Delicacies to be savoured at home
Maria Giulia Zunino
The three Milan-based siblings Claudio, Giulia and Marco Liu, who were born in China but moved with their family to Italy, first to Correggio (RE) and later to Milan, represent the excellence of oriental catering. They each run flagship restaurants: Giulia manages the Gong, where the Chinese tradition is enhanced by new ingredients, Marco runs BA Asian Mood which blends Chinese and Italian culture, and Claudio is the proprietor of IYO («floating world»), the first Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in Italy.
With AJI, Claudio is now extending the IYO philosophy to the world of takeaway and food delivery, combining high-quality ingredients and rigorous food preparation with attention to sustainability and the environment, and meticulous presentation and packaging.
Walking past the street corner between Via Piero della Francesca and Via Agudio, one can admire a large, luxurious and superbly-equipped kitchen where impeccably liveried chefs work with the utmost professionalism. But it is not the scene of a reality show or an episode of Masterchef, simply the windows looking into AJI. «The heart of a takeaway is the kitchen. I wanted it to be in full view, so I took care of all the details — including aesthetics. Customers find it reassuring to watch the food being prepared. Moreover, this is a luxury product so I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it,» says architect, designer and set designer Maurizio Lai, a native of the Veneto region who studied in Milan and opened his professional practice here in 1998.
The rest of the takeaway is small but exquisitely designed in keeping with Lai’s signature style. «My approach involves working on lines rather than on shapes: lines that form squares and are repeated to infinity. I want to expand space and look beyond,» he adds. «By nature, I work on and fill all the surfaces in a space. I adopt a total approach.»
In addition to the kitchen and the essential technical spaces, AJI has two other rooms: the first for taking orders, the second housing an in-demand glossy black table for ten. In these two elegant, intercommunicating box-like spaces, the satin grey floors and walls display the marble tones of the Timeless Amani Grey tile collection from the Florim brand Cerim. The variations in width and height of the tiles create a pattern that is enhanced by the thin dark metal strips, the joints between the slabs forming an unpredictable tactile embroidery.
But the real highlight is the luminous ceiling grid which also multiplies in depth, expanding space in all directions to create an astonishing effect. «In my projects, form arises from the obsessive addition of lines that follow each other, overlap and intersect to generate a dynamic shape that is not defined in a permanent and unique way,» continues Maurizio Lai.
A study of reflections and the freedom to use different materials further contributes to the sensation of multiplying grids, which take the form of a three-dimensional structure suspended over the panoramic service hatch between the entrance room and the kitchen, and a full-height wall formed from the voids of the reflecting volumes and the solids of the backlit metallic meshes in the adjacent space.
The white Calacatta marble counter with its illuminated base channel, the metal console, the ceilings from which small cylindrical lights are suspended, the colour and sophistication of the velvet (chosen in the colour yellow for the stools and the armchair in the waiting area, orange for the high-back stools and taupe for the full-height curtains in the room with the long table) do the rest.