Set on the ground floor and (in good weather) the courtyard of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Seta was awarded a Michelin star in the 2016 guide (editor's note - it was promoted to two stars in the 2017 guide). The head chef is Antonio Guida, who previously worked for 12 years at the (at the time) two star Tuscan restaurant “Il Pellicano” after training at prestigious restaurants such as Don Alfonso 1890 and Enoteca Pinchiorri. On the June evening that we visited Seta there was a thunderstorm so all the tables were indoors. The dining room can accommodate around 45 guests at one time, with potentially a similar number in the courtyard when the weather is better. There were twelve chefs in the kitchen tonight dedicated to Seta, but 35 chefs in all work in the hotel. You access the restaurant via the main hotel bar. Tables were large, well spaced and covered with crisply ironed white tablecloths.
There was a full a la carte menu as well as a tasting menu at €120 (£93). The wine list had around 600 labels, mostly from Italy but also with bottles from the main regions of France, as well as a smattering from elsewhere, from Germany to Slovenia. For example the list had the very drinkable and rarely seen Antinori Riesling 2014 at €49 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €16, Vigneronne Marina Coppi Fausto Timorasso 2012 at €88 compared to a retail price of €49, and Querciabella Batar 2012 at €135 for a wine that will set you back €85 in the shops. Sourdough bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and had good texture (16/20).
The meal began with a tray of nibbles. A cylinder of thinly sliced courgette encased a stuffing of taleggio cheese and apple flavoured with curry powder; next to this was a squid ink tuile with salmon roe and capers, anchovy bavarois and an aubergine bon bon with cumin. These were classy canapés, especially the stuffed courgette, while the anchovy flavour came through very well in the bavarois (16/20). This was followed by a further nibble of marinated anchovy with mackerel royale topped with wasabi powder. This was terrific, the mackerel flavour coming through strongly, the kick of wasabi subtle but enlivening the dish, the anchovy complementing the other elements (17/20).
The starter that I ordered was rice "cagnone" with vegetables, Maccagno cheese (an alpine cows milk cheese) and a topping of raspberry powder. This was essentially a lighter version of a risotto, the texture good though for me the raspberry flavour was just a little stronger than I would have liked (still 15/20). I preferred spaghetti with saffron and mackerel with parsley sauce. The pasta had excellent texture with its hint of saffron, and the distinct mackerel flavour came through well, the parsley subtle and not dominating the dish as I feared that it might (16/20).
For the main course, sea bass was poached and came with salt cod brandade, clams and a shiso (perilla) sauce. In a pretty touch, there was a delicate squid ink tuile rather like a fisherman's net covering the fish. The fish was carefully cooked and the salt cod was excellent, the slight mintiness of the shiso not too dominant (comfortably 16/20). Turbot came with asparagus, egg mimosa, a rosemary scented miso sauce and a garnish of caviar. Again the fish was nicely cooked, the mayonnaise and hint of mustard of the mimosa and the slight earthiness of the miso an unusual but pleasant pairing with the fish (16/20).
Pre dessert was coconut blancmange with raspberry powder and an ice cream of honey and thyme. While I am not a fan of herbs in my dessert, the thyme was at least subtle, and the coconut flavour combined well with the acidity of the raspberry and the sweetness of the honey (16/20). Roasted pineapple came with passion fruit tapioca and ginger ice cream and was terrific, the fruit combining really well with the aromatic and gentle spice of the ginger, complemented by the tropical fruit taste (18/20). Even better was chocolate soufflé topped with a thin chocolate disc, accompanied by ginger ice cream, and on the side a pretty presentation of mango with a little rosemary. The soufflé, made using two different Valrhona chocolate styles, was superb, fluffy as a cloud yet richly flavoured, cooked evenly through. The slight acidity of the mango was an excellent complement, the ice cream adding a further contrast. I have had plenty of worse desserts in three Michelin star restaurants than this (19/20).
Finally, a tray of petit fours continued the high standard. Mango and passion fruit mousse was refreshing and had lovely texture, a blueberry tart had a classy pastry base and was about as interesting as you can make the inherently anodyne flavour of blueberry, while a pistachio and raspberry financier was rich and had excellent nutty flavour. Even better was a terrific chocolate tart with rich velvety chocolate on lovely pastry, and finally a superbly balanced miniature rum baba (19/20 for the petit fours). As a final touch there was a selection of four different Amadei chocolates. Coffee was from a small roaster in Parma and was rich and enjoyable.
Service was essentially faultless. The staff were friendly and attentive, wine topping up was perfect and the pace of the meal was steady. Two of the waiters had worked previously at Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road so spoke excellent English. One wittily commented on our view from the dining room window over the sodden hotel courtyard in the torrential rain as the "sea view". The bill came to €320 for two including pre-dinner drinks and wine, which works out at £124 a head. If you just shared a modest wine then a typical cost per head would be around £110.
I was very impressed with the meal tonight. The standard of cooking, especially at the dessert stage of the meal, was clearly around two Michelin star level overall as opposed to the one star the restaurant currently has, and the service was exemplary, as good as it gets anywhere. I would highly recommend Seta to anyone visiting Milan.