Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Milan has its fair share of visitors, but it’s seldom chosen over Rome, Florence, or Venice for example. However if you find yourself there either for work (most likely) or en route to slopes or lakes, there are quite a few foodie highlights to occupy you.

I actually rather like the place. Maybe because it’s not a dainty ville museé but a thriving, industrious city far too busy getting things done to navel gaze in scenic piazzas. It’s tolerated as a necessary evil by most Italians, I’m guessing as its economic success has kept Rome beautiful.

But among the unlovely office blocks lie preserved tramlines and a network of bar-lined canals, and the shopping is worth the hype, especially in the spheres of design and smaller indie fashion labels.

On the subject of food, as this is Italy every region, town and village has their specialties. It’s one of my favourite things about the country. I think the grandeur of its secondary cities would not exist if they all hadn’t once been capitals in their own right. Compare to France’s rather uninspiring regional centres… although to be fair France’s cuisine is just as federalised even if its smaller cities are dull.

Milan has a few famous food and drink contributions, such as Campari, risotto milanese and vitello milanese. We had a great saffron risotto at the Maio restaurant up in La Rinascente department store. Now that sounds pretty tacky, but it’s actually a decent place with great views of the Duomo and plenty of locals lunching. Gawping at glamorous shoppers and dapper businessmen in sharp suits is a great pastime here. This risotto came without osso buco, but many do.

Osteria Delbinari is a family-run place across the tracks at Porta Genova, with a fantastic dining room and a less exciting garden. However, their veal cutlet is the real deal. Perfectly crumbed and griddled, it's juicy and absolutely massive. You only need a little salad on the side, but their herby parmentier potatoes were outstanding too.

Petit is a more contemporary resto for those who fancy something a little slicker and less traditional. Italian restaurants seem to be perfectly preserved in Milan, whereas the most modern places are sushi joints, so this is quite a find. It’s supposedly with a US twist, but the menu is completely to Italian tastes. The décor is more American-inspired I guess – it could be New York with the pitch darkness mitigated by tea lights (romantic, sweet and yet annoying when trying to read a menu) and with distressed white wood furniture.

Two different selections of antipasto were fantastic. The manual-rolled ham slicer was right behind me so I can vouch for the freshness, and that the smell was quite distracting (in a favourable way) during dinner. The buffalo mozzarella had extraordinary flavour too; richness with hints of both sour and sweet, and far superior to what is mostly found in the UK.

For the main, we shared the beef tagliata for two. This was a bit of a let-down – I would recommend the bistecca alla fiorentina instead. We had slices of fillet steak resting on a bed of salad and charred vegetables, but frankly there wasn’t enough of it. We saw Jedward in there (yes they’re bell-ends in real life), so ‘their people’ obviously think it’s a hot place. But don’t let that put you off, it’s cosy, friendly and wasn’t hard to get a table.

Finally, Milan’s other foodie contribution to Italy and the world: aperitivo. This is the period between roughly 6 and 9pm (including weekends) where many bars up their prices to about €8-10 for any drink, but assemble a buffet for you to lay siege to. Some bars compete to provide the best spreads, but many don’t go far beyond crudités. If you’re near Duomo, Bar Straf at the eponymous hotel is a decent bet.

However, my tip would be if you’re flying back from Malpensa in the evening, to arrive early at Cadorna station, buy your ticket and head to Noon. The cocktails are strong and the buffet is huge, so get your negroni sbagliato in and have a cheap dinner before your flight back.

A fantastic tradition (which is small but burgeoning in London), it explains why Italians don’t get drunk so easily, in contrast with a glimpse of Soho or the City on a Friday after work. You can almost pretend to be all continental and virtuous as you roll out and stagger to the airport train after scoffing three negronis and half a cheese wheel in one hour…almost.


  1. Comparing Rome to Milan is like comparing London to…Brussels. Your review fails to take into consideration how vastly regionally dispersed the Italian culture is. A country only united in 1861, after centuries of existence as small independent states, has lead to a patchwork of culture, cuisine and customs.
    It might be worth a mention that the vitello Milanese (better known as cotoletta milanese) has its origin in Austrian cuisine and in fact stems from the Austrian dominance of the Lombardy and NE part of Italy from the 16th century.
    Visiting Milan and eating at the La Rinascente is like going to London and aiming for a dinner at Westfield…Glad you enjoyed nevertheless.
    The statement that the aperitivo originates in Milan is highly incorrect (aperitivo e’ tradizione sabauda) hence it comes from Turin, not Milan, the home of Martini e Rossi. It might have been worth exploring the tradition of the apertivo as a social custom which has to do with the Italian way of enjoying food, drink, good company and therefore life indeed, rather than in where to get the best deal and a “cheap dinner” before the presumably low cost flight back to Blighty. The aperitivo is traditionally open to interpretation and the offering is at the discretion of each bar. It can span from a nibble based aperitivo to what in Italy one would call Aperi-cena, which I will let you figure out. There is no rule which constitutes what an aperitivo must have on offer.
    Lastly, Italians do get drunk, as much as any other European nationals would do. It has to do with the manner you consume drinks and the quantities. Most Italians do tend to favour quality over quantity.

  2. Thanks for your comment. This is a casual post about a few days in Milan, hardly with a mandate to tell the history of Italy and its food.

    But as you've made the effort to pick holes, and with such charm too, I'll take a moment to point out some of yours:

    I acknowledged Italy being very diverse and decentralised in general and in food with my comment about the secondary cities as capitals. But it is still one country and you can't hang on to that forever. London - Edinburgh perhaps.

    Also, as far as I can tell, aperitivo drinks hail from Turin (Martini yes, but Cinzano about 100 years beforehand, actually) but today's craze is a quintessential Milanese ritual.

    I wouldn't say the Piazza del Duomo was quite Stratford or Shepherds Bush, that's a tad dramatic. Perhaps the Tate cafe, Oxo resto or eating at Selfridges or Harvey Nicks - all fairly acceptable for a visitor, no?

    Also I think you contradict yourself: if Italians do get as drunk as other nations (I think a large consensus would disagree with you here) - why then mention quality over quantity? Few can afford both.

    And finally, what's wrong with a cheap eat? Nobody in Milan disagrees! Aperitivo starts too early for dinner, and would you grab an airport McDonalds? In regards to low cost, I was on BA from MXP, not Alitalia, but their food is still horrible.

    Very constructive all the same. I bet you're lovely.

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