Enrico Bartolini al MUDEC opened in 2016, located on the third floor of the Museum of Culture (the MUDEC part of the name) in Milan. Chef Bartolini grew up in Tuscany and worked with chefs including Carlo Petrini in Paris and Mark Page in London. He worked for a time with 3-star chef Massimiliano Alajmo (of Calandre), and in 2005 he became head chef of La Robinie in Oltrepo Pavese in Lombardy, where he worked for five years and earned a Michelin star for the restaurant at the age of 29. After that in 2010 he took over the management of the two restaurants at the Devero Hotel in Cavenago di Brianza near Milan. Here he earned a second Michelin star and then worked on culinary projects for brands such as Krug, Emirates airline and Hermes. In April 2016 he moved into Milan and into the restaurant that bears his name today. The restaurant earned a third Michelin star in November 2019, when the 2020 Michelin guide to Italy was published.
The wine list stretched over 60 pages for the white wines alone. Wine pairings were offered at €220 or €230. Sample labels were Vigne Marina Coppi Fausto Timorasso Colli Tortonesi 2019 at €100 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for €41, Domaine Yvon Clerget Meursault Les Chevalieres 2019 at €150 compared to its retail price of €98, and Ostertag Riesling Muenchberg 2018 at €190 for a wine that will set you back €60. For those with the means there was Antinori Tignanello 1985 at €600 for a wine that retails at €331, and Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri 1989 at €950 for a bottle whose current market value is €487. Some prices were relatively reasonable e.g. Coche Dury Bourgogne 2018 was €300 compared to its retail price of €457 and the Coche Dury Meursault Genevrieres 2011 was €1,350 yet its market price is currently €3,454. By contrast some markups were quite high e.g. Chateau Musar 2011 was €240 for wine that retails at €76.
The restaurant is on the third floor of the Museum of Culture, and is easily accessible via a lift just to the left past the main museum entrance. Though the restaurant bears the name Enrico Bartolini, he is often (as tonight) away tending to his business empire, and the kitchen was led by Davide Bogioli, who is effectively the chef de cuisine, though his title is executive chef. The tasting menu was €350 with wine pairing available at €250, or you could have three courses for €240 or four courses at €300. Mineral water was €7 euros and espresso €9. The dining room is attractively laid out with large, widely spaced tables and a separate conservatory with a sunny terrace.
The meal began with delicate grissini flavoured with 24-month aged Parmesan. A sequence of canapés followed. Snail deep fried with tomato and onion sauce was pleasant, the coating thin and the snail having good flavour. A little dish contained aubergine smoked with langoustine from Liguria, caviar (the waiter did not know where from) and green beans, which was entirely pleasant. Similarly, snapper with cabbage and almond was fine though the almond flavour was rather dominant. A pretty taco of king crab and horseradish mayonnaise tasted less good than it might have done, due to an unidentified liquorice taste. Finally, some red pepper breadsticks were good, with gentle texture. Finally, there was a theatrical touch as a box was presented containing something resembling Ferrero Rocher chocolate but was actually Piedmontese beef with hazelnuts and foie gras all wrapped in gold leaf. This was rather disappointing, the liver flavour missing in action, the hazelnut flavour dominating. A final amuse bouche was potato foam with salmon egg and mushrooms, which was harmless (nibbles averaged just about 15/20).
At this point some focaccia appeared and to be honest it was not great, being a little dried out and hard. The focaccia from my local delicatessen is much better. Much better was a loaf of bread made with spelt flour and flavoured with purple cabbage and beetroot. This had excellent texture, served with a butter from France (again I couldn’t establish where exactly from the waiter, but I suspect it was from Normandy) flavoured for no good reason at all with tangerine. This was, I imagine, originally a very good butter, but why on earth would possess anyone to take a good product like that and flavour it with tangerine, which most defnitely did not improve it.
The first formal course of the tasting menu was a cold dish of jelly of red onion covering calf sweetbread flavoured with curry mayonnaise and peach. This sounded like a bad idea but somehow it worked very well, the acidity of the peach providing acidity to balance the richness of the sweetbread, the gently hint of curry just lifting the dish. On the side was an onion wafer with sour cherry, herbs from the Mediterranean and more curry flavouring. This dish was an unexpected success (18/20).
