Joia Milan: the first Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant in the world is in Italy

Joia Milan, the first Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant in Italy and the world survived through the waves of the pandemic. It has changed over the years, and from our multiple meals we had there only to the better.

Michelin Milano

Well, it had to. Since its inaugural appearance in the Michelin Guide over a decade ago, the “little red book” has included dozens new vegan and vegetarian fine dining restaurants. From Beijing through Vienna to LA and Manhattan, the great chefs and the climate-woke customers commune in upgrading plant-based dining experience. Growing demand for sustainable creative cuisine and inner reflections during the lockdowns turned one of the world’s greatest chefs (according to some sources), the Swiss-born Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison (I dined there once, but was not itching to return) to shifting his entire tasting menu into a plant-based feast on three Michelin level. His countryman, the multi-awarded Andreas Caminada now follows the eco-conscious suite. He has just rolled a vegetarian counter experience at the Schloss Schauenstein village of Fürstenau this summer (the room feels very intimate, but for a smoother timeline it needs more than the two cooks who ran Oz in those few first months. For a fair review, I will be back after its reopening in spring 2022).

vegetarian MilanoMilan dining

Joia brings joy to eco-diners aware of the current climate change era

Meanwhile in Italy, ahead of its time, ironically today, Joia Milano has been an institution for the eco-minded, creativity-loving Milanese seeking Italian cuisine without taxing animal lives. At first vegetarian, now Joia serves mostly plant-based cuisine from biodynamic local ingredients.

Split into two dining rooms, Joia feels rather rustic. Like a country escape, not fashionable Milanese glamour. We are not as keen on the larger, dark backroom, but entering on your left, we relish in the with daylight-filled space during the late sunset summer months and lunches for most of the year. The contemporary art display reminds me of Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, another Milanese dining institution (I have yet to review after countless superb meals there).

tasteful art displayMilano design

At Joia now, the wholesome plates playfully entertain the palate without meat, fish and seafood. While not entirely plant-based, dairy, butter and eggs are minimally used and vegan plates are highlighted on the flexible menu. Gluten-free options are honored, and with symbols next to each dish informing about potential allergens such as gluten, lactose, the choices are simplified. The kitchen team headed from its conception by Pietro Leemann is open to create an entire dairy, egg or gluten-free menu for you. Raw plates are also included.

Tuning you into the plant clock (top image), to start, a plate of seasonal vegetables and some fruit with decadent dips, infused oils and vinegars are served in dollops with a whole-grain or gluten-free bread bun. Titled “Not only by bread men live” this amouse-bouche has been served at Joia for years. We love its simplicity with savvy touches of the chef. Next comes the carrot stick in the “dirt” of seeds pot which is an eggplant dip.

Michelin star vegetarianvegetarian Milano

Italian risotto

Spiritual poetry on the menu

In the poetic spirit are titled the other dishes on the chef’s Pietro Leemann menu. Planet, My Dear Planet gives you cruelty-free foie gras, Sister Moon is a gazpacho, Perseverance buckwheat ravioli with mushrooms, while Gong reminds you of time spent mindfully with the chef’s signature dessert. A true Milanese, he calls one of his risottos – Navel of the World.

Not always consistent, the cuisine has evolved from quite an unsophisticated presentation to sensibly artistic plates. A must is the plant-based faux gras. A delicacy created without the animal suffering, while force-feeding the geese as is common in the production of fatty foie gras. The liver-free pâté is made from a complex blend of vegetables (terrine and chickpea and potato-starch-based mock terrine with carrot “mochi”) with agave and chestnut honey under a savoy cabbage dome, served with apple chutney. You can find the complex recipe in the Joia cookbook, and there you also find that sugar and natural sweeteners pop into many savoy plates, so carb-watchers beware!

Michelin stared vegetarian restaurant Joia in Milan

The risotto changes. One summer (in 2015) peaches, pumpkin with summer truffles befriended somewhat awkwardly the white arborio rice. My last version in winter with puffed Venere rice crumble was much more harmonious.

