(This review is before D’O received its 2nd Michelin star.)
Maybe Chef Davide Oldani isn’t the most recognisable name in the global gastronomy circle, but if you talk to any Italian foodies, they will tell you Davide is a big name. He’s not a Michelin 3-star chef and isn’t featured on the World’s 50Best list, but if he’s one of few chefs that often gets invited by the president to cook for important diners and if Barilla pasta has picked him up as the “Roger Federer equivalent” of the cooking world for their TV commercial, there’s no doubt that Davide is considered the best chef amongst Italians.
His restaurant has been located on the outskirts of Milan for almost two decades, and was there when he obtained a Michelin 1 star in 2004. Due to its remote location and the fact there are many restaurants within Milan which are much more accessible for travellers, I’m not surprised Davide didn’t get the international attention that he deserved. I myself have been to Milan a dozen times and there are still plenty of restaurants on my bucket list that are in Milan city centre. I wouldn’t have considered D’O if I didn’t need to have WiFi access for a work presentation on my way to the airport. My Milan foodie friend booked me D’O along the route, suggested that he arrange a place in this restaurant for my video call, after which I could enjoy a lunch before continuing my drive to the airport for my early evening flight. Shamefully, I did no research on the restaurant beforehand and didn’t even know it was a Michelin star. With my mind mainly on my work call (which I was anxious to get a good signal for before my presentation slot started), I walked into the restaurant with my laptop in my hand before they had even opened for lunch service. Here Davide greeted me – I didn’t know who he was at this point! – led me to his office, served me a glass of water, even turned down the music, and closed the door. It wasn’t until an hour later when I walked out and saw the sommelier opening a bottle of Champagne while some diners enjoyed plates of elegant food that I realised I was inside a fine dining place. Davide was back to lead me to my table and explain the menu to me himself.
Everything in the restaurant is specially designed by Davide… the table has a slot underneath for diners to put their stuff (very handy for my phone, laptop, and camera), the chair has an armrest only on one side so diners can easily go in and out from the other side, and even the wine glass was unique – it wasn’t flat at the top on one side but slanted on the other, allowing your nose to go deeper. These creative but practical designs made it clear that Davide is an innovator as much as a chef.
The menu is simple, with just two choices: a 5-course “Yesterday 2003” or a 8-course “Today 2020”, with a few simple ingredients listed for each course. Well, I guess when a confident chef has a clear vision of his cuisine, there doesn’t need to be 15 or 20 courses to showcase his cooking. The first amuse was “Action”, just a few dots of various sauces on a uniquely shaped long plate that had a two finger-sized edge sticking out. The idea was to use your fingers to grip the edge, take it to your mouth and lick the sauce in one go. (This is similar to Gaggan’s “Lick it up” dish in Bangkok but Davide explained this dish was inspired from his daughter licking the plate and was on his menu long before other chefs put similar dishes on their menu.)
The first few courses did a good job of demonstrating the quality ingredients they have in Italy. Tartare of Sicilian red prawn combined with cubes of sweet melon and tiny blobs of avocado cream evoked a pure enjoyment of flavour. Served on the side was a small cone filled with emulsion from the prawn head juice dusted with homemade paprika offering a powerful explosion of flavour in your mouth. Every dish had its own complexities, with temperature contrasts, a mixture of textures, and a wide range of flavours. The most risky course on the menu was actually the main dish, rabbit loin and kidney paired with basil and coffee. They actually worked surprisingly well, the strength of the coffee did complement the intensity of the kidney very well.
Looking back at some of the courses, there were actually many concepts from traditional Italian dishes incorporated into the menu in a playful way. Yolk ravioli served with pecorino, Parma ham, black pepper, and a garnish of deep fried spaghetti was actually a blend of two classic Italian pasta dishes – Cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese, black pepper, spaghetti) and Carbonara (egg yolk, cured ham, and pecorino cheese). For the “frutti di mare” course – which means seafood but literally translates to “fruit of the sea” – Davide added some humour to his menu by actually serving fruit, raspberry, with scallop as the seafood course! And since the Italian island of Capri was known for the Capri Salad (tomato, burrata, olive) and the Capri Torte (flourless chocolate almond cake), the dessert was a tribute to Capri by combining salad and chocolate onto one plate! A sphere of burrata coated with tomato gel, mimicking the look of a small tomato, with chocolate and powder of almond underneath!
Overall, despite this fine dining lunch being totally unexpected, I was blown away to find such a high level of quality ingredients and cooking on top of such a creative menu. I wasn’t convinced that it is only a Michelin 1-star restaurant, especially since he has been cooking this style of food for many years now. Definitely one of the most underrated restaurants that I have come across. I have to admit my meal was better than some of the 3-star experiences I have had on many levels. It surely won’t be long before I go back and I hope it will be a Michelin 2-star restaurant by then!