Mario Loi, chef owner of MIKA Abu Dhabi, believes that simplicity isn’t easily achieved but. In this exclusive interview, he tells us more about MIKA’s new opening and everything related to the guest experience.
How did it feel to open MIKA, your restaurant in Yas Marina?
Undoubtedly, opening MIKA was a major milestone. Most chefs dream of having their own place, and this became a reality for me last year. I made a conscious decision to act. However, launching a restaurant is undeniably challenging. There are numerous moving parts and detailed decisions to make, ranging from menu design to staff culture. Furthermore, it serves as an extension of your personality, and projecting the right image becomes crucial.
Despite all these stresses, we decided to open a few days before the Abu Dhabi F1. Let’s just say it was a baptism of fire. Nonetheless, the team pulled through, and MIKA made a remarkable first impression. Restaurateurs from New York and London visited the place, and the praise we received was deeply gratifying.
What can you tell us about the restaurant itself?
At MIKA, we focus on small plates and sharing platters, thus fostering communal dining. People enjoy quality food at a reasonable price, complemented by a great playlist, décor and staff. Furthermore, our approach is simple: cooking dishes we enjoy, fostering a creative kitchen brigade. The difference can be found in the daily changing menu, which utilizes a robust network of suppliers. Notably, I build the menu around produce that’s available and fresh. Additionally, our zero-waste policy ensures nothing is discarded.
What is the importance of guest interaction and how does this impact the overall dining experience?
Personally, I’ve experienced average meals with excellent service at some restaurants, yet I have returned. I believe that a restaurant is driven by people, fostering relationships and genuine hospitality, akin to hosting a good friend at home. Furthermore, at MIKA, our open kitchen and counter dining foster transparency. Guests witness the entire cooking process, and we encourage interaction, questions and curiosity.
Why did you opt for a seasonal menu and what is the allure of such an offering in a restaurant?
In my view, making use of produce at its peak, specifically when it is in season, is the best strategy. Beyond that, this approach compels chefs to be creative, keeping them on their toes with ongoing exploration of novel recipes and ingredients. Furthermore, a stagnant menu repeated annually can lead to monotony, guests losing interest and the business becomes unsustainable. While unquestionably challenging and far from comfortable, embracing constant change and adaptation proves highly rewarding. So, while the dynamic nature of this approach may present obstacles, the payoff in terms of innovation and sustained guest appeal is unquestionably worthwhile.
What are your future plans?
I haven’t given much consideration to the distant future. Currently, my primary focus is on cultivating MIKA’S reputation for delivering exceptional food at affordable prices. Furthermore, my passion lies deeply in the realms of food and hospitality. So, rather than meticulously planning every step, I choose to embrace the journey. Keeping an open mind allows me to adapt to unforeseen opportunities and challenges, fostering a dynamic and flexible approach to the ever-evolving culinary landscape.