A tasting menu or à la carte choices give any diner even more flexibility. In the age when many fine dining restaurants egotistically give you no choice, and others with confusing multi-page menus with countless alterations (just go to a buffet restaurant, not a creative kitchen), just saying what you cannot eat and being advised by the waiter makes any meal a trusting and simple affair.

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After the tasting menu on my first visit, the next meals were à la carte. While some dishes at Joia are exquisite, others were simply not my cup of tea. “Travel Through Time, that has been and that will be” was not only plated for kids (the smiley plate above), but a mashup of flavours, sauces that did not make much sense with the nut and seed crackers and rolled sliver of cucumber. The chef’s cooking has luckily evolved since these quirky old days. More grown-up and sophisticated, and we are glad we gave him another chance. We returned twice recently and were pleased.

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Beverages in the 21st century spirit: biodynamic, organic, alcohol-free

You can go zero-proof with flowers, fruit, vegetable in a glass beverage menu. Elderflower water is light and hydrating, while “A Tribute to Shirley Temple” cocktail with bergamot and blueberries was more entertaining. There is tea, which I enjoyed with lunch and of course great Italian coffee.

The wine list at Joia is also welcoming with competitive prices (as usually generous in Italy) and vintages going decades back. The 1985 vintage of Emidio Pepe’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was seductive, but we went for the younger 2009, that was as bright as it was deep. What a 21 years-old! On another occasion we went far South to Sicily with another biodynamic bottle. The sommelier was each time helpful.

best Italian winesSavory soufle

Although creative (I had the signature Gong; a composed sweet course of milk and citrus foam, english vanilla pudding served in a glass jar and a duo of berry-infused chocolates with corn crumble and chestnut vermicelli), the desserts at Joia are too sweet for my palate. I was deeply impressed though by the sand-clock measuring precisely five minutes that the chef suggest at least for you to savour it. Mindfully take your time in relishing the sweet treat. At the end of the meal I left Joia blooming with joy.

There is no easy parking, so public transport (Metro Repubblica or Porta Venezia), Uber or taxi are highly advised.

Via Panfilo Castaldi, 18, 20124 Milano MI

Tue-Sat: lunch 12:30-2:30pm; dinner 7:30-11pm


Langosteria Milano: seafood temple with the best of the aquatic cuisine twists

Italian recipes, Spanish nudges, Japanese wasabi, French grand cru plateau, anything goes at Langosteria as long as it’s the best way to show off the sea bounty brought to the great Milano fish market. The buzzing atmosphere and superb seafood at Langosteria Ristorante in Milano lure regulars in, yet it is consistency that is the magic key to its continuing appeal. The owner and his culinary team proudly take you into “Labyrinth of dreams and flavours, a journey in search of pleasure.” After countless meals there over the years, I can confirm I dive in and come to the surface hedonistically enchanted in wanting to return again and again. The sea on Via Savona tastes as incredible as the best waters around the world.

Now, “Abandon yourselves to the seduction of this journey, be spectators, and protagonists in the search for sparks of creativity”, as the menu ambitiously suggests, for what you are about to experience is more than just nourishment, it is the life under the water itself.

To start your appetite just before your orders arrive, a complimentary snack from puffed grains (recent change, as it used to be warm crusty bread, which I miss) and a teaser usually in the form of some seafood land on your tavola. Warm clams on a bed of diced tomato sauce most recently.

