Real Italian fine dining lights up Hyde Park
Experience an authentic Italian journey of taste and flavour at BiCE Ristorante was the invitation. Who could resist that? Certainly not me, writes Tattler editor, Marjorie Dean.
I have driven past the Tsogo Sun Hyde Park often since it opened, but somehow had never ventured inside. So it was more than high time I remedied that omission. But who, or what was BiCE?
This highly successful ristorante is the only South African link of The BiCE Ristorante Group, based in Miami USA, which currently holds 60 properties globally. This extraordinary successful blueprint of Italian cuisine has its origins in Milan with the establishment of a neighborhood trattoria by Beatrice Ruggeri in 1926. ( Bice is the Italian abbreviation of Beatrice). The BiCE brand quickly achieved global recognition through the efforts of her sons and grandson, Raffaele Ruggeri. There are BiCE restaurants throughout the USA in all the most fashionable locations, in South America, Europe, the Middle East and even in Tokyo, and more are opening every year.
BiCE prides itself on offering an”Italian Fine Dining Experience”, in a full service restaurant with elegant décor, featuring high-quality materials, with a very special “atmosphere”. It promises “an experience delivered by some of the most talented and professional staff. You have an opportunity to relish a tribute to food, wine and superior customer service. Top quality produce treated delicately with respect. Portions prepared with extreme attention to detail, combining food and art together with quality, presentation, nutrition and freshness designed and built with input from all of our fine dining establishments around the world. An opportunity to relish in a world of tribute to food, wine and superior customer service.” I quote from the website…
Wow! That’s a lot to live up to!
So how did it all start? BiCE is still very much a family affair. The cuisine is essentially traditional Tuscan with many favourite dishes from that region. The pastas are homemade always, offered in all the sauces, fresh tomato, basil pesto, cream of bottarga, porcini mushrooms, and in season, the high-quality truffle d’Alba. The network of BicE restaurants spanning the world today began in 1926. Beatrice Ruggeri – Bice to her family and friends – was known for her extraordinary hospitality and personal warmth. For years she was encouraged to open her cucina to the public. She agreed, albeit reluctantly, and a neighbourhood trattoria – loosely translated, a friendly gathering place – was opened. With Bice in the kitchen and her brothers and sisters serving in the dining room, il Ristorante Da Gino e Bice, or BiCE as it would later be known, had a family feeling. The first customers said it was like being at the home of a friend, as Bice hoped they would. BiCE Ruggeri was now a recognized Milanese restaurateur. And her sons, Remo and Roberto, were taking steps to extend her vision throughout the world.
In 1978, Remo and Roberto Ruggeri took the first steps, opening a second BiCE in Porto Cervo, on the island of Sardinia. With its international business base, New York City was the logical site for the third BiCE restaurant. Roberto opened the doors of BiCE New York on East 54 Street between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue in 1987. Incorporating a skilful mix of traditional and newer trends in Italian styling and cuisine, BiCE New York established the cornerstone of BiCE’s US operations and proved Roberto’s ability to attract sophisticated international diners. Over the past 20 years Roberto created a strong group of BiCE Ristorante operations throughout the USA as well as expanding into global franchising and new restaurant concepts. In 2003, Roberto Ruggeri was selected as one of the “Outstanding Italians in the World”, a special prize which is awarded by the Italian Minister of Residents Abroad.
Bice’s grandson, Raffaele was born in Tuscany, Italy in 1972, and raised in Milan where he spent many Sundays with his father and grandmother in the Bice restaurant in Milan. With his grandmother’s supervision, from a very early age he was taught the fine art of hospitality.
When he was 15, the Ruggeri family moved to Los Angeles, and Raffaele evinced a desire to learn every aspect of the restaurant business. This led him to several years of work as a busboy, cook, assistant Chef, waiter, manager, maitre’d, purchasing, running the daily sales operation of a restaurant, and then start participating in all the openings of new restaurants worldwide. It became apparent that Raffaele had inherited his family’s natural skill for organization and leadership. Throughout openings of new restaurants Raffaele used these skills and his passion for the industry to inspire and train the employees and restaurant management. The fact that he has film star looks did not hurt either! Raffaele is now Chief Executive Officer of BiCE International– and very “hands on”.
