A chef’s guide to Milan
A chef’s guide to Milan
Video, Milan

A chef’s guide to Milan’s best restaurants

Since Milan's Expo in 2015, the city has enjoyed a remarkable gastronomic boom, not merely among the top-of-the range restaurants, but in high-standard, lower-key bistros and bars. Among the chefs with a reputation for excellence is Antonio Guida, whose fine-dining restaurant Seta, at Mandarin Oriental, Milan, has won two Michelin stars after opening only three years ago. Here Chef Guida, in conversation with journalist James Hanning, offers his guide to Milan’s best of the rest

Chefs standing outside Trippa Trattoria's vintage-looking front

The personal favourite

Trippa is first on Chef Guida’s list, and one he visits at least once a month. It’s a bistro run by chef Diego Rossi – an alumnus of a number of Italy's most illustrious restaurants, including Trento's Locanda Margon and Delle Antiche Contrade in Cuneo – who “decided to take a step back and reconnect with the roots of Italian cuisine: the simple, homemade, traditional flavour”, Chef Guida explains. “He has produced a really high-level bistro offering simple choices served well.” He continues, “The tagliatelle al ragù is one of the most traditional Italian dishes, but one of the best I have ever had, thanks to the great ingredients and Diego’s technique.”

The green and orange patterned wallpaper and wood panelling inside Cracco

The most picturesque

Another big name in the Milan restaurant boom is Cracco. Opened by chef Carlo Cracco in February 2018, it’s housed in one of Europe’s most spectacular venues next to the Duomo, in the celebrated Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The food is “classic modern”, says Chef Guida, “with the specially designed Ginori plates, it has a beautiful ambiance. Don’t leave without trying the roasted pigeon with anise and coffee, spinach and taro – it’s one of the chef Cracco’s signature dishes, and one that explains his culinary philosophy.”

The table laid for dinner in the cool whitewashed dining room at Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia

The established landmark

“Spaghetti with green onions,” says Chef Guida of the plate to try at his next favourite, “It’s a dish that made the history of Italian cuisine, since 1965, when it was created by Aimo Moroni, founder and former chef of the restaurant Il luogo di Aimo e Nadia, and where it’s still served.” Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia is something of a pillar of the Milanese foodie scene. Its young chefs Fabio Pisani and Alessandro Negrini are continuing the restaurant’s traditions, offering updated but still respectful twists on classic local food. “It is a symbol of the Italian gastronomic tradition, proud of its origins, simple but elegant,” says Chef Guida.

The ‘Pulp Fiction’ dessert at Contraste served in a way that recreates a crime scene complete with 'bullets' and 'blood'

The wild card

For those looking for a bit of adventure in their food, Chef Guida recommends Michelin-starred Contraste. Argentine chef Matias Perdomo (who Chef Guida tips for a big future) doesn’t offer an à la carte menu, just three ‘taster’ menus, and the restaurant is only open in the evenings. “He’s good at creating a ‘wow’ effect,” says Chef Guida. “Matias’s cuisine follows a playful philosophy, where classical recipes are reinvented with unexpected ingredients and presented in a fun and creative way that surprises the guest at every course”. He adds enthusiastically, “The ‘Pulp Fiction’ – a dessert made of coconut, chocolate and beetroot – is served in a way that recreates a crime scene.”

The classic orange interior and padded bar of Trattoria del Nuovo Macello

The best ‘worth the detour’

Beyond the new kids on the block, there are the traditional favourites, and none better than the Trattoria del Nuovo Macello, insists Chef Guida – it’s a 15-minute cab ride from the centre of town but “well worth it”. It’s a traditional family restaurant, but with a young and talented chef. “If people come to me and ask where they can get the best ‘cotoletta alla Milanese’ (veal Milanese), I send them here, it’s the perfect blend between prime ingredients, traditional recipe and masterful technique,” says Chef Guida. The restaurant also does Milanese classics such as risotto and cassoeula – a pork dish with savoy cabbage. “Very often, when I go there, I find other chefs are there, too – and they know what’s good!”

Rows of intricate layered pastries topped with fruit and chocolate at Pasticceria Iginio Massari

The perfect pasticceria

“There are a number of new pastry places in Milan,” explains Chef Guida. “It’s becoming a sort of ‘little Paris’ in that respect, which is great,” he adds. “It’s a really good sign, a sign of a thriving city.” Not to be forgotten in this Milan foodie revolution is the arrival of one of Italy’s kings of cakes, Iginio Massari. “Chef Massari is an institution among Italian pastry chefs,” Chef Guida says, “and he recently opened his café and pastry shop in Milan (Pasticceria Iginio Massari), his first outside of Brescia, his hometown.” When asked what one item everyone should try, he is in no doubt, “The choux pastries filled with custard are masterfully done.”

Chef chopping fresh greens into stainless steel bowls at Exit

The tried-and-tested local

Chef Guida’s favourite place for everyday grazing is Exit, a well-stocked bar, pastry and coffee shop. In classic Italian style, he stops there every morning for a coffee and a croissant. He says, “It’s my usual spot for lunch on Mondays, when I take a little break from my restaurant. It serves the same menu all day long, offering contemporary dishes, made with ingredients of the highest quality, in a simple environment. In the evening, if I’m not in my restaurant, when they’re looking for me, I’m here.” He suggests, “If you go for a drink, try the niche brands of Champagne, included in their beautifully curated wine list.”

The table laid for dinner with the open kitchen behind at Seta, Mandarin Oriental, Milan

A word on Seta

Although Chef Guida is far too humble to mention it on the list, he explains a bit more about his own restaurant. “Seta is now (and thanks to our amazing guests) one of the unmissable stops in Milan. We try to make it a blend of classical Italian cuisine reinvented with prime ingredients and culinary techniques inspired by French high cuisine.” He adds, “As far as I know, it’s also one of the few gourmet restaurants where you can dine alfresco, with views of our busy kitchen. Or, even better, dine in the kitchen itself, a few metres from the stove, on the Chef’s Table. It’s my favourite spot and the one I sit at most of the time to taste new dishes or just relax with a coffee or a glass of wine after the service.”

Interview by James Hanning

Mandarin Oriental Milan
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