Chef Tino has since left Gaia 2, and moved on to new projects at his start up, The Lab.
Gaia 2 is an upscale Italian restaurant located on the top floor of the bustling iAPM mall on Huai Hai Rd, Shanghai. Helmed by Chef Giuseppe Tino, the restaurant showcases Italian food done extremely artfully and in a molecular cuisine manner, while still retaining the flavours of the heritage.
Many thanks to Chef Tino for the kind invitation.
I first encountered Chef Tino’s at the Chefs In the City event earlier this year. The dish that stood out from the entire event was Chef Tino’s ‘ Walking at Low Tide ‘. The immaculate presentation and concentration of flavours in that dish really brought me back to the beach. Since then, I had been yearning to try what he had to offer at Gaia 2.
Gaia 2 is located on the top floor of iAPM, and has a private elevator that leads to a 2F, which is brings you to their bar area and the highest terrace on iAPM. The restaurant shows off it’s kitchen by the entrance with glass walls. Passerbys can see how clean and organised the kitchen is. The interior is tastefully done, with beautiful artwork and furniture. The lighting is neither dim nor too bright, just nice. This is the type of place you would bring your wife to for an anniversary, impress a business client, or make your wedding proposal. 8.5/10
As per all invited tastings, I give an unbiased score of 7.5. That said, it was interesting to note in person, and also in other reviews that Chef Tino often comes out to serve/explain his dishes to customers. While explaining, I found that he enjoyed going into detail of how every element was cooked, a mark of true passion. This is someone who doesn’t mind sharing how things are done, but rather want you to know, so that you can appreciate every element in it’s glory. 7.5/10
House bread. Standard fare, foccacia, sticks and rolls and a mini baguette. Chef Tino made it known that the bread in Gaia 2 were freshly made using his signature apple yeast. That is all-natural yeast that is created from fermenting apples. The result was a unique taste and texture in the bread. Don’t expect apple flavouring though. For me, it was fresh and good bread, but nothing outstanding like Mauro Colagreco’s signature bread. 8/10
This was a more refined version of the classic. Featuring a sous vide chicken breast roll, crisp bacon and some Italian caper berries from Pantalera. Chef Tino mentioned that every leaf of the romaine lettuce was brushed with the dressing, before assembly. He purposely assembled the caesar to be plated for a initial visual impact, before the server mixes the salad up by the table.
The result was a very well rounded caesar salad, with equal amounts of dressing in every bite. The chicken was soft and tender, and the caper berries gave a bright accent to each bite that contained them. Pine nuts, bacon and croutons each gave a different type of crunchiness together with the crisp romaine lettuce. This was a very good adaptation and execution of the classic caesar salad. 9/10
Australian Beef Tartar with Filo pastry and Parmesan Mousse
This was another adaptation of a classical dish. For the beef tartar, Australian beef was seasoned and mixed with beets. The two came together very nicely, with the beets imparting a sweet flavour to the beef. Dried egg yolk flakes were scattered on top, and gave the lean, raw beef a bit of richness. A cannoli filled with Parmesan mousse was paired with the tartar, which I thought was a little bit weird, because the two elements did not go very well together, in terms of flavour and also method of eating. I would have preferred something that might help in eating the beef tartar, like some fancy glorified toast, or something. 🙂 Overall, this was an interesting and bold adaptation, but I felt the combination could be further improved. It was worth noting that portions were quite ample, and would feed 3 persons very well, as a starter. 8/10
An italian classic, always on every table at any decent Italian restaurant. Naturally, also at Gaia 2.
The center-piece of this Caprese was a rubber looking balloon. I was told later, that this was actually, a balloon made from melted buffalo mozzarella, and not that
condom balloon that it looked like. A small variety of fresh and flavourful tomatoes were used, buratta was fresh and juicy. Instead of drizzling with olive oil, olive oil sorbet was sprinkled all over. Very interesting. Taste-wise, it tasted like any other Caprese. It’s worth noting that in many other interpretations, the tomatoes are almost always sliced and layered with mozzarella slices. The version at Gaia2 were in chunks, which made it more troublesome to eat/split. 7/10
Foie Gras Maki
A ‘maki’ is the name for japanese sushi rolls. This dish was called that because it resembled one. That said, it is far more complex than its name. 2 pieces of foie gras are cooked for 50mins at 58 degrees, and are then used to sandwich a small piece of chocolate in the center. They then go through an elaborate process to be rolled with a cherry gelatin. Chilled, and then sliced, before plating with some macadamia and pistachio crumble and marinated cherries.
Foie gras and cherry is a timeless classic pairing, this dish sticks very close to that heritage and together with the molecular techniques, achieve the fusion of flavours perfectly. 9/10
A classical ravioli with beef, served in a modern manner with a 3 step process. Chef Tino told me that traditionally, ravioli is not eaten with any sauce, but simply as it is. Kind of like how the Northern Chinese eat their Shui Jiao (Dumplings).
Fast-forward to 2015 at Gaia2, his interpretation of the Ravioli is to be eaten by picking up the ravioli, dipping it into the beef sauce, and then dipped into the grated parmesan to get an even and rich coating. The ravioli was well cooked and al dente. The beef reduction was concentrated and super flavourful. When eaten with the parmesan coating, it was an explosion of richness in the mouth.
That said, compared to the other starters we had, this was the one with the smallest portion. I wish we had more. The raviolis were also quite loosely filled, as you can see above. 8/10
Squid ink twisted pasta
Next up was the pasta course. A pasta is often served as a starter before the main course in an Italian restaurant. This was quite spicy, but the pasta was nice an al dente. There were some morsels of squid rings and shrimp, but there wasn’t a big seafood flavour in the sauce nor the pasta. This was the only ‘mama-style’ dish of the evening, and I found it quite underwhelming. 6.5/10
The final dish we got to try was a salmon that was sous vide at 60degrees for 62 minutes, before being pan-seared to get a thin crispy skin. It was paired with a cauliflower mash which acted as a sauce.
The salmon was flavourful and broke apart easily. The interesting thing was that due to the cooking technique, this salmon was 100% cooked, but yet remained juicy and tender as if it was raw. It is also easy to dry up the salmon during the final searing process if not careful. The cauliflower puree tasted abit ‘raw’, but luckily, paired with the richness of the salmon very well. It was however, a very small piece of salmon to be shared with 4 persons. All that said, it still deserved a 9/10 based on taste and presentation alone.
Really interesting and beautiful-looking gastronomical Italian fare at Gaia 2. I’m not 100% sure if I prefer italian food and flavours done this way, because most of us are more used to hearty and rustic italian food, or as they say, ‘Mama-style’ italian food. That said, Chef Tino does a fantastic job in combining molecular cooking techniques with his Italian roots. The prices at Gaia2 are not cheap for the average diner, but cheap for a high-end place. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have the budget for a fancy dinner with a lot of elements and flavours to explore.