Monday, 18 August 2014

A Gem in the Heart of the City [Restaurant Interior]

El Tombon de San Marc sits on a rather special corner in the heart of Milan.

Just in front of it, the road widens out and an open sky yawns overhead where usually apartment blocks and ancient palazzi tower over us in this crowded city.

This is where water once flowed through the Navigli canals, a complex system of waterways designed by Da Vinci himself to transport huge hunks of marble to the centre of the city for the construction of the Duomo cathedral.

This link here shows how Milan used to be a lot more similar to Venice than you may have thought. The first few pictures were taken just around the corner from where Magro and I have been living, where the old locks still stand and you can walk along the bottom of the canal.

But there's another way to wonder at the charming old world of this part of the city. 

I had been intrigued by the little restaurant with the whiteboard menu and the dazzling chandeliers for quite some time but we had always been on our way to somewhere else whenever we walked past.

One evening, with nothing to do and feeling too lazy to cook, we decided to take a stroll down there and have a look at what was on offer.

Of course I was instantly awe-struck by the mirrored panels, dazzling green walls and smooth wooden and metal fittings. Just on appearance alone, it would be the perfect place to slip back in time to after an afternoon peruse around Villa Necchi Campiglio (from this post).

Dinner at Gatsby's, anyone?

I couldn't quite understand why the restaurant was so deserted on a Friday night. We went at the beginning of July when the city was still bustling with people. Whilst the decor might be rich and extravagant, the menu is astoundingly affordable.

And they brought us a little appetiser before we'd even closed our menus. I can never say no to free nibbles.

We shared the asparagus risotto to start and as such, the very kind waiter brought us an extra large portion (I ate far more than my fair share!)

Next it was tartare all around; classic beef for my love and salmon with citrus fruits for me.

The salmon was absolutely beautiful; deliciously fresh with a light yet creamy flavour that matched the orange and grapefruit perfectly.

We polished the lot off within minutes.

But I always have room for dessert, don't you?

I usually pass on chocolate desserts when I'm out as I'm a bit of a chocolate snob and when the cocoa content dips below a certain percentage... well, I'm not a happy bunny. 

But the chocolate torte here was described as having a salted crust and after the salted chocolate/caramel craze, I couldn't resist getting stuck in to more salty/sweet goodness. 

I was not disappointed.

Quite honestly one of the most fantastic chocolate desserts I have ever tasted. And that is a high accolade coming from me!

Outside the quickly fading day shrank into shadows and with the help of a bit of vino, I began to feel as if I truly had been transported back in time, to a city before cars were the supposed right of everyone and the evening was reserved for post-dinner strolls rather than TV marathons.

It's hard not to feel like you're in a decade gone-by with surroundings like that.

Dinner for two (cover charge, water, wine, one risotto, two tartares and two desserts) hit the €70 mark and the service was prompt, friendly and sure to lure me back again. The restaurant is closed throughout August but once the city kicks back to life in September, it's a must for any traveller looking to capture the essence of old Milan on a budget.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Still AWOL!

Just checking in quickly to say that I will, someday, get back to posting regularly. I'm currently in the Dolomites with Magro, eating far too much cheese and butter and apple strudel, and the wifi here isn't fantastic.

So whilst I can, I thought I'd say I am still thinking of this little blog and I am taking lots and lots of pictures of the incredible landscape around here.

A presto!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Dreaming of Mozzarella (Picture Heavy)

If you've never been to Italy before and you're stopping by Milan, there's a place you really should know about.

If you're into mozzarella in a big way and can't think of a better way to spend a lazy summer afternoon than sipping a chilled glass of white whilst nibbling on breadsticks and cutting fleshy hunks off a great, creamy ball of cheese, accompanied by olives, salamis, sundered tomatoes, whatever takes your fancy.. then Obika is your place.

I believe the original Obika mozzarella bar opened in Rome but my attention was first drawn to the delicious haven in Milan.

I had walked past the sign outside La Rinascente in Piazza Duomo and wondered hungrily what a mozzarella bar would be like. Yet I would always forget; the city centre isn't usually my dinner destination and Magro always had a new place to visit up his sleeve.