Roasted sole rested in verjus sauce and was served with chicory stuffed with langoustine, octopus and olive along with avgotarago (Greek bottarga). The chicory was good but the sole was distinctly overcooked, a technical error I would not have expected at this level of restaurant. This was a shame as the sole actually had quite decent flavour (barely 13/20). This was followed by black Alaskan Black cod with octopus, shiso (perilla), mussel emulsion, crisp buckwheat and ginger. This did not work for me, the shiso flavour overpowering the cod (13/20).
Stuffed bottoni pasta was a fresh ravioli with an olive oil filling and slice of octopus, resting in a kind of bouillabaisse sauce made from fifteen different species of fish. The sauce had quite intense flavour but was overly salty, even to my taste, though the pasta itself was pleasant (15/20). The next dish featured smoked Sila potatoes from Calabria. These are grown on the Sila plateau, in Calabria, cultivated at 1300 m above sea level at temperatures that fluctuate by more than 20°C between day and night. The potatoes were made into a kind of gnocchi and served with shrimp and nduja from Calabria, smoked cream and salmon eggs. This worked very well, the potatoes having excellent flavour, the shrimps good and the spicy sausage enlivening the dish. On the side was a dish of shrimp consommé, which could have been a lot more intense in flavour. (17/20).
Large spaghetti was next, with smoked eel, baby squid and squid sauce. The pasta was fine as was the somewhat muted flavour of eel, but the dish was spoiled by a wildly over strong application of lemon zest, which was just too sharp (13/20). The meal got back on track with a beetroot risotto made using high quality San Massimo carnaroli rice from Lombardy Park in the Ticino valley in the very north of Italy, bordering Switzerland. The dish was enriched with Gorgonzola cheese with a cherry and walnut emulsion, the dish finished at the table with walnut essence. Although beetroot is an unusual idea for risotto, the texture of the rice itself was excellent (16/20). A different bread appeared now, a multigrain loaf with fennel seeds and aniseed, again having good texture.
We each had different main courses, Milanese style pigeon had a pepper crust and came with liver sauce with saffron cream and a cream cracker, the pigeon liver alongside the breast and the confit legs to one side. This was excellent, the pigeon carefully cooked and the liver flavour not too overpowering (18/20). I tried beef fillet Podolica, a breed of cattle from southern Italy in Bailicata, a region between Campagnia and Calabria. The meat was cooked in the oven then fried with butter in a pan and finally grilled yakitori style. The beef heart was glazed with barbecue sauce and there was also a tartlet of beef with Bearnaise sauce. The beef had unusually good flavour for fillet, which can often be quite bland, and the heart also worked well (18/20).
Pre-dessert was a visually interesting black disc on a black plate covering a dish of pandan leaves and kiwi fruit. This tasted distinctly odd, with kiwi fruit notoriously flavourless so the dominant taste was the pandan leaves, which have a grassy flavour with a slight hint of rose, so it tasted mostly of grass. The dish was pretty but a pre-dessert should be refreshing and this was nothing of the kind (13/20 is generous). We actually tasted two different desserts. Chocolate soufflé used guanaja chocolate had a salted peanut centre with pineapple and rum, with on the side a pineapple jelly and a goat milk ice cream and coconut vinegar foam with toasted sesame. This was a rather odd combination but the soufflé itself was well made (15/20). On the side was a little cup of beer flavoured with pineapple, for some reason that eludes me. Strawberry tart with rhubarb was also flavoured with liquorice and anise, and there was strawberry with violets and elderflower and a strawberry liquid. The fruit was fine but didn’t need the anise, but the issue was the rather soggy pastry (14/20).
Coffee was a washed arabica from Mysore roasted by a Verona roaster called Laboratorio di Torrefazione Giamaica Caffe. The coffee was quite mild and pleasant but was otherwise unmemorable, for me lacking acidity. Service was excellent, with a particularly engaging sommelier who was very helpful and knowledgeable. The bill came to €615 (£526) per person, though that was with a couple of bottles of good wine. If you shared a modest bottle between two and opted for the short three course menu then you could eat for much less, perhaps €310 (£265). This was a quite up and down meal, with some genuinely excellent dishes (sweetbread, pigeon, beef) interspersed with some really quite disappointing dishes, with the odd technical mistake thrown in for good measure (eg the overcooked sole). This makes it quite awkward to score, but as ever the overall score I assign is simply the arithmetic average of the dish scores. I would not except such an erratic level of cooking in a restaurant at this price point. It is one thing to not enjoy a dish because it has an odd flavour combination that I don’t like but the chef presumably does. It is another to eat a piece of overcooked fish. Although there was certainly a lot of aspects to enjoy about this restaurant, it is hard to unequivocally recommend it given the size of the bill.