Tsogo Sun discovered this famous Italian restaurant group, and invited them to open a restaurant in the planned new hotel it was building at Hyde Park in Johannesburg, They accepted and today BiCE is the hotel’s signature restaurant.
The BiCE experience
With all that build up, one’s expectations are high – and I have to say BiCE did not disappoint. The restaurant itself is cool, uncluttered and elegant. It continually introduces new authentic Italian cuisine experiences, incorporating the latest international trends to dazzle and delight patrons. Italian food is not always pizza, and is much more complex than parmesan cheese, pesto and fettuccine. It’s fresh and seasonal produce, cheeses, meats, and pasta. At BiCE Ristorante your meal comes with these ingredients and a side of passion and elegance.
Speaking at the special event celebrating the BiCE South African journey, Raffaele Ruggeri said, ‘Once again, our recipe of authenticity has proven to be successful. We believe in keeping it real… real Italian food made with fresh produce, prepared by renowned Italian chefs. The local success of the brand can also, largely, be attributed to our partnership with Tsogo Sun. The alignment of the first and only BiCE restaurant on the African continent to the Southern Sun Hyde Park Sandton hotel provided us with the correct platform to bring our expertise to South Africa.”
Executive Chef at BiCE, Nicolai Paretti, prepared a special tasting menu focusing on the fruits of the ocean, complemented by the superior taste of fine Italian white wines – a Torresella Prosecco Extra Dry DOC, an Italian sparkling wine; a Cantina Talamonti ILauri Tavo Pinot Grigio and a Cantina Novelli Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino DOC.
At this point I have to be very honest and admit my heart sank a bit, as seafood is not usually my first choice in most restaurants. But this meal was a revelation. An authentic Italian menu concept combined with a seafood journey – testament to BiCE’s innovation and expertise. The starter was two-fold, a medley of cold Tuna Tartare, followed by deliciously warm Grilled Prawns with the most delicious asparagus I have ever eaten, and seafood ragout. A Seafood Risotto with baby Zucchini and tomatoes and Lobster Ravioli with white sauce and black truffle (to die for, doll!) followed.
The main course sent taste buds into a delicious whirl of tastes and flavours. A Kingklip with porcini mushrooms and asparagus sauce and Grilled Seabass with lemon potatoes – served as one dish. Classic Italian Tiramisu and BiCE Apple Pie were literally the cherry on top of an extraordinary culinary experience.
In June 2013, BiCE will launch a new lunch menu. “At Southern Sun Hyde Park Sandton we strive to provide extraordinary service coupled with great memories and great experiences. We are excited about our new lunch offering that incorporates current international trends for Italian cuisine. We are also proud to have a strong local following, besides our international tourist clientele, and the new lunch menu promises to enchant our patrons”, says Michael Kewley, General Manager at Southern Sun Hyde Park hotel. “Our offering incorporates an à la carte option, an authentic Italian family dining experience for groups and a journey through the Chefs’ menu where patrons can enjoy various tastes and flavours, all combined with our famous selection of wines”.
“BiCE at Southern Sun Hyde Park Sandton is a unique Italian restaurant for the South African market. Locally we have many Italian trattoria-type establishments but not many focusing on authentic Italian fine dining. The ability to be unique, offer outstanding culinary innovation and the experience of the Ruggeri family, places BiCE in a category of its own. Four years ago we were looking to incorporate a superior, reputable restaurant – an eatery that would not only distinguish the hotel as a foodie destination of choice for local culinary enthusiasts, but would satisfy patrons’ palettes for fine food. We partnered with BiCE Ristorante and have been satisfying cravings ever since”, said Graham Wood, Managing Director, Tsogo Sun hotels.
Will I go back – certainly, as soon as possible. Will I be happy to pay for my meal this time? Certainly – and I can’t offer more praise to a restaurant than that.
For more information of to make a reservation at BiCE Ristorante, click HERE.