seafood Milan

From the vast menu, we usually select one of the crudos. A raw starter like marinated artichoke with seafood carpaccio, Mazara del Vallo (Sicily) prawns carpaccio with radish, citrus and rucola, yet a must to start with is the slightly tepid signature seafood salad at Langosteria Milano. Tender squids, prawns and octopus bathe in an elegant olive oil broth. I am not a huge fan of tuna, unless it is the best cut served by top Japanese sushi chefs, so whenever it arrives on the specials list, I tend to skip, but once I tried the semi-seared tuna with sauteed girolles over a green herb broth that was better than most tuna dishes in the West. You can order an ice-laced seafood plateau to share either as a starter or larger main. Pick your ingredients from the aquarium facing all who enter the restaurant from Via Savona or just ask the waiters for daily catch suggestions. Beyond the usual oysters, sea urchin, clams, prawns, the rare percebes (often from the Spanish coast) can pop up. Get them by piece or as part of set platter.

best seafood in MilanItalian pasta

Langosteria Milan

To do your meal the Italian way, next comes the pasta mid-course. The seafood orecchiette, the langoustine linguine or spaghetti with Italian tomatoes are one of the best dishes at Langosteria Ristorante. You can also just have the langoustines cooked with champagne (butter) sauce or Catalana style like they also cook crab here with tomato sauce. Either are served in a large lidded copper pot, for the perfect temperature at serving.

Italian seafoodbest Italian seafood pasta

Most of the menu items change slightly and are market on the menu as “new”, yet the signatures remain or if you remember how you liked your seafood cooked the last time, the cooks happily prepare them for you.

artisan producer champagneFrench Chardonnaywhite Italian wineEtna wine

The dessert menu includes the signature L’Agostin cake. Saint Augustine preached for many years in Milan and his legacy penetrates the city from Metro stations, old city gates to sweets gracing Milan’s restaurants, yet the inspiration came from a recipe at a pasticcheria in Verona. With a whipped French accent, L’Agostin is a soft sponge cake with a decant mascarpone gelato, Chantilly, and Cantiano black amarena cherries. A brioche meets panettone. Sicilian Cassata, Campania’s frozen fruits, sorbets, fresh seasonal fruit plate, flaky millefoglie and other sweet inventions will spoon off the evening with a delightful finale. Still having some space and sweets are not your thing? Then a special parmesan (from the vacche rosse breed) and 60-days aged Gorgonzola delectably fill the gap before a nightcap of Italian-roast espresso or a tisane.

Cake named after Saint Augustine

Langosteria Ristorante in Milano has a few children already. The Bistrot and Cafe that we both tried for lunch, welcomed a Southern outpost in Liguria. The greatest fish and seafood seems to go to the restaurant though.

Grower champagne and other sparkling bottles extensively grace the wine list. Ideal for most of the food there. Yet, you also find superb volcanic Sicilian natural wine, big hitters like new Tuscans or special treats like Emidio Peppe from Abruzzo. The French cellar is notable, and who would resist a bottle of Chablis by Ravennau with seafood?  This is marvelous Milano restaurant, where we cannot stop returning to. Ciao, next time!


