Published — Wednesday 27 February 2013
Last update 27 February 2013 1:52 am
Campioni — Italian for champion — is a sports café and casual diner on Jeddah’s Batterjee Street, serving international cuisine.
The moment you set foot in the restaurant, you step into a sports world: the customized leather chairs imitate football shirts; the tabletops look like mini football fields or display football shirts. The restaurant can accommodate 200 diners at once. You cannot miss the big football lamp, pool billiard lamps and the bowling lamps hung from the ceiling. What makes this restaurant special is the TV projector that displays football games, according to season, and other sports events like the Olympics.
Expect to pay around SR 75 per person for a starter, a main course and a drink.
There is a private room designed for special events that can be reserved for meetings, watching a movie or karaoke.
Shisha is only allowed on the outdoors terrace for men only.
Karim Ajami, the founder, executive and operation manager of Campioni, said he noticed how Jeddah stopped having venues that displayed football games on big screens. “Both men and women want a place that has the spirit of football,” Karim said.
He said that the concept of the diner is made to be a pure sports cafe, focusing on the football field. It was launched to target football lovers, who, according to Ajami, had no place to go after many venues had been closed that displayed football games.
The diner has four screens on the first floor, including a projector for a bigger screen, and three screens on the second floor, including another projector for a bigger screen.
Everything has its season and the World Cup and other major sports events definitely are high season for Campioni.
During the 2010 World Cup Ajami pitched a big tent outside the building on the parking area, large enough to seat 100 persons. Instead of calling and making reservations, people had to go to the venue, buy the tickets and come back later at night to attend the game.
The idea behind selling tickets was to make guests feel as if they were actually attending a football stadium. Campioni provided people with vuvuzela (plastic horns) to make things more exciting for the crowd.
The diner has a minimum charge that varies from SR 30 up to SR 100, depending on the type of the game and whether it was a semi-final or a final match in a tournament.
The diner serves a varied menu starting from breakfast to starters, salads, sandwiches, and burgers to main courses, pizza and pasta. Drinks include soft drinks, milkshakes and fresh juices.
The interesting part about the menu is naming each plate and order after football champions.
For a starter, Campioni recommended Petr Čech: chicken wings in spicy sauce, served with ranch dips. The platter is a good quantity for two to three persons.
Another starter was Van Der Sar, very average breaded shrimps, a five-piece plate served with tartar sauce.
For a main course there was Lionel Messi, a well-done 250-gram meat fillet, topped with a rich creamy pepper sauce with French fries. It wasn’t the best steak, but it was good for a casual diner.
Campioni’s pizza baguette was a bit more creative, and was my personal favorite. They named it Roger Federer, a French bread cut in half with a brush of garlic oil, topped with tomato sauce, chicken breast that is cooked with special herbs, olives, oregano and green onion covered in mozzarella cheese.
As for the dessert, Campioni presented a fondant au chocolat oozing hot, melted chocolate from the center, with a side of vanilla ice cream. My only recommendation here is to eat it while it is hot!
Ajami said he is working on a new plan to attract guests. The downside, he said, to having a sports café is that people relate the diner to football games only. To change that, Ajami would like to host culture nights once or twice a month, such as a Mexican, Hawaiian or African night. This would entail changing the theme of the restaurant, the clothing of the staff and a few adaptations of the menu.
Another plan is to show old football matches. Games that were recorded in the sixties and eighties would be played, by schedule every week, to keep the guests coming.