Executive chef at JW Marriott Cairo, Paolo Verzini mastered his craft at La Tour d’Argent in Paris and The Savoy London and has been making culinary waves internationally ever since. Here, he shares his favourite dining moments
Nam Gíao, Ho Chi Minh
If you’re looking for somewhere popular among Vietnamese diners, this fits the bill. Tucked away down an alleyway behind Ho Chi Minh’s famous Ben Thanh Market, the restaurant fronts onto a traditional inner courtyard where the cooking is carried out right in front of you. The ambience is magical and the restaurant, which specialises in dishes from the city of Hue, is always packed. I had bánh tôm, which is a kind of crispy shell filled with Asian vegetables and fried egg. It was so delicious I ordered a second one.
Favourite dish: Bánh tôm with vegetables or seafood or the bánh bèo (steamed shrimp-filled rice flour cakes).
Casa Vissani, Orvieto
I first dined at this two Michelin-star restaurant, outside the cathedral town of Orvieto, 30 years ago. Owned and run by Gianfranco Vissani, what he was doing in those days was considered rather daring – and this still rings true today. I remember being impressed with the way he paired dishes with unusual breads, such as a black ink soup with a saffron lobster bun. The secret of his success is using Umbrian produce and constant re-invention.
Favourite dish: The menu is constantly in seasonal evolution, so try the tasting menu for an exceptional journey through chef Visanni’s creative mind.
Pia y Damaso, Manila
Manila is a huge city with a wealth of great restaurants. One time I stumbled upon a street food restaurant – the name escapes me – that served the best chocolate soufflé I’ve ever tasted (I stole their ‘secret ingredient’ and still use it in my own soufflés). Pia y Damaso is known for its ‘subversive Filipino cuisine’ with traditional and colonial Spanish influences, plus it also serves an amazing dark diablo chocolate soufflé.
Favourite dish: Seared seafood with sticky black Ifugao rice and a cerveza mussel cream followed by a delicious chocolate soufflé, of course.
Aqui Esta Coco, Santiago
Simplicity is the key to the menu at this family-run seafood restaurant in downtown Santiago de Chile. I’ll never forget the crabmeat-stuffed giant cannelloni – fresh from the sea, the crab saw very little manipulation on the part of the chef with the natural jus from the crustacean as the sauce. In contrast, the restaurant is a riot of colour with red leather, dark natural wood, maritime objets d’art and an old fishing boat repurposed into a raw bar.
Favourite dish: Gratinated crabmeat-filled cannelloni and the signature fried conger eel médaillon ‘a lo pobre’.