How cities are coping: Milan
After weeks of lockdown, things are finally starting to open up again. With different timings depending on the situation, deserted cities have been coming back to life, places have been opening and new formats have been springing up, in an effort to adapt to the New Normal, and to tempt consumers back out at times and in ways most congenial to them. Later on, we will look at what’s been happening elsewhere in the world, but we start our tour of “re-opened cities”, appropriately enough, in Milan, the economic capital of Italy (and of course the city that is home to HostMilano, whose 42nd edition will be held here from 22 to 26 October 2021), and the original epicentre of the pandemic in the western world.
When phase two began, people started appearing on the streets again. Over 2,000 bars and restaurants took advantage of the simplified procedure introduced by the city authorities to set up tables outside their establishments and even display products – with no charge until 31 October. Outdoor bar extensions now cover 45,000 square metres of space in the city, thanks also to the 6,500 square metres of pedestrianised areas and 30 km of roads where the speed limit for traffic is 30 or even 15 kilometres per hour.
Through temporary summer activities, some of the finest, most charming and iconic public places in the city are being opened to the public. Voce, the brand name of the well-established star-rated Milan restaurant Aimo e Nadia, is “expanding” into the courtyard of Gallerie d’Italia, once the garden of celebrated Milanese novelist Alessandro Manzoni, where a cocktail bar service is now being run among the artworks (Jean Arp, Juan Mirò) and an installation by designer Michele De Lucchi. Visitors to the bar can enjoy gelato designed by the chefs Pisani and Negrini, whose gastronomic creations are a tribute to the regions from which they come: Puglia and the Valtellina.
Eataly Smeraldo now has a large eating area in the square outside, where diners can choose from the original pizza in the pan or choose from a special summer-evening menu of food and gourmet wines. Other restaurants are also getting in on the act, such as the new Tipografia Alimentare, and we are seeing some inter-regional crossovers, with Liguria (the “seaside” of the Milanese) thanks to Marco Visciola, chef of the Eataly Genova restaurant. Then there is the star-rated Viviana Varese which offers two options (each one a very different experience): outside in the piazza or upstairs on the second floor of Eataly in its “traditional” restaurant.
There have also been some unexpected new alliances with the world of show business, the aim here being to attract diners at a time when live events have all but disappeared because of anti-Covid legislation. Don Lisander, which serves Milanese cuisine, has teamed up with Milan’s legendary Blue Note jazz club, to come up with an ultra-Milanese dish, called “mondeghili”.
Milan’s canal district (with its famous “navigli”) is also exploiting every inch of outdoor space. The most ambitious effort is surely that of TornaVento, a large open-air green space open morning to evening on Alzaia Naviglio Grande, and offering everything from bike hire, yoga classes and a running club to a cocktail bar and easy restaurant.
Many of the changes have been about paring things down to essentials, focusing on local produce or going for “new vintage” styles. Eugenio Boer of B:ur, for example, decided to make a major step change during lockdown: after years of daring experimentation he has decided to offer a menu with 100% Italian produce, and based on traditional recipes, in an effort to support local farmers. Gelato has taken on a whole new Milanese aura with the new Summer Panettone flavour, on offer at Visto 17, a flavour based on the traditional Milan Christmas confection, served with peach coulis.
References to times gone by – done in a deliberately reassuring way – are the focus for Crocca, a new pizzeria format with a delightfully retro feel. It offers a thin, crispy pizza with the strong but simple flavours of the 70s and 80s.
Meanwhile, on the innovation front there have been some new ideas associated with coffee. Nowhere Coffee&Community offers coffee as well as other specialties from breakfast to aperitif time, along with books and records. And it was only to be expected that a trend-setting city like Milan would welcome Kōhī Tokyo 1982 in the Porta Romana metro station, a kiosk serving pour-over coffee, something much loved by the Japanese and found here in an appropriately minimalist context.