A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

Jazz at a Smoky Bar

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Thanks to anti-smoking laws, we don’t get smoky bars in Singapore anymore. While it’s great that we get to pickle our livers and avoid the risk of lung cancer at the same time, jazz bars lose a certain sense of romance without the cigar smoke. (Not that our jazz bars had much cigar smoke in the first place.)

Now in KL, there are lively, just smoky enough jazz bars. Perhaps because most of the smokers were on cigars and cigarillos, Alexis Ampang was such a place. I wish I could post the photos of the revelry but my friends would probably kill me first. Sorry!

The jazz was decent and the wine accompanying the music was even better. I started off with a Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Cuvee Gerard Potel (2006) from France. It was pale yellow with a gentle bouquet of honeysuckle, apricot and peach. Lots of soft fruit in the medium dry wine, well-balanced by slight acid on the tongue and had a long mineral finish. I liked it very much. Incidentally, Jancis Robinson gives a stamp of approval of sorts: she counts Nicolas Potel as a quality-conscious négociant. It would pair very well with seafood. Something quite restrained like seafood risotto. Rating: 5/5

For my second glass, I stayed with the whites and ordered a South African KNW Chenin Blanc (2007). It was the palest yellow you can imagine, with a lovely lime nose. It was medium dry, had a rather chewy sort of flavour, and had the mineral finish I like so much. Rating: 4/5

One of my friends had a Brightwater Nelson Sauvignon Blanc (2008.) from New Zealand. It was pale straw and had a big fruit nose. Lots of fresh lychee, peaches and honey in there. It was sweet, well-balanced with a pleasing floral finish. One of those flamboyant, straight forward, in your face wines. Rating 3.5/5

Damage done for two glasses of wine and a great night of jazz and chatter: RM 55

Alexis Bistro Ampang
Great Eastern Mall
303 Jalan Ampang
Kuala Lumpur

Key to ratings

0  Wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole
1  I’d rather drink beer
2  If there’s nothing better
3  Just one glass is fine
4  More, please!
5  Where can I get a case?