When we asked acclaimed Indian-Italian journalist Cristina Kiran Piotti what makes her home Milan different from the tourist-riddled, steeped-in-history, Instagram perfect towns of Italy, the answer was quite simple. “My friend Jackie DeGiorgio, a well-known American food blogger based in Italy, once told me that what distinguishes Milan from, say, Rome or Florence is that it is not quintessentially Italian. I believe it is an excellent definition. It's definitely a discrete, hidden city, probably because it's less touristy, even though Milan can be very dynamic, from Fashion Weeks to Design Week. If you want to fully embrace it, you have to thoroughly explore it, from its hidden courtyard to its new neighbourhoods.”
Cristina Kiran Piotti captured by Alberto Bernasconi
Piotti, a Milan native juggles time between her hometown and India. The journalist and author continues to find charm in the financial capital of the country despite the many challenges of living in a city as urbane as Milan can be. Between canals, design districts, shopping haunts is city with an underrated food scape. “The Expo 2015 created a lot of buzz in the city's culinary scene, and I think Milan is still riding that wave. From then on, the food scene continued to evolve, with new restaurant styles - a kind of cosmopolitan factor that is common in London, Paris, and New York, but was not possible to experience in Italy before Expo. At least not in this scale. As a result, an incredible number of great chefs are now opening new spaces, many of whom are Italians who have been abroad and are now returning to Italy, bringing with them new exciting influences,” shares Piotti.
Ahead we look at her favourite hangs in the city, and the hidden culinary delights Milan has to offer.
Radetzky Cafe is a small and crowded place that is both ancient and modern, traditional and trendy. It is open from breakfast until midnight yet is at its best in the evening–it is the Milanese meeting place par excellence, owing to its central location between Brera and Corso Como.
Radetzky Café, Garibaldi 105, 20121 Milano
Not far away is a gem, a place that runs entirely on a binary formula–Dry Milano serves gourmet cocktails and pizza (and focaccia: try the veal and tuna sauce). Celebrity chef Andrea Berton is at the helm, and some of the cocktails are iconic - my personal favourite is the Dry Martini 2.0, an updated version of the Martini.
Dry Milano, Via Solferino 33, 20121 Milano
Rita & Cocktails has been a point of reference for those who love to drink well in Milan since 2002, with its large semi-circular wooden counter and relaxed atmosphere just a stone's throw from the lively and frenetic nightlife of the Navigli - the city's old navigable canals. The cocktail menu was recently updated, but some classics remain, such as the Priscilla, which is made with Tequila, Cynar, Campari, wild fennel, and tangerine soda.
Rita & Cocktails, Via Angelo Fumagalli 1, 20143 Milano
Outside is a fairytale, and inside is straight forward–Ratanà is housed in a magnificent fin-de-siecle villa in the heart of the now very sophisticated Isola-Porta Garibaldi neighbourhood. The menu features traditional Italian cuisine, particularly from the north, with an unmistakable modern twist. If you go, however, order the saffron-infused Milanese risotto with ossobuco (bone marrow, gremolata, and roast sauce). And don't forget to order the meatballs mondeghili, a traditional Milanese appetiser. You’ll thank me later.
Ratanà, Via Gaetano de Castillia 28, 20124 Milano
Manna has two type of visitors. You've seen the chef on a popular television show, or you're a true connoisseur of Milan's culinary scene and its excesses. Matteo Fronduti, chef and owner of Manna, became well-known in the city after winning the first season of the tv show Top Chef Italia. But foodies know the restaurant since its opening, now 15 years ago, because it has been able (and still is) to approach fine dining in a pop and experimental way – with plate like ‘What bravery’- horseradish, marsala, and white chocolate with veal liver. ‘Soffritto,, a braised carrot, onion, and celery fondue, and ‘Con la testa e con i piedi,’roasted squid, chickpeas, and bottarga, were two of my favourites from my recent visit.
Manna, Governo Provvisorio 6, Milano
Viviana Varese, Niko Romito, Carlo Cracco, Claudio Sadler… It's difficult to choose among the city's many talented starred chefs. If I have to, my favourite is Joia, by chef Pietro Leemann, who often welcomes you into his delicious culinary temple with his polite, almost shy manner. He is well-known throughout the world for being the first to introduce the concept of natural, vegetarian cuisine to the world of Italian fine dining. Mystic, healthy, vegan? Sure, but don't expect a dull meditative dinner. Everything is a truly enjoyable experience. You roll, you squeeze, and you literally interact with your food in the plate. During my most recent visit, I ordered an homage to Gualtiero Marchesi, the great father of Italian fine cuisine, and his ‘Open raviolo,’ which Leman stuffs with baby pak choi, pepper, mushroom mousse, and white butter scented with ginger.
Joia, Via Panfilo Castaldi 18, 20124 Milano
Trendiest Place To Be Seen At
The Beefbar Quadrilatero restaurant, which just opened a few weeks ago, has quickly established itself as a new place to be at. It is also housed within the new Portrait Milano hotel, which was the most talked-about opening of the beginning of the year thanks to the Ten_Eleven restaurant. Green rounded-shape sofas, black marble tables, and a large golden counter create an atmosphere halfway between New York and Milan in the 1940s. What should you try? The Croque sandwich with beef ham and Beefbar sauce with butter and truffles is the signature dish on the menu, but I also love the homemade Wagyu beef and veal ragu pappardelle with 101-month Parmesan.
Beefbar, Corso Venezia 11, 20121 Milano
A Classic Panino
I must confess that I am not a big fan of panini (which is the plural of panino). But, if I must, the obligatory choice remains Panino Giusto, a classic Milanese born in 1979 (it now has dozens of restaurants around the city) and also exported abroad. Despite their fame, the sandwiches are still made with high-quality ingredients: the great classic is the Diplomatico, which is made with Prague cooked gammon, Edam cheese and Emilia Romagna pink sauce – still my fav. Tartufo, with Parma ham, buffalo cheese, rocket salad and truffle oil, is my refined second option.
Panino Giusto – they have now many different locations, mine is usually: via Malpighi 3
When a spot becomes iconic in Milan, it takes the form of a street sign. "Where did you move?" You can certainly avoid giving the address if you respond, "Two minutes' walk from Bar Basso," everyone understands. But, while Bar Basso has been on the crest of a wave since the 1970s, when it invented the Negroni Sbagliato cocktail, I believe Ceresio7 is an excellent rival today, not only for its great cocktails and the two swimming pools that make the terrace spectacular, but also because in the evening you are immersed in the light of the sunset that cuts through the new city's skyscrapers and the magnificent Monumental Cemetery.
Bar Basso, Via Plinio 39, 20133 Milano
Ceresio7, Via Ceresio, 7, 20154 Milano