Sunday, 28 December 2014

Best Eats This Week - Porcini Risotto & Truffle Flatbread (Beijing)

"Risotto with fermented porcini mushrooms, fermented mushroom powder, shaved champignon mushrooms and, of course, the obligatory Japanese element, yuzu."  Chef de cuisine Marco Calenzo described enthusiastically as he personally delivered the dishes along with Nello, his Sous Chef.

These two are all about Italian food with modern twists, food that's exciting, that's different, that makes you beam with anticipation when you read the menu, and have your expectations exceeded when you finally eat it -- because even with all those fancy experimental concepts, their main focus is still on the flavor.

"The whole process, from fermenting the mushrooms to drying them and grinding them up into powder, takes us over a week." 

Well, it was surely a risotto that put all other risottos to shame. Texture wise - perfect, not a gelatinous blob as you might often find but soft, creamy, perfect fluidity with the perfect amount of bite left to the rice.  Flavors are tangy, umami, earthy and clean.  Calenzo likes his Japanese touches and despite (surprisingly) never having worked under Japanese chefs, he knows how to use their ingredients. He took a classic porcini risotto and added this acidic element from the fermentation and the yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, and it was sublime.

And then there were the flatbreads with shaved black truffles, raw mushrooms, jerusalem artichoke & port compote, freeze-dried vinegar, walnut paste, rocket pesto and porcini oil.  They had me at black truffles but it was so much more - it may sound like a lot going on but it was a symphony of flavors.  The layers built up and all these different elements just bombarded your taste buds.  It was complex, and it was fresh and light, aided by the raw mushrooms and the crisp discs that held everything up. 
The creativity and attention to detail in the food are perhaps unsurprising seeing the chefs' CVs filled with big shots such as Noma (2 Michelin Stars, Copenhagen) and Aspleys (1 Michelin Star, London).  However, the quality can also just be seen from the chefs themselves - enthusiastic and passionate and despite working on your feet in a busy kitchen 15 hours a day, they still retain a cheerful grin on their faces -- they really enjoy making food and that's what makes a good chef.

"It's not work.  When it starts feeling like work, it will be time to quit."  Calenzo said with a smile.

You know what, I'm in Beijing eating at this Italian restaurant and I've just come back from Italy.  I eat at Mio every time I'm here because not many restaurants can instill utter joy and excitement throughout the duration of your meal. 

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