General Manager of Bulgari Resort & Residences Dubai, Pep Lozano shares how Bulgari Resort Dubai is now a destination driving travel in its own right, with two Michelin stars awarded to Il Ristorante and one Michelin star to Restaurant Hōseki.
HŌSEKI BY CHEF SUGIYAMA
Hōseki offers a unique Omakase experience with just nine seats – was this the plan from the outset?
Yes, it was always the plan to have just nine seats. The reason behind this was to ensure we could tailor the exchange between the Chef and the guest, all while serving other guests at the same time. Nine seats allowed Chef to do so and serve guests with a spirit of wa, meaning harmony, without jeopardising any of the aspects that make for a perfect Omakase. Think of Omakase as a chef inviting you to his home – everything is up to him. This once in a lifetime encounter needs to be perfect and as Chef Sugiyama and his staff put their hearts and souls into the service, limiting seating capacity ensures that the Chef does so.
The restaurant has been awarded one Michelin star by The Michelin Guide for two consecutive years since 2022 and the 26th best restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Middle East & North Africa 2023. How does it feel to accomplish this title?
I think that achieving this title is a proof of Chef Sugiyama’s gratitude to his guests, to Bulgari Resort Dubai, to his staff, suppliers, and Japanese producers who have been involved in the project since its inception. With or without this title, Sugiyama’s passion for cooking remains the same. Never satisfied with things as they are, Hōseki constantly tinkers, always searching through trial and error for a better version of itself.
The fresh prime ingredients are imported directly from Japan. How does this further add to the quality of the food?
Sugiyama goes to great lengths to ensure that everything at Hōseki is made in Japan, from the fish, vegetables and salt to the tableware. Fresh products are flown in from Japan several times a week – it’s just like visiting Tokyo’s Toyosu Market. Since Dubai is five hours behind Japan, when the restaurant closes at midnight, it’s 5AM in Japan. That’s just when the market is taking a breather. Dubai’s location is perfect. All the producers are personal contacts from his years working in Japan, people who work with him because they know and trust him. When the carefully selected ingredients are gathered from all over Japan, they are loaded onto containers headed for Hōseki. Chef Sugiyama wants his guests to have a piece of Japan, the moment they walk into the restaurant.
Chef Sugiyama is a sixth-generation sushi master. Talk us through his career and background.
Chef Sugiyama is the son of a sushi chef, owner of a long-established restaurant founded in 1865. His paternal and maternal grandparents all owned sushi restaurants. Yet as a young boy, he did not see himself continuing that family tradition. Both parents worked from morning to evening, and even on days off they always answered the phone if it rang. Not for a single day could work and home life be separated. Seeing at first hand the grinding hardship of running one’s own business, Sugiyama simply didn’t see becoming a sushi chef as an option. One day, Sugiyama had the opportunity to serve a customer a dish he’d prepared himself. When he saw the customer smile upon tasting his cooking, Sugiyama knew that this was what he wanted to do. Seeing the moment when a customer smiles on eating his food is the true thrill of counter service. It wasn’t long before Sugiyama reconnected with sushi. Later, after working at a series of sushi shops in Tokyo, Sugiyama had the good fortune of beginning his apprenticeship at Sushi Kanesaka. Then in 2017, when Bulgari Resort Dubai opened, Sugiyama was presented with an enthusiastic offer and set off for Dubai.
What’s next for Hōseki by Chef Sugiyama?
While the path to sushi might look very simple, it is a very complicated and difficult one. Chef Sugiyama considers that he’s still on the way to the best version of Hōseki. He aims to do better and work harder every day in order to provide a unique experience to his guests.
IL RISTORANTE-NIKO ROMITO
The restaurant echoes the elegant design of the original Bulgari Hotel Milano – what are the design elements that correlate to its original design?
The design elements of Il Ristorante-Niko Romito’s are a celebration of Italian heritage. The décor is designed in a purely Italian – Roman Baroque – style. The restaurant showcases framed iconic Bulgari archive photographs and brand heritage images that recall over 130 years of Roman jewellery history. It is an intimate space centered around one ethos: the integration of Italian soul, coupled with Bulgari’s superior approach to luxury. You will find the same at Bulgari Hotel Milano’s Il Ristorante. For instance, the oval-shaped Bulgari Bar is found at both outposts and was inspired by the famous Fontana Della Barcaccia, just a stone’s throw away from Bulgari’s Roman boutique. It doesn’t get more Italian than that. The menu celebrates the rich heritage of history.
What are the key stand out dishes?
The key standout dishes are definitely some that represent the most historical dishes inItalian heritage. I would probably recommend starting with an Antipasto all’italiana, which offers a variety of Italian regional specialties, an interesting gastronomic tour from the North to the South of the country. Then I would go for one of our homemade pasta, like the Spaghetti e pomodoro, a modern interpretation of the classic pasta with a hard preparation behind it. It’s a dish that takes inspiration from Reale, Chef Niko’s three-starred restaurant in Abruzzo. Finally, I would recommend either a Cotoletta, to try our version of this very well know Italian classic. To end the dinner, the tiramisu or one of the seasonal creations like the buffalo stracciatella cheese ice cream, balsamic vinegar and wild blackberries.
Many of the top-quality ingredients are flown in from Italy. How does this add to the experience?
We try to always use Italian ingredients and when importing them is not possible we work with the finest local producers and choose the best products the country can offer. We always look for the best raw materials and treat them with the utmost respect. We really want our guests to experience a piece of Italy and while we strive to work with more local products, there are certain ingredients that just cannot be replaced yet. Dubai is very set up regarding the import of outstanding quality products, given the fact that the city is positioned close to Europe and the rest of the world. It’s really all about bringing Italian excellence to Dubai and we do that with all of the strong research that goes into every dish.
The simple dishes add a series of complex transformation techniques – tell us more.
Il Ristorante-Niko Romito is a beautiful international project designed for the Bulgari Hotel worldwide. A lot of what Chef Niko does is embodying a code of Italian cooking that starts from the classics and is reinterpreted in a contemporary manner, expressing the cultural importance, elegance and essence. Seasonality plays a big role in the conception of the menu, and of course the elements of each season are present in the menus at Il Ristorante-Niko Romito. New dishes are introduced to the menu each month, keeping in perfect harmony with the Italian seasons and linked to Italian traditions from the North to the South. Additionally, we don’t conceive a dish stating we want to do a dish of Mozzarella and Tomato, for example. We start working on giving the identity to the main ingredient we want to focus on. In this case, let’s work with the Mozzarella. Ingredients can be so versatile depending on the temperature, its environment, by a treatment. Once we understand the best way to bring this ingredient to life, we try to play around it.
What’s next for Il Ristorante-Niko Romito?
We will continue to provide excellence of food and service. We are now recognised in the MICHELIN Guide for a second time in a row, being one of the very few to have received this remarkable recognition of two stars. We will of course continue to strive to provide the best Italian experience there is and express the cultural importance of Italian cuisine. Our menu is a declaration of love to Italy and we will continue to express it through all our reinterpretations.
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