mar­zotto, who un­til Septem­ber last year was Valentino’s area man­ager for South­east Asia, Tai­wan and Aus­tralia. “There are arts, crafts and cul­ture.”

It was his broad in­ter­est in pro­mot­ing the many facets of Vene­tian cul­ture that led him to quit his high-fly­ing cor­po­rate job last year to de­vote him­self full-time to life as a restau­ra­teur. His fam­ily back­ground and ex­pe­ri­ence de­vel­op­ing lo­ca­tions for Valentino out­lets across the re­gion had set him up well for the chal­lenges of craft­ing a culi­nary project from the ground up.

“I’ve al­ways had en­tre­pre­neur­ial blood be­cause of my fam­ily,” he says, re­fer­ring to the Ital­ian tex­tiles be­he­moth Mar­zotto Group, which owned Valentino un­til 2005. “Lux­ury has also al­ways been a part of my life. But I’m ob­sessed with food and I could see a gap in Hong Kong for this style of food.” So Mar­zotto, the holder of an MBA, switched his am­bi­tion from the re­tail in­dus­try to hos­pi­tal­ity and be­gan to ex­plore how a res­tau­rant project could show­case the beauty and for­mat of Vene­tian din­ing.

Mar­zotto em­barked on a process that took him back to Venice seven times as he de­vel­oped his con­cept, each time seek­ing out and woo­ing Vene­tian ar­ti­sans and bright, in­no­va­tive Ital­ian chefs able to help him carry out his vi­sion. Less than a year later, that vi­sion has ma­te­ri­alised in the form of the el­e­gantly cu­rated space at Sepa, where ev­ery de­tail has been con­sid­ered in re­la­tion to its con­nec­tion to Venice.

Mar­zotto strides across the main din­ing room’s ter­razzo floor (Vene­tians de­vel­oped the ma­te­rial) point­ing out fas­ci­nat­ing de­tails of the decor, such as hand­made books with in­tri­cate gold-leaf let­ter­ing made by 4th-gen­er­a­tion mas­ter book­binder and

SEPA IS FULL OF LIT­ER­ARY AND CUL­TURAL REF­ER­ENCES AND CUL­TURAL RELICS, WHICH ALL COME TO­GETHER TO CRAFT A STORY MUCH BIG­GER THAN ITS MERE PHYS­I­CAL FORM

pa­per­maker Anselmo Pol­liero; tra­di­tional pa­pier-mâché masks crafted by the spe­cial­ist work­shop Blue­moon Venice; and a wine rack whose con­struc­tion re­sem­bles le bricole, the iconic moor­ing posts for gon­do­las. The beau­ti­ful win­dows of bulls-eye glass are of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance to Mar­zotto, as they are one of the fi­nal works of famed Vene­tian glass ar­ti­san Lu­ciano Bullo, who re­tires this month.

“There is ex­per­tise that has been de­vel­oped gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion,” says Mar­zotto. “There are peo­ple who are still keep­ing the skills alive—of­ten not to make money, but for the pas­sion and the de­sire to not let these tra­di­tions die. It’s great that I can show­case them on the other side of the world. Sepa is a place with a soul,” he says em­phat­i­cally. “It has a sto­ry­line. There’s au­then­tic­ity. I saw the op­por­tu­nity and it was just a mat­ter of con­vinc­ing peo­ple to make my dream a re­al­ity.”

Sprez­zatura in sepa Gi­a­como Mar­zotto, the res­tau­rant’s founder, switched from fash­ion to food in 2013

At­ten­tion to DE­TAI L Ev­ery el­e­ment at Sepa strives for a con­nec­tion to the cul­ture and his­tory of Venice

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