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LONDON — With its overpopulated dining room, buzzy bar and voracious guests spilling onto the sidewalk, you’d think Cipriani was the first Italian restaurant to ever open in London. Those crowds are a source of pleasure — and pain — for the Italian restaurant magnate Arrigo Cipriani.

The restaurant, which opened in May on London’s Davies Street in Mayfair, has just 120 seats, but has been known to serve 500 customers in one day. Word has it the new venue is already wooing clients away from Harry’s Bar, the private dining club owned by Mark Birley.

This story first appeared in the July 12, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I hope it’s going to end soon,” says Cipriani from a table in the back of the restaurant. “I hate saying ‘No’ to people when they try to book.”

It’s a high-class problem, and Cipriani knew he’d have to wrestle with it a few days after the opening. “I looked around, and I thought, ‘We’ve got it!’ It’s like putting the right orchestra together and hearing it play,” he says with a smile.

There are a lot of familiar faces in Cipriani London’s crowd, he says. Many of them are long-standing clients of the family’s Harry’s Bar in Venice, Harry Cipriani in New York and Cipriani Club Hong Kong.

London regulars include Sir Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley and Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston recently stopped by, and on Monday night Prince Haakon and Princess Mette-Marit of Norway were spotted at a table in the back.

The restaurant was designed by David Tang with the same cream marble floors, Murano glass sconces, low Thirties-era leather chairs and linen-covered tables that fill Cipriani’s other restaurants. Tang has added shiny oak and cherry checkerboard walls, oversized lampshades and a giant copy of an Art Deco mural originally made for Harry’s Bar in Venice. Tables are a whisper away from one another, which makes the main dining room feel like one big party. There’s huge potential for table-hopping.

Cipriani says that’s just the chord he wanted to strike. “The last thing we want to do here is impose on guests: The service and the menu — even the wine glasses — are simple. I think that makes people feel very free.”

— Samantha Conti

WHO TO KNOW: Mauro Manfe, who used to work at Cipriani Downtown in Manhattan, is the man in charge of the bookings. Guests in the U.S. can also book directly through Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue.
WHAT TO DRINK: Bellini, dry martini.
WHAT TO ORDER: Risotto with peas, veal cannelloni, fava bean soup.
HOTTEST NIGHT: Every night — except Saturday.
WHAT TO WEAR: A whole lotta bling.