Da Marco: Serving real Italian food in Shanghai since 1999

Yao Minji Ma Xuefeng Zhong Youyang
Marco Barbieri is the owner of Da Marco, a restaurant that's been serving authentic Italian fare in Shanghai's Changning District since 1999.
Yao Minji Ma Xuefeng Zhong Youyang
Shot by Ma Xuefeng. Edited by Zhong Youyang and Zhang Long. Subtitles by Zhang Long and Andy Boreham.

In Shanghai, tastes can change quickly and myriad choices can make consumers fickle. So it’s quite an achievement that Da Marco restaurant has not only survived for 20 years but thrived.

Italian chef Marco Barbieri takes prides in the 20th anniversary of his restaurant, which has stood in the same place in the Changning District and greatly expanded.

“It was one of the first Italian-Western restaurants in Shanghai,” he said. “Shanghai is now one of the world leaders in food and fashion. Opening a restaurant 20 years ago was a big challenge. Most of those who tried are gone now.”

Da Marco: Serving real Italian food in Shanghai since 1999
Ti Gong

Da Marco restaurant — one of the first Italian-Western restaurants in Shanghai — opens 20 years ago.

When Barbieri arrived in the city in 1995 under a short-term contract with a five-star international hotel, he was impressed by what he saw and experienced but wasn’t thinking about staying beyond his contract.

That all changed when he fell in love and married a Shanghai woman named Jennifer and they decided to open an Italian restaurant.

He calls that day “the most beautiful in my life.”

“The concept was simple,” he said. “A family style restaurant that makes you feel at home. That’s still our concept today, though we have had to update it to meet the changing demands of our customers. The competition is just fierce.”

Customers are also indeed demanding. Initially, the restaurant attracted mostly expats and tourists hankering for a bit of familiar Western food. At the time, Italian cuisine was alien to many Chinese.

That’s all changed.

Da Marco: Serving real Italian food in Shanghai since 1999
Ti Gong

Marco Barbieri poses for a photo in his restaurant.

“Now, we have many Chinese customers,” the chef said. “Many have traveled abroad and they know the quality and taste of authentic Italian food.”

He said Da Marco’s has not followed other Western restaurants in adapting foreign cuisine to Chinese tastes.

“We never did that,” said Barbieri. “We have kept it authentic Italian. We haven’t changed much on the menu, since it was a big menu from the start, but we are constantly improving our ingredients.”

He added, “Ingredients are the most important thing on the plate. They have to be fresh!”

Barbieri said he using more natural, organic ingredients and plans to add more daily specials to mark the 20th anniversary.

The Italian chef said he rarely patronizes Western restaurants in the city when he is not dining in his own. After more than 20 years in Shanghai, he has developed a taste for Chinese food. His favorite dish? Dong po rou, or sautéed fatty pork.

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