Tokuyoshi: restaurant blending Italy with Japan beyond their traditions in Milan

The culinary scene in Milan was stirred about three years ago by Tokuyoshi’s Italy meets Japan innovative cooking. The wisely-stridden Japanese chef Yoji Tokuyoshi opened his first solo restaurant fittingly in the most international Italian city. His formative culinary youth at the three-stared Osteria Francescana in Modena do not shy away, yet he also authentically imprints his Nippon soul, life experiences and even his wife into the Italian ingredients enhanced by his sensitive Japanese touch. This is Cucina contaminata.
  Asia meets Italy at Tokuyoshi softshell crab tempura
Re-tasting his culinary experiments with a poise for its entire life-span, I concluded that like at Francescana here taste is superior to fancy and soulless renditions of traditional food. The presentation is creative, even artsy in Tokuyoshi’s mentor Massimo Bottura strokes. Since he worked at his three star Osteria as a sous-chef, the plating’s origins remain an unresolved conundrum. Always with a pencil snuck behind his ear, the young Yoji is set to jot any sudden flow of ideas down. The plate is like a dress made to measure since the stark plating is not the drive, the food idea comes first. Return, and you will watch and taste his whims of creativity. In an interview for the Art of Plating he confessed:  “I try to fully experience each action, giving full attention to the gesture and the moment. This state of mind, I believe, is the best breeding ground for a new concept.” A man of integrity, the chef has visited the grounds of the farms he sources from to assure that they adhered to responsible stewardship of the land. The broths he pairs with each course were conceived not just to add flavour but also to win over your focus, to slow you down and to enjoy the meal mindfully. This slow preparation also means that our lunch was more precise than the dinners at Tokuyoshi.
In the back of the emerald dining room a green sprout, an art piece by Marcantonio Raimondi Malerba, is the Tokuyoshi logo representative of “a new beginning, a new adventure ready to grow”.
creative saladTokuyoshi Ristorante logo sprout that is representative of a new beginning, the fresh start
Tokuyoshi is a seasoned chef, who participated on Cook it Raw chefs’ gathering in the Ishikawa province together with Rene Redzepi, Alex Atala, Daniel PattersonMauro Colagreco and other worldly chefs. Exchanging ideas with the best in the profession has surely impacted him, but he is inspired more by the ingredients he has on hand. In his restaurant, off-the-menu specialities can flush out an impeccable soft-shell crab, deep fried to a crunchy claw to tail perfection. We double ordered this treat.
Welcomed by a bun-round loaf with butter sets you in the Northern territory of Lombardy, while the small nibbles with an aperitif have readied our taste buds for more gourmandise. A broth from all of the vegetable leftovers, delectable food waste reducer, warms you up for the meal ahead. The unique broths are paired with almost every dish.
The Foamy Salad #tokuyoshi was inspired by the chef’s Italian wife, and used to be served with wooden thongs before the foamy dollop of cheese was added recently. Flower petals, pickled cucumber, seasonal greens and a side pea green broth with it. Starters like this are larger than Tokuyoshi’s “snacks” which can mostly be eaten in two or three bites. The signature Bread, Butter and Anchovies steamed as a bao stuffed with an anchovy dice and sprouts is not my favourite dish but a must try once, while in the charcoal-coated shrimp tempura, simply spit on a rosemary branch is an excellent aperitif snack.
michelin pizzacontemporary Italian pizza

Tokuyoshi: challenging conventional textures with recognisably traditional flavours

The “Grandma Lucia’s Tart cannot rival the best on the Italian markets: Aubergine, tomato, parmesan, all was inside the pastry; the challenge is to outdo someone baking the one damn thing daily for most of her life.
In Liquid Pizza “alla Marinara” enjoyed with a spoon, the flavours were totally there, naturally gluten-free since the doughy part was omitted. I am not in the juicing tribe, but I liked the liquified pizza idea. There is also an ultra-thin crust pizza rendering that might disappoint though. Being served in a proper pizza box, you open it and stare at the tiny cracker topped with fresh petals, minimal shavings of cheese, worse even – the olive green broth served along does not patch the freshly slit wound. Now I really craved the real pizza. To our relief, following the Italian fashion, the menu offers pasta, the real thing, or a rice course. I was genuinely impressed by the Tribute to Noto Spaghetti with almond milk, clams, and pistachios, a very Sicilian flare. Poured over the light pasta dish is Frappato grappa scented with capers by an excellent Sicilian wine producer Arianna Occhipinti. Never mind, my husband was more smitten by the Tagliatelle with Wagyu Ragout, the fatty Japanese beef melted in decadently. Better than the typical thing, but I bet the Italians will not say to their nonnas, but I can.

