Created in 2014 by brothers Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini, Lido 84 in northern Italy has been garnering growing global attention and appreciation, debuting on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, in No.15 position.
After picking up the Highest New Entry Award, sponsored by Aspire Lifestyle, at the awards ceremony in Flanders, the Camanini brothers speak to 50 Best about the discipline behind success, how Lido 84 is evolving and how they interpret the spirit of Italianity
Lido 84 is a visually stunning restaurant on the edge of Lake Garda in northern Italy, set in the village of Gardone Riviera and housed in a historic building decorated with striking Art Deco and contemporary works. Here, the Camanini brothers – Riccardo, the chef, and Giancarlo, the restaurateur – have created a small, thoughtfully crafted venue with a stellar gastronomic offer.
But what is a chef to do when his restaurant is closed, international travel is cut off and even spending time with other people isn’t an option? If the chef in question is Riccardo Camanini, he finds creativity in new places. Despite having to close Lido 84 for several months in 2020 and 2021, the Italian cook has not stopped researching and cooking – leading to some very interesting discoveries.
One of Lido 84's latest dishes: freshwater sardines with honey and rosemary
“Without the ability to travel, what I’ve found inspiration in lately is what I call ‘micro trips’,” says Riccardo. “I usually look at the lake, but recently I turned around and saw the Alto Garda district, a protected mountainous community with an ancient history of Austrian, Celtic and Roman domination, where incredible gastronomic curiosities have been perpetuated.”
At this, Giancarlo laughs. “Yes, he just came back after a month in the mountains looking for faggiole!”, he explains. “He discovered that beech trees (faggi in Italian) make their own little pinecones. If you step on the pinecone, there's a nut inside called a faggiola, which is very rare. He uses it to cover a ram's leg – these are the manias of the cook.”
Riccardo’s culinary manias, however, have been very positively received. A member of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy – the 1,000-strong body of anonymous voters who create the annual list – said of Lido 84’s cuisine: “Pure avant-garde that creates a revolution not with noise, but through the gentle ways of knowledge”. This is a perfect summary of the brothers’ work, which is writing a new future for Italian cuisine.
Riccardo’s research over the last seven years has spanned many fields – from Apicius, a collection of Roman recipes compiled in the year 1AD, to the techniques that Aristotle documented for preserving fruit and vegetables in honey, as well as contemporary art from Berlin. Lately, he has been studying anthocyanins, the natural colours derived by beans.
“Three years ago, I discovered that if you reduce the water that you soak legumes in overnight, and from 5 litres you make about 100 grams of broth, the result is very rich in mineral salts and it tastes like jus de crustacés,” says Riccardo. (“It tastes like lobster,” interjects Giancarlo helpfully.) “Lately, I came across the Valvestino bean, a variety that was brought to the area around the year 600. It was often used to decorate houses because it makes a beautiful red flower.
“I tried soaking the Valvestino beans and I got this beautiful red water. I reduced it and now I add it to my pasta e fagioli [a heart-warming, soup-like traditional recipe with pasta and beans] just before it’s cooked. The result is this pasta with an incredibly seductive burgundy colour.”
Lido 84's dish: pasta e fagioli with trouts' eggs
These are only a few of the chef’s recent discoveries, which also include the fruits of caprifico (the male fig plant) combined in a risotto with the unripe walnut husks traditionally used in Italy to make the nocino liqueur.
“What this showed us is that you don’t need [to travel] great distances to cultivate creativity,” says Riccardo. “If you have the desire and the need to fall in love, to have fun and to be curious, you might be lucky and come across a piece of deep history, which might become a research project. Then, when you cook something, you know why. So our creativity was found in these micro trips; very local but very fun.”
Distilling the spirit of Italianity
Over the last few years, the Camaninis have doubled down on making Lido 84 the best restaurant it can be. This has meant growing from a team of seven in 2014 to a team of 24 in 2021, going deeper in the search for excellent products, and even reducing the number of tables in the dining room to offer each customer an increasingly outstanding hospitality experience. For them, it all boils down to an attempt to represent Italian identity in all its facets, from gastronomy to service and décor.
The interior of Lido 84
“We were born in a family where eating was linked to community,” recalls Riccardo. “Very often, at weekends, we would be 10 or 12 people between relatives, uncles, nieces and nephews. Our grandmothers cooked and there was a vegetable garden, as well as rabbits and chickens – those small family pantries that are very genuine and very tasty. So we represent Italy because of what we had the good fortune to experience as children – a good and genuine cuisine that is made within the family. This is perhaps the true Italian specificity: that good cuisine is already evident in the home.”
This is linked to the concept of quality time, which is essential to how the brothers run Lido 84. Especially after the pandemic, they reflect, people who go out to eat at restaurants do so in search of a special quality of time – shared with others, enjoyed to the full and later cherished.
This concept of time was also a point of contemplation for the Camanini brothers during lockdowns. “It was a moment of great reflection,” recalls Giancarlo. “For six years we ran at 300km/h, and when you run so fast you don't perceive what is happening around you. So that was the moment to say: ‘let's stop the game for a moment and look at what has happened, let's see how we have changed and what we want to do when we grow up’. It helped us a lot; paradoxically this time came to us as a gift, in a certain sense.”
Nodding, Riccardo takes the point further. “The direction that many people are already indicating for the future is that of creating situations that allow us and the team to have a better quality of life. There must be a different balance between the time dedicated to work and the time dedicated to freedom for each of us,” he says.
Preparing one of Lido 84's pasta dishes: cacio e pepe en vessie
Receiving the Highest New Entry Award, sponsored by Aspire Lifestyles, at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 provided another moment of reflection. “For reasons that include personal shyness, I’ve been afraid to look inside too closely,” says Riccardo contemplatively. “It's difficult to explain it, but I think that you don't necessarily have to be emotionally ready for an award of this kind, and this already says a lot.
“We have been inundated with messages, emails and expressions of closeness,” he continues. “We’ve seen the world outside Europe, which had been very quiet in terms of reservation requests, wake up again. This truly impressed us – the desire and adrenaline that 50 Best created, the impetus that awakened the desire to go out and discover the unique culinary authenticities around the world.”
After a pause, Giancarlo takes the last word. “It’s a great honour and a great responsibility at the same time. It’s also a great happiness that the team immediately felt and shared. We would have never thought of such a thing.”
Now meet the other special award winners for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, which was announced on October 5, 2021 in Antwerp, Flanders. To stay up to date with the latest news, join the community on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.