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Bardo: An Italian Celebration in London

Bardo: An Italian Celebration in London

Known as one of the best Italian restaurants in London, Bardo is a dazzling establishment where guests go to see and be seen, while they feast on a menu that represents a journey through the Italian culinary culture. Cocktails, live music and glamor are just the side dishes to an incredible, and very Italian culinary experience.

Italian food is culture. On March 23rd of this year, the Italian government officially launched the candidacy of Italian cuisine for UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Why? Because Italian cuisine is way more than recipes or good food: It is culture, it is the collective ritual of a society that conceives food as one of the main elements of its identity. In Italy, cooking is a way of taking care of loved ones, whether at home or in a restaurant. It is an expression of creativity and knowledge that becomes tradition and is transmitted between generations. Like what was transmitted to Graziano Bonacina when he was growing up in the north of Italy and what made him want to become a chef. Today he’s living his dream as executive chef at Bardo, in London.

A place to see and be seen in one of the most coveted neighborhoods in the world, surrounded by royal palaces, art galleries, theaters and legendary private clubs, Bardo in St. James’. Photo courtesy of Bardo.

Located in one of the most coveted neighborhoods in the world, surrounded by royal palaces, art galleries, theaters and legendary private clubs, Bardo, in St. James, is the place to be. Smooth live jazz music plays while a flow of lively and friendly waiters bring oozy truffle polenta, flavorfull crudos, roasted scallops, homemade pastas or a huge cotoletta alla Milanese out from Graziano’s kitchen. This formula makes guests come back time and time again. If that wasn’t enough to call your attention, they are ready to present a new series of collaborations that will make any Italian food lover go crazy. “Big Nights at Bardo”, inspired by one of the best food films of all times, “Big Night”, will be a series of Italian feasts hosted by Graziano Bonacina inviting a series of Italian star chefs, starting with two Michelin-starred Anthony Genovese from Il Pagliaccio in Rome. 

Graziano Bonacina, Executive Chef at Bardo. Photo courtesy Bardo.

Graziano Bonacina

As a kid living in Bergamo, young Graziano would leave school at 12:00 o’clock and right after, he would come home, change and cook with his grandmother. She loved cooking vegetables, a good pasta pomodoro, gnocchi or a veal Milanese and from a young age, and as most Italians do, he learned the importance of flavor, tradition and food culture, and he already knew that he wanted to become a chef when he grew up, and years later, he did.

Graziano Bonacina at Bardo, preparing a signature: the vitello tonnato. Photo David Egui.

Graziano moved to London in 1992 and worked in Harry’s Bar, one of the most elegant and sophisticated private members’ clubs in London. A place that is famed worldwide for both its beauty and the quality of its food. “Everyone went to eat there. All the tennis players you can think of, Madonna, Richard Gere, royals, Bond actors, supermodels and of course Margaret Thatcher and Lady Di. It was surreal to be a part of that team and cook for all those people” explains the chef. 

After a year, he changed scenery to gain more perspective and a better understanding of the industry, working with Marco Pierre White, improving his English, traveling to France, learning about the bases of that legendary cuisine, so different from the ones that he learned as a kid, and in general, working in different restaurants and countries. His path continued in different Italian restaurants in London and he ended up making the conscious decision to go back to private members clubs. 

The Mezzanine, one of the sexiest areas of the dining room at Bardo. Photo courtesy Bardo.

The Private Way

Private members clubs are places where guests are usually very well traveled and have high standards in terms of food (although many private members clubs are honestly not very good at the culinary game). But even though their members enjoy going to Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world, when they come to their club, they want comfort first of all. They want to enjoy themselves. This makes being a chef at one of those places way different from being a chef of an usual fine dining establishment, and Bonacina is very clear about that very.

His career continued in London, where he has now lived for thirty-two years and has a family, as the chef of some of the city’s most prestigious members clubs created by Mark Birley, a legend of the Mayfair social scene. If James Bond and Princess Margaret had a child that threw parties like Capote or de Beistegui, that would look very similar to Mr. Birley.

Live jazz, swagger crooning, great food and great times. Another night at Bardo. Photo courtesy Bardo.

“- I worked for Mark Birley for years. I was a chef at Anabelle’s, Harry’s Bar and opened George Club as executive chef and stayed there for seven years. It was a very specific type of guests and they came to eat what they like to eat. Harry’s Bar, for example, was designed with an Italian backbone. George Club was different and I was allowed to play with different influences and types of cuisine: Indian, Italian, French, Asian… I would read tons of cookbooks and use those to get inspired to create my own versions of things and on top of that, because of the level of these clubs, I could afford high quality ingredients. I don’t think that I could be super creative, but I had the freedom to explore a lot of types of cuisine and use seasonality to change the menus”, explains the chef.

Polenta morbida. Creamy polenta with fricassee of truffled mushrooms by chef Graziano Bonacina at Bardo in London. Photo courtesy Bardo.

The Fun-loving Comfort

After leaving the private club world, trying his own luck with a bakery and being a private chef for almost a decade, Graziano came back to the restaurant world and while being the chef of the Bulgari Hotel in London he met Luca Maggiora, who convinced him to join him in the adventure of opening Bardo. Luca was already a household name in the hospitality and entertainment industry of London and this time, he wanted to combine his two passions and create a restaurant with a great vibe and amazing Italian food.

