That’s right, Mio Italian Restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel is being awarded recognition left and right with the recent honor of being listed as one of the Top Italian Restaurants 2019 by elite Italian restaurant guide Gambero Rosso. And that makes Mio a pretty big deal.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to start this post by giving a bit of context to my initial impressions of Mio. Over the past few years, I have held some serious prejudices against Mio because the first time I went about 6 years ago now, our entire group of friends left feeling incredibly disappointed thinking the food was very mediocre considering the price tag (RMB 2000 per person) and the fact that we were there for a charity dinner made the whole thing umpteen times worse.
Since then Mio has seen a lot of changes – though they haven’t changed the glitzy, Gongti night club interior, they’ve replaced the chef more than once and over time, we started to hear a very different picture of the same restaurant, with Mio’s head chef Nello Turco winning multiple awards in both Beijing and from international publications.
Originally from Naples, Executive Chef Nello Turco has worked wonders in transforming Mio’s reputation and I can confidently say that Mio now offers some of the best Italian food in China, and the world!
“Nello trained in the Trussardi restaurant kitchen in Milano, survived a period with Alain Ducasse, worked for two years with Heinz Beck at La Pergola in Rome and another two with René Redzepi in his Noma, in Copenhagen. Today, Nello Turco leads a team of nineteen at Mio, the restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beijing that won a Tre Forchette Tricolore in the Gambero Rosso guide, Top Italian Restaurants. And he isn’t 30 years old yet.
The result is stimulating, not exactly what you expect in the restaurant of a grand hotel. He knows how to be daring and unexpected, drawing from southern Italian culture, but also from cooking techniques from northern Europe, including those of fermentation. “That is something alive that measures the natural flow of life. For example, my grandmother’s sourdough starter is 40 years old. It’s more important to her than the cat that lives in her garden. With my fermentations I try to evolve Italian taste, in a certain sense. It is an extremely natural technique which expresses the evolution of an ingredient, completing its life cycle. An apple comes from a flower and becomes a fruit, ripens as a fruit, then falls from the tree and begins its transformation with fermentation. At this point, flavor is at its peak, and this is when I like best to work with it, control it, transform it.” – Article by Gambero Rosso
Under Nello’s direction, Mio has focused on Italian cuisine that on the surface might appear not that Italian. Yet when you look at the key ingredients and the flavours that permeate the dishes, it’s impossible to deny that the menu is at the very least Mediterranean and more than that – to my mind at least – a tour de force of Italy and it’s culinary techniques. In the mood to celebrate, we opted for the Chef’s tasting menu and here it is in all it’s glory!
Mio’s Front Reception
Mio’s Interior Design Symmetry
Plush Lounge Sofas
Cold Cuts Station
Mio’s Opulent Bar Area
Mio’s Open Kitchen Layout
Petals Line Our Table Top
Though we dined on a normal Thursday night, our dining experience from start to finish was as if it were Valentine’s Day. We arrived to a table lined with rose petals and felt so looked after from the minute we arrived. Chef Nello personally introduced each course as they were served and even gave us a tour of his kitchen at the end of our exquisite meal.
Homemade Sourdough Bread using 40 Year Old Sourdough Starter
Strong, Crusty Exterior + Fluffy Interior
Amuse Bouche for Me: Pickled Vegetable Tart
Amuse Bouche for Him: Black Truffle Tart
A hint of things to come, Nello has dived deeply into fermentation and showed us an assortment of culinary experiments that he has going on. The pickled vegetables showed off a piquant version of this experimentation. Then, because it’s truffle season, why not do a mushroom tart generously heaped with black truffle?!
Amuse Bouche for Both: Homemade Tofu and Truffle Parmesan
The tofu that came along with the tarts was gorgeous. Made in-house, it had a beautiful texture and the sprinkling of Parmesan cheese gave it a nice little acidic touch and truffle made it that much more indulgently delightful.
Foie Gras Parfait with Cherry Blossom Balsamic Vinegar, Strawberry Chocolate (RMB 348)
Blue Fin Tuna with Light Fermented Green Cabbage and Black Olives (RMB 428)
The first courses we got came from opposite ends of the spectrum. The foie gras was sweet and creamy with a delightful homemade brioche (without a drop of oil), where the bluefin tuna was savoury and sour with a flavour profile much more complex than one anticipated.
Double Cooked Onion Consommé with Celery and Carrot
Red Prawn Carabineros with Spanish Bellota Ham, Honey Melon, Celery and Tomato Consommé (RMB 398)
After that, the soup courses. The onion consommé was a delicate and very impressive soup, but I was understandably looking at that gorgeous red prawn with food envy. Meaty and tender, the prawn was served swimming in a light and refreshing tomato consommé balanced by the savoury Spanish Bellota ham and sweet honey melon.
“White Tomato” Spaghetti with Soft Garlic, Tomato Water, Espelette Chili (RMB 198)
Almond and Mushroom Tortellini with Double Boiled Beef Broth (RMB 228)
If you had any doubts that we were eating Italian food, they should be dispelled at this point – the arrival of our pasta courses!
