A taste of the old country in the heart of paradise

SHANGRI-LA’S Fijian Resort and Spa is undergoing a more than $50 million facelift, and one of the most exciting aspects of the revamp is the establishment of an authentic Italian eatery.

Gone is the iconic Black Marlin Bar and in its place is a sophisticated yet quaint and homely Italian diner.

The Yanuca Island property has struck gold with the Golden Cowrie Italian Coastal Restaurant.

The dining experience, complete with sweeping and unobstructed views of Yanuca Bay, is more than matched with authentic Italian cuisine courtesy of imported chef, Bruno Bettinazzi.

A graduate of the prestigious San Pellegrino Term Institute in Italy, sous chef Bettinazzi said Fiji had opened up his creative palette to new and exciting possibilities.

“I am trying to use local ingredients in my meals,” he shared.

“I like to use authentic Italian herbs, spices and vegetables but I have to be realistic, I am in Fiji and you can’t find everything Italian here.

“And secondly, I need to use local ingredients as much as possible too so that when guests come here for a meal, they can expect the real authentic traditional Italian tastes combined with Fijian flavours.

“I try to do a bit of a fusion by preparing traditional Italian meals with Fijian vegetables like sweet potato.

“In our Valentine’s Day menu I used Fijian sweet potato as a mash.

“With the orange colour it looked a bit strange but it was really good.

“In our a la carte menu I deep-fry cassava or sweet potato and use it for garnish.

“I am also looking at creating pasta using cassava or banana flour.

“It is an experiment that I know will excite lovers of Italian food — and on top of creating something exotic, it will be gluten-free and it will be different.”

Glance through the menu and some Italian dishes served up in other restaurants of similar ilk are not present.

When quizzed about dishes like pizza and Alfredo, chef Bettinazzi said one could not be served alongside pasta and the other was an American concoction that has been masqueraded as food from the old country.

“Alfredo is not Italian — it is a dish that emerged out of the USA and has gone around the world.

“But if you go to any restaurant in Italy and ask for Alfredo, they will scratch their heads because it is not authentic.

“Carbonara, ravioli, lasagne and bolognaise are the classic Italian pasta dishes and that is what I am trying to recreate here with a Fijian twist.

“I make pesto with fresh Fijian basil — and this is how I am trying to fuse the two cultures together in my cooking.

“I still use very traditional Italian styles and recipes but I infuse them with Fijian ingredients to give it a different edge so you get the real taste of Italy right here in Fiji.”

Resort general manager Francis Lee said he was excited and proud of Shangri-La’s Fijian’s brand new Italian eatery.

Mr Lee has travelled the world and despite his Asian heritage he knows a thing or two about Italian cuisine.

He has eaten at some of the best Italian restaurants and said that apart from the real thing in the home of pizza pie, he has found authentic Italian cuisine served up in two countries.

“One is in New York because they have a real traditional Italian community there and they are very proud of their heritage and have kept true to the recipes from the old country,” he shared.

“And the other place, strangely enough, is in Japan.

“They make absolutely fantastic Italian food in Tokyo where the food is prepared by Japanese chefs.

“And that is what we are trying to do here at the Golden Cowrie Italian Coastal Restaurant.

“We are giving guests to our resort and also to Fijians who love Italian food, the opportunity to taste something authentic in a beautiful surrounding complemented by the best service from our wonderful team.

“We would like to welcome you to share in this unique experience — a taste of the old country in the heart of paradise.”