The best Bartolini ever

At Mudec the chef is in bliss. Could it be that he improves the larger he gets?

09-11-2016

Enrico Bartolini portrayed by Tanio Liotta at the start of a memorable dinner. The Tuscan chef at Mudec in Milan was in bliss: for us, this was the best Bartolini ever

Photogallery

Fried herb cannolo with black cabbage, on some elegant soused fish gelatine (photo gallery by Tanio Liotta)
Melanzana moderna, aubergine baked in a piece, and then reassembled. With tetragona leaf
Onion candy, mango and fat liver. The onion is dried so as to create a veil, then placed on a baking tin and completed with the filling. «This is the brigidini technique», says Bartolini, pardon the rhyme. Typical of Lamporecchio, he’s from Larciano, less than 6 km away
Soft potato, egg and eggs

I’ve known Enrico Bartolini’s cuisine since 2005. I was lucky enough to visit almost by chance the first restaurant where he took the main role, Le Robinie in Montescano, in Oltrepo Pavese. During a memorable dinner that lasted until early in the morning – with a sudden scallop of foie gras sautéed with some apricots he’d found there and then, the new day having long started – I discovered the crystal clear talent of a chef “who then went places”, as they say. Indeed, Bartolini has made a huge progress since then, the forecast was even too easy. Yet many in the food industry turned up their nose last spring when the Tuscan chef left Devero, where he had conquered two stars, and together with his group he embarked three new adventures virtually at the same time: Mudec in Milan, a gourmet restaurant with attached bistro three floors below; Casual in Bergamo, Andana in Castiglione della Pescaia (we wrote about it here). Recently Glam in Venice arrived too (read here). «Too much», whispered some, referring also to his consultancy around the world.

The dining room at Enrico Bartolini al Mudec

The dining room at Enrico Bartolini al Mudec

We’ve visited Bartolini at Mudec a few days ago. And we tasted, by far, the most structured dinner among the many, and always of the highest quality, which he prepared over the years. Almost no dish outside the menu, no special effect; the chef was back from a trip to Jakarta and greeted us with the usual brilliant and ironic calm, but he was very tired. He orchestrated the kitchen for a while then silently turned in for his well-deserved rest. I mean: he showed off not the talent of his hands, no special dedication, but the virtues of his organisation, of a close-knit staff - Remo Capitaneo and the rest of the kitchen staff, Sebastien Ferrara and the dining room staff. They always know what to do, offer the best management and could replicate the charm that we were served again and again, no problem. A perfectly functioning machine.

A drawing from the Mudec website

A drawing from the Mudec website

“Structure”, we mentioned a few lines above, is the keyword. It’s imposingly present in the dishes, which are very mature yet modern, and play alternating recipes the young 37-year old chef can already include among his greatest hits as well as his new creations, which show a sophisticated elegance, an extraordinary capacity of dominating flavour in perfect, stratified balance. It’s also present in the stylistic choices, like defining always a sort of aromatic tandem in the menu, with the main element as the focus of a first recipe, to which he pairs a second one, completing the range of flavours: this is the case of Ventresca di tonno e dintorni [Tuna belly and the surroundings] paired with Baby calamari in broth, green apple and salicornia; Scallop carpaccio, hazelnuts from Piedmont, Jerusalem artichoke and roasted lemon followed by Toast with sea snails, and so on, in combinations of the highest quality, which are also fun on top of being intriguing.

Ravioli with Tuscan peanuts, sea urchins and free-range chicken jus: fabulous

Ravioli with Tuscan peanuts, sea urchins and free-range chicken jus: fabulous

We’ve mentioned two seafood dishes that are also starters. Indeed the menu includes first seafood, then “contemporary first courses”, and then meat, but of course you can ask for the seafood starter to be served as a main course as it is more than adequately structured. If on the other hand you follow the script, here comes the masterpiece. In our case, pigeon: first the breast with three different sauces (capers, sultanas, liver and then the jus of the pigeon itself), almost three dishes in one; then the virtually raw fillet; finally, the apotheosis, Pigeon thigh, rhubarb, liver patè and a sauce of cereals and white chocolate. A blast, deliciousness and harmony matched together.

We haven’t mentioned the first courses: we already knew one of Bartolini’s strong suits, Oil and lime buttons with caciucco sauce, recalling his Tuscan origins. The Ravioli filled with Tuscan peanuts, sea urchins and free range chicken jus were even better in terms of austere grace. It may sound like a paradox, given how muscular, invasive the ingredients are: yet they reach a noble and perfect balance. Masterful.

All in full sail, that is? Almost. The sweet part of the meal is one step below the rest at least. After all, the collaboration with pastry chef Antonino Maresca only begun a few months ago, «give us time, will ya?» (the quote was invented. Bartolini doesn’t speak like this).


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Photogallery

Fried herb cannolo with black cabbage, on some elegant soused fish gelatine (photo gallery by Tanio Liotta)
Melanzana moderna, aubergine baked in a piece, and then reassembled. With tetragona leaf
Onion candy, mango and fat liver. The onion is dried so as to create a veil, then placed on a baking tin and completed with the filling. «This is the brigidini technique», says Bartolini, pardon the rhyme. Typical of Lamporecchio, he’s from Larciano, less than 6 km away
Soft potato, egg and eggs
Fried okra with baby calamari and green shiso
Prawns from Santa Margherita in two steps...
...with illusion of Sicilian almonds
Tuna belly and the surroundings...
...with baby calamari in a broth, green apple and salicornia
Scallop carpaccio, Piedmontese hazelnuts, Jerusalem artichoke and roasted lemon
Lomellina snails with sage and "utirancotta Maricha" green pepper
Ravioli with Tuscan peanuts, sea urchins and free-range chicken jus