The first vegetarian restaurant to win a Michelin star in Europe, Joia has been at the cutting edge of the ‘natural cuisine’ movement since opening, and continues in this pioneering spirit under head chef Sauro Ricci.
18 Via Panfilo Castaldi

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  • Joia
    18 Via Panfilo Castaldi, , Italy, Milan, 20124
    +39 022 9522124
    Restaurant reservations

    An inspirational restaurant on many levels, Joia’s story goes back several decades to 1989 when a group of friends invited Swiss chef Pietro Leemann to consult on the menu of their new vegetarian restaurant in Italy. Having travelled extensively in both Europe and Asia, and having converted to vegetarianism himself a few years previously, Pietro’s ideas and philosophy would in turn shape the future of the restaurant.

    Pietro bought out Joia a year after it was opened, but initially found that his avant-garde cooking style was often misunderstood. His philosophy of ‘natural cuisine’ (Alta Cucina Naturale) is based around organic produce without meat, and is heavily influenced by the cultural differences he discovered while cooking in Asia, looking at the unique ways two cultures can treat the same ingredient. By creating innovative dishes with ingredients that mirrored the textures of meat, Joia started to gain culinary recognition throughout the 1990s, resulting in a Michelin star in 1996.

    Still the only vegetarian restaurant to own a star in Italy, Joia continues to push the boundaries of fine dining from it’s location in the heart of Milan. Despite these accolades, the restaurant itself is incredibly understated and intimate, allowing the food to do the talking. Clean lines and pales woods dominate the neutral dining room, although small mementoes of Pietro’s travels can be seen throughout. Perhaps a small gong, or a sculpture made by village artists in China. Bespoke artwork features on the walls, with touches of living green to bring life into the dining room.

    The kitchen itself is situated right at the back of the restaurant ensuring that there is a peaceful setting for dining, with the seating separated into a more casual bistro at the front with the fine dining restaurant behind. The bistro serves a simple daily lunch offering of a couple of dishes, with sharing platters and old favourites such as vegetarian lasagne in the evenings.

    The full, immersive experience can be had in the main restaurant, and this is showcased in three tasting menus that change seasonally and depend on what fresh produce is available, most of which is sourced from small farms surrounding the city. The menus and dish titles themselves offer a snapshot into the philosophy at Joia, with a perfect example being the main sixteen-course tasting menu called ‘Zenith’, which embodies the essence of nature. Dishes are both creatively named and creatively presented, offering the diner unique ways of combining vegetables, herbs and spices. For example, the starter ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’ is a take on a classic Italian panzanella, with a vibrant mix of vegetables and different sauces flavoured with wasabi, almond, raspberry and cucumber. A riot of colours on a plate, every dish is an experience for all the senses, not just the tastebuds.

    Three things you should know
    Head chef Sauro Ricci currently takes the lead role in running the kitchen at Joia while Pietro pursues his teachings around the world, encouraging others to take up the Alta Cucina Naturale movement and embrace organic cooking.
    The kitchen team at Joia themselves not only serve, but live by their food philosophy, combining both healthy eating and regular exercise with their work at the restaurant. Under chef Sauro, there is also a focus on education, giving every team member an opportunity to develop and learn.
    There is a lunchtime menu offering of a set two-course menu, which allows diners to sample the unique dishes available at the restaurant before taking on the full vegetarian experience. Very reasonably priced (currently €12.50), this menu also includes a drink.
    18 Via Panfilo Castaldi, , Italy, Milan, 20124
    +39 022 9522124
    Restaurant reservations