Please forgive me for abandoning you for the last few days! As some of you know, my Mum came to stay with me for a lovely long weekend full of food, sunshine, wine (lots of wine) and design exhibitions.
I'm happy to report that this trip was much more successful than her first visit to the city which involved my Dad driving manically in an overcrowded rental car through a city with a rather problematic penchant for one-way systems. I was on the train back to Venice when I received a call from my initially cheery sounding mother whose happy voice quickly deteriorated into a series of aggravated expletives upon hearing that I wasn't yet in the city and so wouldn't be able to jump in the car as they shot around the ring road to help with directions.
Nope, this time was different. To start with, my father and his crazy driving (which is infinitely worse than that of the Italians) had been left at home and she arrived safely from the airport by coach. I found her wandering down the road from Stazione Centrale to Piazza Repubblica in the sunshine. After a rather backwards route home (in which I tried and failed to direct her to Piazza Gae Aulenti at the foot of the Unicredit tower for a drink) we went for dinner at the failsafe Carlsberg at the top of Via Solferino before collapsing into bed, ready for four days of adventure.
Which necessarily started with cappuccini and croissants at Bianco Latte.
I was in need of a bit more of a sugar hit on Thursday morning so I ordered their Biancottino Ice. It's coffee with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream and chopped hazelnuts. The coffee melts the ice cream and the ice cream cools the coffee so you're left with a creamy, coffee-y, hazelnutty hit. Absolutely delicious.
Oh and the glass is smothered in chocolate sauce:
We walked our breakfast off in the sunshine, appreciating some of the older buildings in Milan (which often seem to be covered in green it seems!)
Before hitting Brera, as planned.
Except we weren't gazing at kitchens we can't afford. Instead, we spent half an hour in the little Ponte Rosso gallery, admiring the fantastic New York paintings of Paolo Paradiso.
We were both struck by his use of colour and light to transform simple shapes into the most stunning pieces of art. They have all been painted in the last few years yet it's hard to believe that this man wasn't painting in 1950s America.
I took some sneaky photos inside the gallery on my phone so will pop those up in another post!
So after lusting over the past of a city we've never been to, we went on to what last week was really all about.
A concrete exhibition.
Well. It was a chance to see into some of the older buildings of Milan!
Next was a conceptual art gallery. Each piece had a story next to it. I liked the idea of it - it turned a lollipop sitting on a stool into a little girl's favourite sweet being suddenly discarded at the start of a marching band. But the language was often a little too floaty and arty-farty for us to take it seriously. Like most of the signs at Design Week.
This television was based on the story of a couple watching old fashioned adverts on a screen and wondering what it was like to love in a different era.
I just liked the TV. We have a raised bed due to space issues in our studio flat (cough, bedsit) so this would be ideal for Sunday mornings.
I definitely appreciated the interactive element in this exhibition.
Unfortunately we are uncultured souls and strayed from the Google Glass cube to have a wander around the gardens of this palazzo.
Before heading inside to look at the main event.
"But what does it mean?" we asked as we stroked the different tiles, marvelling at the colours, textures and surfaces, surrounded by videos penetrating the darkness and instructions to surrender ourselves to synaesthesia. "What is the meaning behind it? What is the story behind this artwork?"
It turns out they were just surface samples for decoration. No concept, no story. Oh we chuckled.
Mum spotted a rather more conventional exhibition as we came out. This little shop is a permanent feature just along from the Pinacoteca. The paintings are incredible and look so lifelike from afar. It's almost impossible to believe that they're not photos until you get up close and see evidence of brush strokes.
We then decided to spend the last half hour before lunch having a look at the FuoriSalone offerings in the pinacoteca.
Apparently we just aren't design people.
The first sign we came across pointed to a menu exhibition.
I love food. I love reading about food, I love looking at food, I love talking about food and I love eating food. Obviously eating food is my favourite activity but a close second is reading menus. I don't know why but every time one comes through the door, I can't help myself! Restaurant websites are like porn to me.
Anyway, I was very happy to have followed my heart this time as we came across the Biblioteca Nazionale which I didn't even know existed!
She's a stunner! The menus were exquisite too. Lots of them were in French but I had a read of the English and Italian ones and felt my stomach grumble!
Mum found one that was for a ladies' supper club in Birmingham in 1928, just before my grandparents were born in that city. That was a piece of conceptual art she could get her head around - a menu from a year and city into which two babies were about to be born who would go on to marry and create a family which would result in this mother and daughter gazing at this piece of paper in a museum of the future.
I took a few sneaky photos of some of the displays, don't tell anyone!
