Cuisine | MOSTO + MODO

It used to be that you could get steak sandwiches and hamburgers from a few places around town and at a stretch you could find a reasonable Caesar salad and half decent glass of Sauvignon Blanc at one of the five star hotels – thankfully these days are long gone. Part of Beijing’s urban expansion and regeneration has been the import of all things western ranging in size from Jimmy Choo shoes to Norman Foster’s Capital Airport, and everything in between. The number of expatriates living in Beijing has increased in recent years, as has the disposable income of a growing cross section of local Beijing residents and as a result we have seen the arrival of a small number of quality western restaurants catering to a sophisticated market with food and wine of a caliber that wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan or Melbourne.

MOSTO and MODO are two of the better establishments now serving contemporary western cuisine. Established in 2008 and 2010 respectively, by Alex Molina and Daniel Urdaneta, these restaurants are now widely acknowledged as two of Beijing’s best. They first collaborated in 2002 while working with Edgar Leall in his restaurant Cacao, in Miami. CACAO was voted one of the best restaurants in the United States by Zagat magazine and received critical acclaim in the New York Times, Time Magazine and the Wine Spectator.

Urdaneta recalls: “Edgar was all about peak performance in the kitchen and front of house – he had a real appreciation of the value customers draw from culinary precision and attention to detail. Working with Edgar Leal was the best experience of my career, simply excellent.”

The duo first introduced themselves to Beijing via the Garden Of Delights restaurant (GOD) in 2006, however the ‘second coming’ of the partnership really commenced in 2008 when MOSTO first opened its doors. Located on level three of Nali Patio, MOSTO was designed by Beijing based KUPA STUDIO. With a semi-industrial aesthetic and slightly rustic edge, the interior of MOSTO is warm and inviting in the evening hours and fresh and crisp during the day.

For Urdaneta, opening his own restaurant had been a long time dream. The subsequent reality that is MOSTO, is based on a traditional model – To Start, To Follow and To Finish and on all three levels the experience is spectacular. The last visit I made to MOSTO was a few weeks back for a friend’s birthday lunch and as always, the food was superb and when combined with the great service that has become a hallmark of the Molina and Urdaneta experience, it made for a truly memorable afternoon.

The current MOSTO menu contains starters like the Grain-Fed Beef Tataki with Smoky Punzu Sauce, Avocado Tartar & Sweet Potato Chips and Yellow Potato Foam with Chorizo Mousse & Paprika Oil and you can follow this with Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth. Voted the city’s best steak is the Wagyu Rib Eye and the succulent Argentinean dish Matambre is a stuffed flank steak. If you have a sweet tooth, then don’t leave without tasting the Chocolate Soufflé.

For those of you that prefer an evening adventure at the bar, Molina makes one of the best espresso martinis in Asia. To date MOSTO has received over 20 awards starting with the best new restaurant of the year in 2008 – the year it opened, followed by awards for its Business Lunch, Romantic Atmosphere, Wine List, Service, Value and Outstanding Chef.   

Building on the success of MOSTO, MODO was established in 2010, in the Sanlitun South Village. The opportunity to commence the new venture came about when looking for a location for Molina’s partner, Eva Biörck’s lifestyle accessories store, Chang & Biörck – also located in the Sanlitun South Village. The double height space on level three that now contains MODO was available and the idea to develop a second restaurant gathered momentum. In contrast to MOSTO, the concept behind the MODO menu is a simple small plate format where diners can share – it’s a great strategy that creates a more intimate dining experience. The restaurant is more casual than MOSTO, catering to a slightly younger clientele and where MOSTO took some time to develop a Chinese following, already MODO counts 30% of its customers as local Chinese.

Currently the MODO menu offers some unique combinations like the Goats Cheese & Feta Tortelli with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Organic Butternut Squash Foam and Thyme Oil, a giant Wagyu Beef Meatball with Heirloom Tomato Sauce and a Crispy Pork Belly with Roasted Red Apples. One of the all-time favorites is the Australian Grain-fed Beef Tournedos with Roasted Pumpkin, Rochefort Butter & Wine Reduction.

The interior is again by KUPA STUDIO and in this stellar exercise of ‘cool chic’ interior design they have produced a compelling space that feels much larger than it actually is. The double height south wall has a bold ‘super graphic’ pattern that accentuates the volume and visually extends the narrow space. The mezzanine level is a larger group seating area and contains the Enomatic wine dispenser. I’ve had a few regular Friday evening visits to MODO over the last few months and there is a level of sophistication that is rarely found in Beijing. Following the lead of MOSTO, MODO has received 3 awards in its first year of operation including Best New Restaurant of The Year and Best Wine Experience in Beijing.

Key to the success of the two restaurants is an understanding of the market they are operating in and what people are looking for. Molina and Urdaneta continue to identify opportunities in the market which has more recently become highly competitive and as a result they are constantly adapting their promotional strategies and the content of their offerings. The expatriate customer base turns over every few years as people complete temporary postings and assignments and as a result, word of mouth recommendations passed on both locally and overseas become important. With their local Chinese customer base, there is a loyalty that is building – following a good experience the Chinese diner tends to return on a regular basis.

Molina reports: “The culture of the Village shows us that people are open to new restaurant concepts and are excited by the opportunity to extend their appreciation for western food and wine. The Chinese knowledge of wine is increasing and people are looking for new, interesting and good value wines instead of just famous labels”.

So whether you are looking for a destination for a business lunch, a romantic dinner or just a casual drink, MOSTO and MODO are THE places to visit here in The New Beijing.

MOSTO  12.00pm to 3.00pm and 6.00pm to 10.30pm. Reservations +86 10 5208 6030.

Level 3, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Bei Lu Chaoyang, District, Beijing.

MODO  11.00am to 11.00pm. Reservations +86 10 6415 7207.

Level 3, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Bei Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing,

For more detail on the Sanlitun precinct see: http://patricksloan.net/2011/03/the-new-beijing-2/.

For more detail on Chang & Biörck see: http://www.changbiorck.com/ 

Images Jonathan Leijonhuvfud:  http://www.jlap.com/

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