In Milan, fashion has long taken precedence
over food. Despite the Italian city’s unrivalled wealth, industrial heritage
and retail power, its culinary credentials are surprisingly poor compared to
the rest of the country.
Napoli is the unrivalled home of pizza, Bologna
celebrates its meat-filled tortellini and mortadella
sausage, and Rome and Florence have the country’s best three-star Michelin
restaurants: La Pergola
and Enoteca Pinchiorri. Milan may
have its culinary staples – osso bucco
(braised veal shanks with bone marrow) and risotto
alla milanese (saffron-flavoured risotto) -- but with stiff culinary competition
elsewhere, the Milanese instead choose to celebrate Armani, Gucci and Prada.
Times and tastes, however, are changing, and
a growing number of cooks, cafes and concept stores in Milan are trying out new
ideas in the name of culinary evolution. For instance, at Agua
and Food, an innovative larder-come-luxury-boutique, cured meats and Tuscan
wines sit alongside pullovers, pashminas, belts and briefcases. On one shelf
you can indulge your palate with pots of golden honey from the Lombardy town of
Piacenza, and on the neighbouring shelves you may find expensive Italian
leather shoes. In keeping with all the best Italian enotecas (wine bistros), the ceiling is hung with a variety of dried
salamis, held together with frayed strings and wax.
This somewhat incongruous relationship
between food and fashion is central to the city’s new culinary vision, one that
plays to the city’s traditional strengths and reputation for high design. The Milanese
know what they are good at – and how to market, sell and package it – so they
have just taken their flair for haute couture and relocated it to the kitchen.
To experience this partnership at its best,
make a reservation at Ristorante,
the show-stopping restaurant at local boy Giorgio Armani’s new Armani Hotel, where the creative team
lets loose on Lombardy cuisine. Located on the seventh floor, the eatery has floor-to-ceiling
windows with incredible views towards the Duomo.
But if you fancy a splurge, opt for the chef’s table placed at the heart of the
kitchen, from where you can watch Milan’s up-and-coming chefs sauté and soufflé
while they serve your supper. It is the closest thing you can get to a chef striking
a pose on a catwalk.
Designer Roberto Cavalli could not resist
following in Armani’s footsteps, and he too has a fine dining restaurant, Just Cavalli Hollywood, located
near the lush green Parco
Sempione, the biggest park in the city centre. In typical Cavalli style, the
restaurant is a celebrity magnet during the annual Milan Fashion Weeks, and the
restaurant’s over-the-top interiors include kitsch faux zebra and leopard print
cushions, bronzed mirrors and gaudy chandeliers. Cavalli has also put his stamp
on the kitchen with twists on Italian classics. Signature dishes include fresh tagliolini pasta with white alba truffle,
and paccheri (tube-shaped
pasta) with fresh lobster, made to his own recipe. Only in Milan would a haute
couture fashion designer believe in his ability enough to transfer his talent
into the kitchen.
The designer label food trend continues
across the city. Fashion houses Bulgari,
Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana have got in on the act – check out D&G’s Gold restaurant near
Porta Venezia (one of the historical gates of the city), where wafer-thin models
order burgers topped with foie gras or beef fillet tartare with egg and edible gold
leaf jelly. At the Gucci
Cafe, under the dramatic shopping arcades of Galleria
Vittorio Emanuele II, awe-struck tourists and Milan businessmen vie for the
best terrace-side seats during lunch.
Even if you opt for a less pricey meal, the
world of fashion and designer labels is never completely out of the picture. Set
up by Carla Sozzani, a former editor of Italian Vogue and Elle, 10 Corso Como epitomises Milan’s
creative dining scene. Set in a Milanese palazzo
(a grand public building) north of the city centre, the concept is a winning
combination of a three-room hotel, art gallery, design boutique and cafe-restaurant,
and Sozzani has since replicated its success in Tokyo and Seoul. Her love of
the Far East is evident through dishes like citrus steamed seabass with steamed
snow peas and salted mullet roe spaghetti And at Michelin-starred Ristorante VUN at the Park Hyatt Milan,
the plates are designed by British sartorial guru Paul Smith. The food is also
exquisite – try the black pig’s neck served with smoked aubergine and plums.
To keep pace with these innovations, classic
Italian restaurants are having to up their game. Carlo Cracco, Milan’s only
two-star Michelin chef, may have trained in conventional techniques under
French master chef Alain Ducasse in Paris, but his signature Milanese
restaurant Cracco serves up
inventive dishes such as electric-yellow spaghetti made from egg yolks and
crème brulée burnt with seasonal Italian olive oil.
Similarly, Il Teatro,
at the Four Seasons Milan, has long been regarded as one of the city’s best restaurants
and now prides itself on its celebratory nine-course themed menu – last season
focused on lobster, this season’s special ingredient is the Italian truffle. If
that was not enough, executive chef Sergio Mei has conjured up the
out-of-this-world fairy tale Cave au Chocolat – a room dedicated to art of the
dessert. Packed full of tiramisus, sorbets and gelato cakes, it is heaven for
those with a sweet tooth; even the walls are painted with a special coating of
edible chocolate. La Dolce Vita in Milan never tasted this good.