“- I believe in younger generations and that was part of my excitement towards help create Bardo with Luca. That’s also why most of my chefs are under thirty years old. I think that the mix of my experience and his fresh and young perspective (and his energy!) are two ingredients that made this project a success.” tells Graziano.

Agnolotti del plin. Short rib of beef “agnolotti” with sugo di carne at Bardo. Photo courtesy Bardo.

At Bardo great food flows from Graziano Bonacina’s kitchen at impressive speed and there is a great balance between the classics and the trendy. Beautifully fluffy pinsas, the Roman light and tasty flatbread, come to the center of the table to share and so a great night begins. The biggest seller is the truffle one but the chefs loves the pinsa Rossa. Crudos, and seafood like the capesante gratinate or roasted scallops with Jerusalem artichoke purée and nduja, or the lobster salad with green asparagus, French beans and avocado are also musts. And more so when paired with some of the big cocktails and great wines at Bardo.

Then a beautiful plate of homemade pasta, like the spaghetti al pesto di pistacchio or their signature ravioli cacio e pepe with leeks, brown butter and sage just seal the deal. Another standout dish? The caramelized black cod with Jersey royals potatoes, porcini mushrooms, Datterino tomatoes and lemon. And always leave room for the desserts. At Bardo the hazelnut ice cream is done “al momento” and served with caramelized hazelnuts and toffee sauce. The Millefoglie di ricotta e lamponi with raspberry gel, raspberry sorbet and the tiramisù with marsala ice cream and chocolate coffee beans are also to die for.

Bardo’s signature ravioli cacio e pepe with leeks, brown butter and sage. Photo courtesy Bardo.

Big Nights at Bardo

There are some films that stand the test of time and become cult classics. Just ask yourself (or any food lover) if you don’t have a core memory related to such a film. Who didn’t dream as a kid watching either Willy Wonka or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Who can deny the realness in the famous scene where cutthroat food critic Anton Ego tries the mouthful of Ratatouille that sends him straight back into his mother’s arms and kitchen? Or how about the impact of Babette’s Feast, Goodfellas or more recently, The Menu. Food is so powerful and makes such an intense impact in our lives that we can taste it through the screen.

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That power and passion is elevated when Italy comes into the picture and that’s the case of ‘Big Night’. It’s the story of chef Primo and maître Secondo (Stanley Tucci); immigrant brothers from Italy who open their dream restaurant, Paradise, in New Jersey. However, Primo’s authentic food is too unfamiliar for the local tastes, and the restaurant is struggling. But when famous Italian-American bandleader Louis Prima is scheduled to appear at Paradise, the two brothers put all of their efforts into the most important meal, a feast which will likely decide the fate of their lives.

The poster for the movie Big Night, one of the best food pictures in the history of cinema.

Inspired by that film, Bardo and chef Graziano created Big Nights at Bardo, a series of outstanding culinary collaborations worthy of a Hollywood film with legendary Italian guest chefs. His first, Anthony Genovese, comes from Rome and will join Graziano this upcoming 30th of April and 1st of May. 

Born in France to a Calabrese family, his rigorous French training at the Ecole Hoteliére de Nice and later experiences in the South of France were where he acquired his technique. He then returned to Italy, to Enoteca Pinchiorri and then departed for Tokyo, followed by London and Malaysia. Always with Italy deep in his heart, he earned his first Michelin star in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, however his dream of bringing to life his own restaurant led him to Rome. In 2003 Il Pagliaccio was born and today it shines with two Michelin stars for its fine Italian cooking with Asian inspiration, Japan in particular.

Anthony Genovese from two Michelin starred Il Pagliacci and first guest chef to host Big Nights at Bardo. Photo courtesy of Il Pagliaccio.

The Hospitality Juggernaut

Oscar Wilde once said that the man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world. That could be said about hospitality juggernaut Luca Maggiora, who after almost two decades of experience in the industry, has made a name for himself in one the world’s most competitive food and entertainment cities in the world. Luca can revive a legendary London private club (and will, when he reopens Tramp in a few months), and at the same time he can get a Dutches or a big celebrity to sit down and eat a big plate of pasta. 

Originally from Turin, the Italian entrepreneur came to England in 2006 and took it by storm after leaving his career in banking and opening a number of successful nightclubs. A lot like Mr.Birley did back in the 70s and 80s, Luca became the king of the clubs and synonymous with celebrities, supermodels and aristocrats looking for a good time in the cool neighborhoods of the city.

Having a meal with Luca is like going through a rollercoaster of passion and emotion, and it leaves you with a very clear understanding of what the Italian government means when they requested their food culture to be a part of our world’s cultural heritage. He is excited about enjoying life and at Bardo, he goes from table to table making sure that guests are happy, that they feel like family and that they’re having the best possible experience. And now, he is ready to take that to the next step with Big Nights at Bardo, a great series of events created by the Italian restaurateur.

Luca Maggiora, hospitality juggernaut and owner of Bardo in London. Photo courtesy of Bardo.

Bardo, 4 Suffolk Pl, London SW1Y 4HX, United Kingdom,

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