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Carpaccio, the man, was a Venetian painter (1472–1526) given to rather religious scenes and showing a fondness in his painting for young men with improbably long legs and taut, hose-clad buttocks. Carpaccio, the dish, is a much copied raw beef dish from Harry’s Bar, an equally precious Venetian institution. Whimsy is a speciality at Arrigo Cipriani’s bar: whimsy in the size of the bills presented to his essentially non-Italian clientele, and whimsy in naming his dishes and drinks after Venetian painters (viz, Bellini).

Carpaccio, the dish, was originally very, very rare roast sirloin sliced thinly after trimming off the cooked edge and dressed with a rather unpleasant mayonnaise-based sauce. The price was approximately the gross domestic product of a small third-world dictatorship and was only eaten by rich (and stupid) foreigners like me. However, some of these foreigners were cooks and took the idea with them. The sump-oil sauce disappeared, and rocket, truffles, Parmesan, good oil, lemon and various other ingredients were added – although not usually at the same time (unless Tony Worrall Thompson was serving it). It was not restricted to beef. I have even seen a carpaccio of lobster on a menu. Franco Taruschio at the Walnut Tree does it with veal and white truffle. Wolfgang Puck did it with anything. I stick to beef or cured pork, and even have a vegetarian Carpaccio of Zucchini. About ten years ago the version involving a bed of rocket returned to Italy and is now all conquering.

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