With celebrated eateries in Beijing, Dubai and Shanghai, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts recently announced that Il Ristorante – Niko Romito would be brought to Italy at the Bulgari Hotel Milano. Bulgari’s Milan property has captured the fashionable hearts of the Milanese elite since its opening in 2004, marking the fashion group’s first foray into hospitality. Now, following the other successful concepts with Chef Niko Romito, the Michelin-starred Italian chef will be bringing his skills home to Il Ristorante – Niko Romito.
When chef Romito was first approached to partner with Bulgari Tokyo 10 years ago, he had not yet established his career, the 44-year-old says. He dreamed of curating his own idea and identifying it himself, but having just been awarded his second Michelin star, he wasn’t quite ready. Upon earning three Michelin stars, opening a cooking school and developing an industry-changing philosophy, Romito felt ready for Bulgari.
“In 10 years, from my first “no” to my final “yes,” my cuisine has developed in growth and in expertise. I created a professional education center, I have research labs, and I have a system, a headcount, a staff around me that gives me their reassurance and strength to carry on such a widespread project,” Romito says of his culinary journey. With the skills, knowledge and preparation needed to establish a model in line with the brand’s values, Romito adds that he is now ready to marry his own identity with a partner’s.
Though Bulgari Hotel Milano is secluded and intimate, it is also located in Milan’s most exclusive shopping district. When one steps foot into Il Ristorante, tucked away inside the hotel’s intimate, sleek setting, you’re transported to what feels like the private home of a Milanese royal. The restaurant’s garden invites some of Milan’s top business lunches and buzzy aperitifs, and then of course, for the main event: Chef Niko’s menu has transformed Italian classics to include contemporary twists with simple ingredients, “true” flavor, and refined Italian raw materials.
“To develop the philosophy of the format was actually quite easy,” Romito admits. “I was truly convinced that the authentic Italian cuisine was actually not known to the majority of the world.” His solution? Something “apparently simple,” he explains. “With some Mediterranean-Italian healthy cuisine—the simplicity is the end result, but the complexity is the research and the innovation of the preparation of the dish.”
“And another important thing,” he clarifies, while on the topic. “I’m recognized as the best chef. But in the Bulgari project I don’t want to celebrate myself. I have to create a cuisine that celebrates who eats my cuisine. So, a selection of dishes that don’t speak about me, but that speak about Italy and Italy’s products.” Lasagna and a dream-worthy broth that’s prepared as an appetizer serve as prime examples of this. “A project like this works best when the chef already has his satisfaction in a high-end restaurant. If I would have done this in 2009, I wouldn’t have arrived at these results.”
I question Romito a bit on this, though. Isn’t Bulgari making him the star of the show? I certainly found my way across the globe for a bite of Chef Niko’s very own vision. “They do their job,” Romito laughs and shrugs. The man knows his worth.
“But it’s very interesting, when people sit down at a table for the very first time, they’re absolutely surprised by the dishes. The standard fine dining model for the past twenty years has been conquering hotels. But here, you can’t find it. Even the appearance of the restaurant. It’s a very Italian model,” he decides.
So what is the Italian model, aside from the look and feel of Chef Niko’s brainchild? When it comes down to the meat and potatoes of it all, what does Chef Niko predict for the Italian cuisine? “My dream, and it’s a very actual thing, is to be able to create a model that links the Italian trattoria, a domestic tradition, with research and innovation. The Italian cuisine is the only one that can do this,” he explains. “If we think about the thousands of regional recipes that only the Italian gastronomy tradition has—each and every town has a different recipe of the same dish—if you can start from those recipes and take inspiration from them, and apply technology and research, [we] can create a new model of Italian food. It’s a difficult thing, because it’s easier to present a new dish. The most difficult thing is to preserve that taste, so you can recognize it, but to use the techniques to make it lighter and more balanced.”
The innovation in this menu, for example, can be seen in the aforementioned broth, the initial vegetable extraction. “Celery, carrots, and onions are majorly used in Italian dishes,” he says, “and the vegetable broth made with these three ingredients, is at the base of the majority of Italian ingredients. So I said I’ll take these three ingredients and give them some dignity. Three, lonely vegetables!”
These three ingredients became the three “protagonists” of the dish, as he calls them, and the result? A divine, melt-in-your-mouth broth that’s surprising, delightful and perfectly-salty. “It can also be considered the vegetable broth of the future, because there is no water and it’s super healthy. It’s a dish that is extremely simple, yet it’s very complex. It’s a dish that only an Italian could have made.” To that, I don’t disagree.