For a restaurant with such big windows, there’s not much of a view at Missa. The mezzanine looks out over The Village North complex, dominated by the stylised, illuminated eagle of the nearby Armani store. That doesn’t mean the cuisine is something that only fashionistas and entitled brats can afford – far from it. Missa brings to the Beijing table an unpretentious take on fine dining, with service and cuisine that wouldn’t be out of place in a restaurant nearly double its price range.
But Missa picked its spot strangely. Most will get to its doors by passing Modo, Migas and other eateries at Nali Patio – all lively options with plenty of atmosphere and comparably delicious, innovative offerings. Missa’s two levels are also awkwardly set up, with an open kitchen that’s hidden away from the tables down a corridor, a restroom uncomfortably placed in the middle of the dining area and very little natural light to suit the restaurant’s daytime brunch or lunch menus. The focused spotlights on the tables and exposed-brick walls add a smidgeon of industrial-chic cool, but it doesn’t fit comfortably with the surrounding area. The décor would work wonderfully in one of the city’s endless disused hutongs or abandoned factories, but when you’re serving up fancy-pants continental cuisine to fashionably dressed-down clientele in The Village North, it all just looks rushed and half-finished.
Thankfully, just about everything else seems to be right on time. Great service ensures that the glasses of lemon-tinged water are never empty, and when we ordered only one bowl of delightfully creamy, warming pumpkin soup (38RMB), the waitress brought a shot glass of the broth so a dining partner could sample it. The small entrées work better as starters, with the flaky pastry in the vegetable tart (78RMB) supporting soft, marinated vegetables, goats’ cheese and olives that fight for dominance in the mouth rather than working together. The ring of beef carpaccio slices (78RMB) reflects the chef’s torrid love affair with quirky sauces. Blobs of cinnamon aioli or funky chutney are everywhere, and the mint chutney smothers the meat it’s drizzled on so badly you’ll want to scrape it right off. That said, the creamy garlic and goats’ cheese gratin is subtle enough that it works wonderfully scooped right out of its little bowl. Larger parties can partake in various excellent sampler platters: large boards topped off with various portions of cold cuts and cheeses (178RMB) or burger sliders and chicken skewers (98RMB).
Signature dishes mostly involve cuts of meat of a quality to duke it out with most steakhouses. Whoever’s sourcing the animal flesh is doing a great job here. The pork chops (228RMB) are from the US, justifying the high price, and the kitchen is confident enough to leave the slabs of meat minimally seasoned – save the dabs of sauce, which are much more reasonably proportioned than with the carpaccio. A star dish is the well-balanced rack of tender lamb (258RMB), which is cut into finger-long strips and daubed with drops of mint chutney and a garlic confit. All of the meats come with one small side; we recommend the small bowl of mashed potatoes (18RMB), which is topped off with (again) a garlic aioli. It’s spectacular, though health nuts will recoil from the 500 gallons of butter in the bowl. Most offerings from the sea are also top-notch, again showing off excellent sourcing skills: a main of crisp-skinned, flaky fleshed sea bass (158RMB) could have come straight from a fishing village. However, the risotto inspired mixed reactions; while the mildly bitter pomelo pieces stirred in with seafood were a pleasingly balanced combination, the consistency of the rice was too loose to make it a truly tasty combination.
Finishing up, a rather reasonably priced dessert sampler (98RMB) gives up a bounty of gooey chocolate cake, a passable crème brulee, churros with chocolate sauce, scoops of just-sweet-enough blackcurrant sorbet, and a couple hunks of marshmallow-packed rocky road. Missa’s isolated location does allot one benefit: no one needs to venture through the ghost town of The Village North for a post-meal drink. The upstairs conjoined-twin lounge, Manifesto, provides a solution without facing the elements. These digs are far more casual, with a more contemporary soundtrack and a lengthy drink list that plays around with classics. Expect to wait around ten minutes for an old fashioned (RMB80), as the barman carefully melts sugar crystals into a good pour of top-shelf Woodford Reserve bourbon, or enjoy a gold-standard amaretto sour (65RMB). Missa doesn’t deserve the label ‘hidden gem’, in the same way that a real hole-in-the-wall eatery would, but the setting is undeservedly concealed in a way that makes you question the thinking behind its location. But who knows – it could create its own foot traffic.