While Azure was in Milan for the Salone del Mobile, we happened upon this delightful restaurant and cold-pressed juicery in the San Gregorio DOCET district. With its minimal palette in raw iron and wood, friendly graphics and shelf-and-peg wall system kitted out with canisters – full of kale chips, macademia nuts, pumpkin seeds and more – Mantra is the city’s, and the country’s, first restaurant entirely dedicated to raw vegan cuisine.
The restaurant was opened in the spring by chef Alberto Minio Paluello, who has been a vegan for 14 years. In what may seem a reversal of the typical trajectory, he left Italy for the United States, where raw and vegan cuisine is more established. After his studies at Matthew Kenney Academy in Santa Monica, he worked for two vegan spots in the U.S.: Make in Santa Monica and Rasa Juice Bar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When the time was right, he returned to Italy to start his own raw vegan restaurant, and bring something entirely new to the country while he was at it. Although vegan options, like gluten-free foods, are now available on many restaurant menus, Mantra is the first restaurant dedicated to the raw vegan diet.
To create the interior and brand identity, Paluello brought on Supercake. The Milan design studio started with the idea of the seed – the verbal seeds of a mantra (such as om and aim) and the actual seeds of a plant – and based its minimal design on this elemental life form. The palette derives its earthiness from seeds, and the typography was kept simple – in Helvetica Neue – as were the messages created with it.
In the restaurant, Supercake devised four “distinct but interrelated” areas. In the shopfront’s raw vegan market, customers can fill up on seeds, raw nuts and dried fruit at wall-mounted canisters, and browse recipe books. In the bar and show-cooking area, the chef prepares smoothies and raw vegan foods, and in the kitchen – or raw lab – more elaborate food prep takes place, including the making of cold-pressed juices. (The writing on the restaurant’s street-facing window explains that, even in the kitchen, there’s nothing cooking.) The narrow service counter leads to the dining room, outfitted with pendant lamps suspended at different lengths and sporting various aluminum shades, and modular tables that allow for staff to change up the layout.
At a time when Milan is hosting the Expo around the theme of food and food security, this restaurant shows how design and food can come together in a satisfying environment.