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Maurizio Bellini – Picnic Restaurant

It’s 10.00am on a hot Saturday morning at the end of August, but Maurizio Bellini, the owner of the Picnic restaurant in Rimini’s Via Malatestiano, is dressed in a jacket and tie; standards and appearance are evidently important to this restauranteur who has fed generations of Riminese.

Maurizio Bellini of Rimini's Picnic restaurant

“I opened the restaurant in 1965”, Bellini tells me, “just as a pizzeria with a couple of other dishes. In Rimini, back then, there were just three or four places to eat”.

Times have changed, and restaurants in Rimini come and go, but Picnic has remained a staple – why? “Maybe we were the cutting edge, introducing certain dishes, certain products, and of course not forgetting the people who work here. I love my work, but I didn’t have a particular vision as such for the restaurant back then. I come from Bologna, so the food is typically Emiliano-Romagnolo, I wasn’t proposing nouvelle cuisine or anything like that; It’s not my stile – I don’t like it. My father had a restaurant as well, so I wanted to present traditional food, with some innovations.”

“When I opened here I brought the Bolognese school of cooking. We do Macaroni- our recipe is called ‘delizia’ = which we’ve been doing for fifty years, without change. Our pizzaiolo has been with us for thirty years. People wait for the pizza here, because if it comes out of the oven anything less than perfect, he won’t let us serve it! My Grandfather was a cook, my mother as well.”

Given that the restaurant has become practically an institution in the centro storico, he’s well placed to draw a picture of some of the changes that have taken place in the culture since the 1960s. “The culture of eating has changed lots since then,” he tells me. “Young people , back then with cinema and theatre, at the end of the show the habit was usually to come and eat a plate of pasta or a pizza. We’d close at two, three or even four, depending. Nowadays young people seem to prefer a beer in their hand and a sandwich for a night out.”

How did he, from Bologna, end up in Rimini? “I worked the summer seasons here in Rimini. Then I found a girlfriend, and remained here (laughs). I started working early, from when I was 16, working in Rimini and Riccione. At the Embassy and at the Sombrero.”

It’s said by many that Rimini is effectively two cities – the centro storico and the mare or seafront – though there’s only a short distance between the two. What difference, though, is there for a restaurant in the centro storico and one at the seafront? “In the city centre we have to work 12 months a year, while at the seaside they have to work three, so they have to earn enough in those three months to carry the year. I need to maintain my clientele here in Rimini.”

But while Picnic is deservedly renowned locally, its clientele is far from just locals. There are plenty of tourists too – but in a large part that’s thanks to the personal recommendations passed on by his local clients to visitors. “During the summer months, in particular, we have plenty of tourists. There are Germans and Swedes, for example, that come back every year!”

In this age of low-cost flights and myriad destinations, why do people keep coming back to Rimini? “Well, for a start the food is indisputably good here,” he declares without risk of contradiction! “The reception you get here as well – the Romagnolo Riminese welcome is something that could be / should be copied by lots of other countries, and also regions in Italy!”

As someone who has lived and worked in Rimini for most of his life, what are the things he’d recommend to visitors to see? “Yesterday a woman came here to lunch, and said to me ‘I’ve come from the seafront, and never realised just how beautiful Rimini is!’ There’s Piazza Cavour,” he continues, “which is stupendous. The Ponte di Tiberio, the Arco d’Augusto, not to mention the Domus del Chirurgo – and the city museum is well worth visiting too, so in terms of sights to see there’s plenty! Some of my favourite places are in the hinterland – which is beautiful. I love San Leo and Pennabili”.

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