For many, the joy of Italian food is in its seeming simplicity. But that’s not to say this cuisine doesn’t lend itself to fine dining. And so to Mio, the Italian restaurant in Beijing’s Four Seasons Hotel. The Michelin connection here comes via the chef de cuisine, Marco Calenzo, whose credits include Apsleys at The Lanesborough in London, where he was executive sous chef and helped it win its first Michelin star. So it looks like Mio is trying to position itself as a top-end venue – and given its location in the deluxe Four Seasons Hotel, high levels of swank were always expected.
Any illusions to the contrary were swiftly killed as dead as Italy’s economy upon walking into the extraordinary dining room. There’s a vague 1920s vibe going on: crystal shapes here, shimmering lights there, ushered along by a Jazz-Age soundtrack and a dominating quasi-chandelier stretching the length of the ceiling. Is this supposed to be classy? It’s gaudy. It’s as if the owner of a Shanxi coal mine asked his wife to explain art deco to him while busy shopping in Louis Vuitton, though admittedly the flamboyant setting grows on you during the meal.
Mio is solidly New China, as were all the other patrons dining here on our visit – apart from four Russians who sat down, looked at the menu and then promptly wandered off. Which was, it has to be said, their loss – especially if they happened to be fans of cold cuts and cheese, of which Mio has a wonderful selection, many imported. The prosciutto di Parma (95RMB) was superb: perfectly delicate and soft, with just the right interplay between salt and sweet. For cheese we tried a fantastic gorgonzola (65RMB): smooth, creamy and full of strong flavour.
Everything that followed was outstanding. The squid-ink stringozzi (135RMB) was dead-on al dente, the accompanying sauce adding a nice kick without being too overpowering; scallops (145RMB) were agreeably light, topped off with gently battered courgette flowers – the rest of the vegetable used in the surrounding purée. Mains were equally well executed: tender and juicy lamb chops (385RMB), without any hint of toughness, and a nicely buttery red snapper (255RMB), the fish firm beneath the pleasingly crisp skin, but falling softly apart when cut. Desserts – a lemon tart (65RMB) and citrus torta (65RMB) – were fine, although unexciting.
It should also be noted that the staff are exceptional. Superbly attentive without being overbearing, and of a standard wholly deserving of a tip, which is fortunate considering the establishment automatically adds 15 percent to the bill. But while the restaurant serves well-sourced, well-cooked, well-judged Italian food, those who aren’t filthy rich or who can’t rely on a company account to foot the bill will jump at the prices. Everything we tried was great, but for us it just doesn’t feel worth the splurge. Oh my. Oh Mio.