Joia, Milan

The Michelin star is the highest accolade and recognition of culinary excellence and expertise. Michelin meals are usually rich, meaty and indulgent. At Joia I experienced something utterly different and refreshingly unique.

Head Chef and owner Pietro Leemann is on a mission to create and share his love of nature and fresh, vibrant, natural foods. With Joia, he presents a fine menu of vegetarian creations exploring fruit and vegetables from an inquisitive and innovative perspective. Amazingly he can easily cater for gluten-free and vegan diners too. The food is the opposite of my previous Michelin experience – light, fresh, balanced and (best of all) beautifully bright.

After a brief introduction to the calm and collected Pietro, we agreed to his selecting the dishes, an array of his most popular and promising recipes. The meal was untraditional in its fluency – instead of courses, small dishes were presented to us in succession.

Blueberry risotto was bizarre yet oddly tasty… a bowl of blue rice with bell peppers, sword beans and eggplant; the eggplant and peppers giving weight to the dish while the blueberries offered colour and sweetness. ‘For Gavinda’ was arty and interesting, a pasta pile of buckwheat layered with zucchini doubloons was prettily presented with two sauces on the side; peas with lemon zest and potatoes with Lombard curry was a great combination of flavours and textures but it was a shame that it came lukewarm rather than hot.

‘Beneath a colourful blanket’ was a magical and experimental dish. A soft, foamy, thick soup covers a bed of vegetables… with each spoonful you discover a new flavour or new ingredient. Aside from the fun factor, this recipe is wonderfully balanced and seasoned perfectly. Cheeses are available for those who wish but we went straight to desserts.

Both puddings required persistence; they certainly aren’t your average fine-dining sweets. ‘Five Minutes’ is a terrine of chocolate and raspberries, raw-food water-based chocolate mousse, coconut truffle melon and lemon balm en brochette, a strong and particular palette of tastes. Aspects were delicious though I couldn’t help thinking it could do with a dollop of thick cream! ‘To your health!’ is the ultimate fruit feast, a sugar-free cake with a plum and almond base, figs and cashew pastry, with peach and rosemary sorbet… it was an explosion of colour and vitality, and was certainly the healthiest dessert I have ever tried.

This unusual and rare restaurant is bold and brave in its concept and immaculate in its execution. Pietro Leemann makes Michelin star dining accessible to all and encourages healthy and informed eating along the way. In a country so fond of its carbohydrates and long heavy meals, Joia is paving the way for a new kind of Italian fine dining.

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