Emporio Armani Caffè & Ristorante, Milan
SALONE de Mobile may be the world’s largest design show with a focus on all things interiors and architecture but the fashion crowd clearly don’t want to miss out. Loewe, Versace, Fendi, Hermès, Gucci, Marni – they continue to take their fashion house status’ quite literally, moving seamlessly from their runways into showing off their interior flare.
At Armani, the Italian house’s design skills were on display at their Emporio Armani Caffè & Ristorante in Milan which underwent a sleek transformation in February.
Having experienced an onslaught of colour and pattern, maxing out my step count and visiting the grandest to the grungiest of locations over the week, I was ready for a calming space. On this – as befits a label for whom ‘chic’ and ‘pared-down cool’ are bywords – Armani did not disappoint.
Entering into the Caffé is akin to one of the fashion maestro’s famous trouser suits. A piece of understated luxury at its best. And it was Giorgio himself that designed the space to be a soft sea of minimalism. Decorated in shades of taupe, blue-grey and dusty sage green, the walls are upholstered in silk. Curved banquettes and barrel chairs nestle in between semi-sheer screens that create discreet booths. Natural light floods the place through windows that look out onto the bustling square below.
But this isn’t just a beautiful interior designed for diners looking for a fashionable place to eat spaghetti. It was locals that filled the booths. Always a good sign when the cuisine itself is Italian – in this case, traditional northern fare and Mediterranean. On the menu was King Crab “alla catalana” with its coral emulsion and caviar. Homemade Ravioli “tre arrosti” with onion foam. Redfish, squid and prawn soup with potatoes sphere and chard gnocchi and Grilled ribs of lamb with topinambur cream, fennel and sautéed spinach.
Now I was a little tentative given that fashion rarely strays too close to the chef’s table. However, each dish arrived and my suspicions were relieved. As I worked through the menu I found I genuinely couldn’t fault it. The king crab emulsion was light and delicate with subtle layers of flavour from the caviar and a salad of mixed leaves. Next came the ravioli, a combination of sage and onion that felt like the finest of comforting Italian food without being too filling.
So far the dishes were light and delicate but it was the next two courses that where the real highlight for me. The redfish, squid and prawn soup was just exquisite – the perfect balance of flavours, not over complicated just a focus on ingredients of the highest quality. Then came the lamb cooked to perfection with just the right amount of pink. So good in fact that my dining companion and I agreed that it was the best lamb we had ever tasted.
A pause in proceedings to visit the most stylish toilet I’d been in all week with the usual white porcelain replaced with a brave taupe colour and then it was on to sample dessert.
Now dessert. Each morning during Salone I’d detour to a gelateria for the best stracciatella in town – it had become a non negotiable pit stop. There had been no time for it however on the morning of my Caffé visit and post lunch I was headed straight for the airport.
I began to realise that having savoured every bite of my northern Italian feast that I was now in very real danger of missing my flight back to London. Rather reluctantly I rushed to leave explaining to the waiter that I’d forgo the “five structures” of chocolate that was the dessert (can you imagine?!). But, my wry server had other plans. What did he produce at this most unfortunate of news? Ice cream of course. Vanilla of the softest and smoothest kind served in lightening speed with a tiny twist of freshly ground black pepper. An ice cream for which I will forever make a detour for. And a dining experience for which it would be worth missing a flight.