The Maitake mushroom tortellini were stunning. With a really impressive depth of flavour, these little packages hide within them an incredible filling. Nello mentioned that he had pushed the suppliers and his own sourcing staff relentlessly to find the elusive mushrooms and fermented Pu’er tea for the added smokiness. We can certainly say that the added effort was worth it as the resulting flavors of this dish is unexpectedly powerful.
The other bowl of what appears at first sight to be plain spaghetti pasta stole the show. The white tomato pasta (Nello blanches the tomatoes, then extracts the juice, leaving just the flavour) looks, quite frankly pretty underwhelming but don’t let its appearances deceive you. This spaghetti has the most intensely sweet tomato flavour I have ever tasted and the sprinkling on top is burnt basil powder. We were both utterly blown away by how good this was and this just goes to show that you can’t get any more Italian than pasta with a tomato sauce…even if it’s colorless!
Homemade Chestnut Spaghetti with Parmesan Onion Extraction and Braised Beef Tongue (RMB 288)
Following hot on the heels of the white tomato pasta and tortellini came the chestnut pasta with braised Wagyu beef tongue. If you are a meat lover, then this pasta will be heavenly. Again, Nello has somehow managed to concentrate the flavour of the rich wagyu meat into a sauce that is salty, fatty and tinged with that little sweetness you get from the best quality meat in the world.
Alaska Black Cod with Tomato and Basil
Alaska Black Cod with Lacto Fermented Barley Sauce and Osietra Caviar (RMB 588)
Onto the fish- cod presented two ways, which has earned Chef Nello a nod from Gambero Rosso, which declares his black cod as one of his best dishes.
“For example, his black cod, one of the best dishes on his menu, has overwhelming intensity, acidic peaks and clean, clear contrasts. The fish is cooked at a low temperature. Condiment begins with a study of the local range of soy sauces. A cereal, either rice or wheat, is injected inside and left to ferment for four days until it forms a white patina. A second fermentation begins to increase acidity and consistency. ‘We obtain a liquid with a flavor that doesn’t resemble any element tasted before. It is a new flavor to which I add Sicilian bergamot and butter. For balance, I add shavings of dehydrated bell peppers to the fish.’”
I think it goes without saying that the two cod dishes we were served were both cooked perfectly. But more than just points for execution, I want to take this opportunity to emphasize that again these two cod dishes present Italian cooking in very different fashions. The tomato-ey cod is much more traditional, Mediterranean flavors and ingredients with the classic layers of tomato, bell peppers and basil. The classics are the classics for a reason!
The other cod paired a twice fermented barley broth with black truffles for another stunning and creative combination. Somehow I can’t see this one becoming a home-cooking staple though as when Nello explained the fermentation process, it boggled my mind how much effort has gone into this single dish. Gambero’s quote about Nello’s cod sums it up pretty well!
Short Rib with Celeriac Puree and Pickled Mushroom
The last savoury dish at first glance seems like something you’ve eaten before in other fine dining establishments, but upon actually tasting, reveals itself to be so much more.
Melt-in-the-mouth is an expression bandied about regularly, yet here, I wish I had taken a video of the short rib which fell apart under the lightest touch.
The other surprising part of this dish was the thick and syrupy 10-year-aged balsamic which is worthy of dissection on its own. The classic sharp balsamic is there, but there were some really interesting notes of citrus and a little bitterness that I hadn’t expected that the balsamic has developed over the years.
As a palate cleanser before our official dessert, we were presented with a cherry sorbet with milk chips and crumbs. Though it might sound slightly ridiculous, this was probably the most cherry flavoured thing I have ever eaten and yet I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It was like the ultimate iteration of the cherry. I would love to sit down on a balcony in the sun somewhere and devour bowls of this.
Vanilla “Dome” with Marron Glace and Homemade Candied Citrus (RMB 120)
Finally, came Nello’s riff on a classic Italian pudding. Spiritually, it is a cousin of the English Christmas pudding, and yet this is a case where the European version simply rides roughshed over it’s simpler, island-based family. Though the pudding had a touch of holiday spice, the vanilla cream was my favorite part about this dessert. I loved the texture and the power of the cream!
As seems to happen regularly in Beijing, a radical transformation has taken place. Unlike the bike sharing enterprises that we see slowly decaying in front of our eyes, the Four Season’s Mio Italian restaurant has been on a gradual upward trajectory and delivers an incredible dining experience that is well worth paying top dollar for.
The next time you’re looking for a restaurant to impress, regardless if it’s business or personal, I highly recommend booking a table in advance and you will be rewarded with one of the best Italian meals you can buy on this planet.
Mio’s Contact Details:
- Address: 3rd Floor of Four Seasons Hotel, 48 Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang district
- Tel: 010 – 5695 8858
- Opening Hours: 11:30-2:30PM, 5:30-10:30PM
Kristen Lum has an accomplished background in PR, communications and events in China. Born and raised in California, Kristen has been based in Beijing since 2006 and is founder of the lifestyle blog called LumDimSum, covering mostly restaurant news and reviews alongside upcoming events around town that relate to Beijing’s muti-faceted, quickly-developing creative industries like art, music, film, health and fitness, fashion, nightlife, charity events, and travel tips.