Thanks to the custom made plates by “Project Arita for Tokuyoshi”, the Gyotaku Mackerel was reformed into an edible sculpture with ash. Gyotaku is an ancient Japanese painting technique transforming a real fish into a canvas. To memorise eating this fish, the chef imprinted it on the serving plate. It was deliciously simple. My last main course at Tokuyoshi was less successful though. The Scrapetta of mixed daily catch was overpainted with intensely hued sauces (mussels & nettles; broccoli & anchovies; shrimps & squid ink; bell pepper & lemon; tomatoes with clams & oregano) and served with a side of double-decker toasts. This hodge-podge was so confusing that I had no idea what the artist meant by that. My palate was overwhelmed.
The signature fat-bursting Suckling Pig in the Forest comes from the semi-wild raised “Cinta Senese” breed butchered by Macelleria Zivieri Massimo, a Slow Food member committed to high standards of animal welfare and traditional, artificial additives-free production and organic farming practices. Still, my husband was not fooled and did not enjoy this plate.
There are two tasting menus for dinner at Tokuyoshi. Italy meets Japan showcases his “cucina contaminata“, but there is also an “omakase” tasting akin to the chef’s table picks from the best ingredients on that day. Even though some dishes perennially persist on the menu, their visual presentation and even slight ingredient tweaks may surprise you. Trying a number of  Tokuyoshi’s signature plates across different seasons, I noticed the momental emotions entering some plates. The superb Calamari Full of Himself were once served stuffed whole-bodied (as in the leading image in this critique), while more often their white corpses were slid in halves like nigiri sushi and spiked with knife. The hedgehog lid covered their seasoned tentacles minced with anchovies and tomatoes. Italian flavours, while the technique was distinctively Japanese. Paired with Olives and Green Tomatoes juice completing the dish in Tokuyshi style.
editor of La Muse Bluedessert plating
Deservedly, the Michelin guide awarded one star for his creative flare. The difference between his and Boturra’s artisan smoldering on the plates being not only in the visual elegance better achieved by the three stared team at the Osteria Francescana, but also in the finer balance of taste. Tokuyoshi’s food is yummy, but with some plates he can tame his effort to do less than is necessary to impress. Like in Modena, he carefully sources his ingredients, often from environmentally sustainable organic farms like Hombre, that has for decades revelled in closed production cycle organic dairy farming in the Parmigiano Reggiano area.
From the desserts I was taken by the Concrete & Earth charcoal meringue, a grey like the Seventies cement roofing covering a scoop of artichoke gelato, mascarpone and herbs on a salty almond a cocoa biscuit. Next to the complimentary morsels served at the finale, this was less sugary like the typical Japanese sweets.
Completing the restaurant circle, the wine waiter is also very open and each time surprised us with authentic,some beyond the Italian borders unseen local wines like Traminer Aromatico from Sicily. Not from the North-eastern corner of Italy as I would expect and perfectly suitable for the intense flavours in Tokuyoshi’s food. Previously a deep Etna Bianco, Fiano di Avelino, and other rotating by the glass selections of the maître d’ cum sommelier whetted our appetites for more of Tokuyoshi’s food. By the bottle we ordered the new Tuscan Bordeaux blend by Paleo that we found a much better value than the pricy Ornellaia. Being fairly adjusted to great wines, the first time I sipped on Paleo was in its birth region of Maremma at a lunch break between the wine tastings at Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia) and Ornellaia.
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Sicilian wine contemporary restaurant design
The contemporary, by Italian lights and marble driven interior design of the intimate restaurant (five tables, plus a long counter), with a massive, sleek wood topped and comfortable counter seating hints at the culinary marriage to Japan. In the capital of Italian fashion and design Tokuyoshi’s rendering of the east meets west cuisine opens up the gates for more to come. Recently opening his first restaurant in Asia, Table by Yoji Tokuyoshi inside the once tallest building in the world in Taipei, the chef still remains faithful to his Michelin stared baby in Milano. While Tokuyoshi is not the front row type, he pops out from the hive of his back kitchen attending personally to his regular guests. The humble Nippon talent leaves the spotlight to his assistants behind the counter seating, but our experience proved that he is the star keeping it excellent.
 Tokuyoshi,Via S. Calocero, 3, 20123 Milano
+39 2 8425 4626
Lunch only on Sundays; Dinner Tue-Sun 7-10:30pm


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