Wood-fired pizza, classic Italian pasta—from Boracay to Boni High Street | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

JUAN Elizalde, chef Marino Leonardis, Paolo Occhionero

When business partners Juan Elizalde and Paolo Occhionero opened Aria Cucina Italiana in April 2003 in Boracay, they found the experience quite insane.

“It was completely mad, with hundreds of people waiting to be served and get seats,” says Elizalde over lunch at Sugi. “A complete madhouse! We were unprepared to say the least.

Elizalde balances his time as restaurateur with his job as vice president of operations of Manila Broadcasting Company.

Elizalde and Occhionero have known each other since the ’80s, when they both lived in Boracay. Back then, there were only a few restaurants on the island.

“It was unbelievably magical,” recalls Elizalde.

Since Elizalde loved Italian food and Occhionero is Italian, opening an Italian restaurant was a natural choice. Elizalde’s strength is in conceptualizing and marketing, while Occhionero is more the kitchen and service guy.

After almost a decade, they’ve managed to fine-tune Aria and make it a destination in Boracay, with its signature thin-crust pizzas topped with the freshest Italian ingredients and baked in wood-fired ovens.

They’re opening a branch in Manila.

“A lot of people haven’t been to Boracay for years, and they want Aria in Manila,” says Elizalde.

Soft opening

Aria had its soft opening recently, at Bonifacio High Street Central, Bonifacio High Street’s new section at The Fort. It might be a fancier environment, but the partners have made sure the restaurant retained the soulful, homey and relaxed atmosphere of Aria in Boracay.

“If we can put sand on the whole floor, we would,” quips Elizalde.

The comfortable space, 180 sq m, has a seating capacity of 60 indoor diners and 20 for outdoors, with decently spaced tables for larger parties.

Anton Mendoza did the architecture and interiors. He used clean lines and neutral earthy colors, adhering to Elizalde and Occhionero’s specifications. House music is piped in, attracting the chic crowd.

A three-piece bamboo screen by Kenneth Cobonpue is at center space, and a beautiful reprinted tapestry by iconic Swiss architect Le Corbusier adorns the wall. (The original, bought in Paris in 1967, is in Elizalde’s home.)

Aria’s original menu, overseen by

chef Gino Amodio, is inspired by the coastal regions of the Mediterranean. Chef Amodio frequents Italy to meet with other chefs to trade secrets and ideas.

But the Manila branch’s kitchen is supervised by chef Marino Leonardis, who comes from Leguria, Italy.

“The menu of Aria Manila is  the same as the menu in Boracay, we even flew in the Italian chef,” says Elizalde.

Enormous undertaking

The authentic wood-fired pizza oven, built by an Italian guy named Giuseppe from a family that specializes in building wood-fired ovens, was also flown in. The oven was originally built brick by brick in Cebu.

SPINACI e Funghi

“We had to haul it over to Manila with heavy machinery. Bringing it to the mall was a pain,” Elizalde says, with 50 people helping out in the enormous undertaking.

The owners also went the extra mile to source organic vegetables. The food is done from scratch, by hand.

“We have weekly and monthly specials on our menu and these are developed all year long,” says Elizalde. “Aside from the main menu, we have a constant introduction of new dishes, so even frequent diners of Aria can sample new dishes.”

Aside from the popular Aria pizza, which is generously topped with parma ham and mozzarella, other must-tries include the Margherita, crispy and moistened by tomato sauce and specked with grains of mozzarella; and the classic Bolognese, Marinara and Carbonara pastas.

Aria also has a good selection of appetizers, soups and desserts like the chocolate mousse and the Zuppa Inglese. New dishes include Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli, 3 Cheese Gnocchi and the risottos. Add a glass of white wine or a fresh juice, and you’ve got the recipe for bliss.

Aria Cucina Italiana is at Unit NEUG 205, East Superblock, 30th St., corner 7th St., Bonifacio High Street Central, Bonifacio Global City; e-mail [email protected]; tel. 0917-5195368; visit https://www.aria.com.ph.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.