But one day, as we ambled lazily down Corso Garibaldi, we decided to stop by at the Brera branch.

First things first, mozzarella is not the only thing on the menu (although it wouldn't be too terrible if it were). You can also find a range of pasta and pizza dishes although these are a little overpriced in comparison to the fare found throughout the rest of the city (individual restaurant menus can be found complete with prices on the Obika website).

We began with a selection of their fried antipasti (finger-lickin' good) which came with a delicious spicy sauce. My favourite were the fried cauliflower florets and sage leaves.

Trying to keep things healthy, we also went for a plate of seasonal grilled vegetables and a butternut squash, pumpkin seed and cacio salad on the side of our cheese.

Everything was delicious although we had definitely ordered more than we could chew! Even so, my curiosity wasn't satisfied and whilst the dessert menu looked exquisite, I was still in the midst of my sugar wean so I refrained (that took serious willpower people!)

I dreamt of a day I could sit there in the fading evening light with my girls and a glass of fresh white wine, picking over a huge range of delicacies.

Wishes do come true.

Ok fine there was a boy at the table too. But he was Sophie's boyfriend and he was absolutely lovely so we'll let him into our girly secret.

I was too busy scrutinising the menu anyway.

Having just got back from Puglia, there was only one thing on my mind: stracciatella di burrata.

You have probably heard of burrata, that wonderful creamy mozzarella with an incredibly messy heart. Well stracciatella is literally just those scrappy, sloppy strands of cheese that didn't quite make it into the finished product. It's everything that's brilliant about burrata without the prim exterior.

I wasn't sure whether it was worth going for it seeing as I'd just been eating the real deal for a week so whilst we oohed and aahed over the menus, we got stuck into the thing I'd been missing the most the last time; il vino.

You have probably seen Jess and Sophie pop up in various posts before. These two lovely ladies were also doing their Erasmus in Milan at the same time as me. Jess was studying music at the university and Sophie was working in a law firm (scary!)

We clinked glasses to celebrate just being in Italy and having survived the year with the beautiful, eternal Duomo as our backdrop.

The decor at Obika is fresh and simple with monochrome tones and splashes of red. We wanted to keep our little pot of rosemary on our table but as they're used to show waiters which tables are still waiting to have their order taken, we had to content ourselves with the next table's instead.

The sun began to set, positively sloshing the normally pink Duomo in gold.

We also drank in the gold...

...and drizzled it on our food.

Yes, that's right. I went for it in the end.

I'm a best of both worlds kinda girl.

I like to have my cake and eat it.

I wanted burrata.. but I wanted the smoked mozzarella I had had last time too.

So I had both.

Burrata for starter (ok, really it was stracciatella but burrata is easier on the keyboard) and smoked for my mains.

Here's how to eat it like a lady.

It really was that good. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

As stracciatella and burrata have to be eaten pretty much as soon as they're made for the best gastro-experience, it's a pretty risky business to eat them outside of the region in which they're made. It's why they're so difficult to track down even though the entire world is secretly obsessed with them.

How could you not be?

Let's get another look at that.

Slopped into my chilled tomato soup with a generous drizzle of olive oil, it's something I won't forget for a while.

Don't ask.

So for my next cheese-laden course, I plumped for the smoked mozzarella with Sicilian caponata on the side.

I have never quite tasted a smoked cheese like this. I can't really describe it except to say that it is the smokiest cheese I have ever tasted. It tastes like a bonfire but in a really, really good way.

I couldn't think of a better accompaniment than the Autumn flavours of caponata.

Before any time at all had passed (or so it felt), the sunlight had faded completely and we were treated to a magnificent view of the duomo lit up by night.

You would have thought that this would be enough to content me for one night. No.

I had pudding.


...ok three times.

And it really, genuinely was all mine. And I ate every last morsel! And I don't regret a thing! Hooray!

The pudding wine may have helped with that though.

There were just too many delicious things and like I said, I like to have my cake and eat it. Suffice to say I was incredibly full by the time we waddled back through the food hall and took the lift down to the real world.

I couldn't fault Obika on anything. Being up on the terrace overlooking the duomo, you pay a little extra on each item you order but really you're paying for the view...

...and a truly magical evening.