28 November 2018

24 toddler-free hours in Milan

By In Travels and other stories

Me, Milano and a whole lot of tartuffi!

I love my child. This is an indisputable fact. However, after travelling from Melbourne to Milan to spend time with his lovely Nonna, and then spending two weeks all together as his personal entourage and bowing to his every 2-year-old whim, I was ready for some alone time. I was also desperate to once again experience this dynamic city at night.

Fortunately for me, my wish was granted and Nonna took over toddler duty for 24 hours. A hotel was promptly booked (for the wrong night, but all was rectified when the hotel people realised they were dealing with parents on the edge), an overnight bag packed and out the door we went.

By the time we arrived at the hotel we were pretty shabby; shoes wet from giant rain puddles, hair frizzy from the humidity and our umbrella looking every bit the €5 purchase it was. The hotel, being a little swish (we splurged and booked the Hotel Manin, near the sprawling Giardini Publici Indro Montanelli and upmarket Brera district), had some rather fancy people out front. Despite our appearances we were not deterred. In we went and thankfully were greeted by the warm hotel staff, who must have felt sorry for us and upgraded our stay with a free breakfast.

After showering, playing music as loudly as we wanted and finding all the free goodies, we were almost as good as new. I spent the longest time I had in a few years applying make-up, just for the pure pleasure of it, and gave considerable thought as to where I should part my hair before drying it into oblivion. All thoroughly indulgent activities. Before leaving, we thought we should probably book somewhere for dinner. Although there are endless options for dinner in Milan and you can get something to eat at almost any time, dining out is a serious business and I have often found there to be an air of officiality when organising such things. The restaurant we decided on was one such restaurant, although completely warranted.

Tartufi and Friends was the perfect dining spot to continue the night of indulgence and also provided me with my first truffle experience. We were seated in a corner leather booth and attended to with the utmost care. A black and white truffle were each presented to us, from which to base our degustation choice on. The white truffle smelt out of this world, but we restrained ourselves from being overly excessive and went with the black truffle menu. Each dish was brought out by a waiter who would softly whisper the contents of each dish, with the truffle waiter right behind to shave the holy goodness onto each of our dishes. As they say here … dio mio. The pungent and earthy shavings made each dish soar; a winter salad of pureed beetroot and pickled vegetables, steak tartare with hazelnuts and radicchio, tagliolino pasta and the best fried egg I’ve ever had, all beautifully enhanced by this one magical ingredient.

The combination of truffles, red wine and fantastic people-watching had me smiling from the inside-out. An elegant, Chanel-clad young lady at the table next to us was shocked when informed by her much older gentleman companion that Gianni Versace had died. At another table, a group of music producer and model types were ordering foie gras and Veuve Clicquot without a care in the world and not much clothing on either. It was not my world, which I am happy to say, but boy, was it fascinating for one evening!

I was brought back down to earth when we stepped out of the restaurant on Cloud Truffle and found our friend outside in his illegally-parked bomb of a car, waiting to take us out for a drink. We ended up at a rowdy university pub, a rather cool one in the Porta Venezia district, but spent most of the time standing outside in the drizzle given the whole city smokes and drinking is allowed on the streets (so weird for me as an Australian!). We met with another friend, a vehement communist, talked more about the 2-year-old we’d abandoned than anything else, and then headed to Love, a tiny hipster club where we caught the tail-end of an Italian indie band singing ‘Creep’ and dressed in my 90s wardrobe. I felt old, amused and perplexed. The lure of another club, Tunnel, was upon us, but when we realised the DJ we liked wasn’t starting until 1 a.m. (ish), we got real and said no. There was a nice hotel room waiting for us and we weren’t sleeping through the free breakfast!

The next morning we enjoyed our breakfast immensely (with only a mild truffle and wine hangover) and then headed out to the public gardens, vividly colourful from the endless November drizzle and a provider of peaceful respite from frenetic Milanese streets. From there we visited the Galleria D’Arte Moderna Milano, situated in the 18th century Villa Reale, a building worth seeing alone. The Vismara and Grassi collections were especially worth seeing; private collections donated to the City of Milan when the respective owners passed away. Among the works on display were several by Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir and Matisse. 

After the hour of culture we head to LuBar, an upmarket caffetteria perfect for some more fashionable people-watching and with wait staff dressed in a quasi-Amish garb. My companion, a Milano local, scoffed at the whole experience. I was captivated. Also their coffee and mini cannolo were very good. From there we walked back through the gardens, past Saturday street markets full of farm-fresh produce such as Toma, a cow’s milk cheese made in northern Italy, and to Eataly. A food hall extravanganza, Eataly on a Saturday is not for the faint-hearted.

Thankfully I had been on previous trips and had spent time back then exploring. This time around it was a bit too frantic to enjoy, and we had a toddler to get back to and lunch to eat beforehand. There was only one solution: Panino Giusto. A Milano institution and home of the panino (sandwich), there was no way we could go wrong. I ordered the ‘Milano 2015’, created by Michelin chef Claudio Sadler, which included prosciutto crudo, balsamic vinegar, parmigiano cream, lettuce, rocket, artichoke pate and pepper. Such a bold and creamy delight of a sandwich.

A little walk and a bus trip later, and we were back at Nonna’s. We checked our cool and cultured selves at the door and both turned to mush when we opened the door and saw our little one. He wasn’t too phased by us, but we attacked him with kisses nevertheless.

We may make it to Tunnel next year, or one of Milan’s gazillion other amazing restaurants and aperitivo bars, if the flight home in 2 days doesn’t scar us. I will say this though, if you’re stopping over in Milan before heading to the lakes or alps, I urge you to stay a couple of days and explore. Its hard edges will quickly soften and grittiness fade with each delectable meal and fascinating encounter.

A presto, Milano xx

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