Italo-Dutch chef Eugenio Boer opened Essenza in 2015 and has been amassing admirers ever since. He had previously won acclaim and a loyal following at Enocratia and Fishbar de Milan but this smart thirty-six-seater is a truly personal vision.
Seasonality is crucial for Eugenio and Essenza offers à la carte but most opt for one of the tasting menus which change regularly throughout the year. ‘Vegetable Sensations’ is suitable for vegetarians, ‘Tradition and Thought’ combines conventional and contemporary ideas, ‘Essence of Thought’ is more experimental still, or the truly adventurous can choose the eponymous Essenza menu, a ten-course journey decided ‘with a free hand’ by the kitchen.
As you might expect, the restaurant’s name translates as ‘essence’ but, equally important for Eugenio, it also means ‘honesty’ or ‘clarity’. ‘My kitchen is always evolving, always in movement,’ he says. ‘It’s the culinary essence of what I’ve seen, of what I’ve learned, of who I am. My kitchen… it’s me!’
That Eugenio’s food tells his life story is obvious, even in the selection of amuse bouches. Madeleines with pesto are dedicated to his Sicilian-Ligurian mother and his Dutch father is honoured by Bitterballen with mustard, a kind of Netherlandish croquette. An early mentor, Gaetano Trovato of Arnolfo, inspires a pigeon liver macaron and another, Norbert Niederkofler, is honoured with tartare of char.
Other dishes evoke experiences or places. Pork belly and yucca become Memory of a summer grill, while Reindeer and its history (raw venison with raspberry coulis and liquorice crumble) has become something of a signature. It is eaten with the hands and served with a bowl of pine-scented water for washing, transporting diners momentarily to the forest.
Essenza’s atmosphere is elegant with a clean, modern decor. Colourful modern art adorns the walls and Eugenio and his team are visible through a large serving hatch, but focus remains on the food.