All of a sudden it was 12:50 and we had to trot down the road to Il Refettorio (my most-talked-about restaurant ever - this was the third time in three weeks that I'd been!) Normally you can be late to Italian reservations but they'd asked me to be on time this time as they had a lot of people coming!
During the working lunch, the vegetable buffet isn't there (sob sob) but you get an antipasto so it's all ok. We had a bowl of salad and a kind of chickpea puree which was delicious.
Mum went for the chicken breast in orange sauce with braised fennel whilst I had the asparagus risotto which I apparently ate too quickly to photograph. Same with our puddings, strawberry tart with milk ice cream.
Good, simple food. With wine, bread, water, coffee and service all included in the menu price. All of that came to a whopping... €30. Together.
After cooking gently in the sunshine, we ambled off to Mum's favourite shop, the Excelsior department store. I covered myself in Tom Ford's Santal Blush (I have probably used a bottle of that stuff by now) and took photos of the beautifully extravagant pieces on sale (before being told off, boo).
Someone buy me one of these!
And if you think one ice cream a day is enough, think again.
Admittedly, I was slightly tipsy from seeing off my half of a caraffe of wine. This could explain my flavour combination choice - grapefruit, yoghurt and walnut. They weren't the best bedfellows but individually, each one was incredible.
We settled down on a bench near the Duomo tram stops where I befriended a group of tram drivers. One of them was lamenting the rise of Grom ice cream (which is what we were eating) whilst his friends tried to convince him to try it before knocking it. He said he didn't trust my English opinion until I suggested the collective favourite, Gelateria della Musica. Then they began paying attention!
After that, it was time for a gentle stroll through the park.
Milan really is incredible and the world just doesn't know it! Sure there are tourists but there are nowhere near as many as there are in Rome and Florence. But why would you pass this by?
Unfortunately for Mum, I wasn't planning on going home just yet. We stopped off at the Triennale art and design museum to see the FuoriSalone exhibitions there.
I just love how the English flag has found its way into Milan's coat of arms!
Bed in a box and beautiful bikes! Oh how I wish I could terrorise the cars of Milan on one of these beauties.
As beautiful as some of the pieces are, by far the most impressive was this suspended coffee drop. Air blowers managed to keep it floating in the same space, more or less. The original model used coffee simply as it was the liquid available to hand at the time but it was used as an introduction to a coffee exhibition (was it Illy or Nespresso? I can't remember!)
The last exhibition we saw was for Citizen watches. There was a queue to get inside this beautiful installation but we wandered in by mistake! We were quickly ushered out after which we decided to admire it from afar.
Lights pulsed and shone, causing the suspended metallic discs to explode with light like champagne.
But it still wasn't home time!
I took Mum by the arm and marched her to the tram stop where we took her favourite mode of transport to Nottingham Forest, one of the best bars in the world!
It opens at 18:30 but you have to get there sharp in order to get a table.
Although maybe you don't need to be as keen as us, queueing from 18:20. I say queueing. I mean standing like lemons on the pavement before having the place to ourselves for a good fifteen minutes.
Why is it called Nottingham Forest? I forgot to ask.
Why is it one of the best bars in the world? Because it's small, friendly and the insane cocktails cost less if you leave your table before 9pm (€10 at a table, €8 at the bar).
No, they're not the cheapest cocktails on the block but it's an experience like no other.
Mum had an 'Archimede' cocktail made with champagne, martini, strawberries, orange and peach. The alcohol is contained in the blue glass which you raise to release it into the fruity part.
I had the Sephora, which evidently comes in a miniature bath tub. It tasted like lemonade and had a peach bath foam on top! Every time I picked it up, ice cubes clinked against the china which just seemed so wrong - why would you ever have a bath this icy??
Now, you can't go to Nottingham Forest and not have two cocktails. So I asked for the Italian menu this time (worth it if you know a little or are prepared to gamble) as it's waaaaay bigger than the English menu. In fact, I might get in touch and ask if they want me to translate it completely in return for a free drink or two....
Anyway, no more rambling, I present to you the Pistacchio Olive Oil cocktail!
We shared this one but it still led to two very squiffy young ladies.
Meanwhile, Magro was back from work and resting. After our aperitivo, we jumped on a bus and whizzed off to meet him at Il Doge di Amalfi, a couple of kilometres away.
You have to be hungry to come here. As such, it is the perfect place to soak all that alcohol up. I present to you, the pasta portions:
And now to put that into perspective:
Those dishes are huge!
But I can't go to Doge without having one of their brilliant napolitan pizzas.
Which left only one very important decision to be made: what to have for dessert?
Lemon sorbet and a free bottle of limoncello by the way. One word - boom.