Power dining: the restaurants where deals are made in Milan
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The Milanese like to describe themselves as the opposite of Romans: efficient, fast-paced and subdued. Their dining style is no different.
In Italy’s business capital, the type of three-course feast showered with wine favoured by Roman politicos is an absolute no-go. Yet business lunches are something of a social affair that the city’s bankers, entrepreneurs, fashionistas and powerful executives cannot renounce.
When it comes to talking business, forging relationships, negotiating deals or just gossiping over a plate of risotto and sparkling water, Milanese power brokers have their favourite places which, generally, haven’t changed in decades.
It’s worth starting by saying that some popular spots aren’t open to the general public. The Milanese love their privacy, and few places are more secluded and discreet than the city’s “circoli”, Italian for private members’ clubs. Every influential local personality has at least one such membership. Many have multiple. And chances are that is where the meaningful business discussions are taking place, at least during the day (in the evening, like Romans, the Milanese prefer dinner parties at home when it comes to talking shop).
Regarding restaurants, favoured venues for lunchtime meetings are those that guarantee the following: customer privacy, fine dining with some lighter à la carte options and impeccable, speedy service.
In a few of these restaurants, the habitués — whom for the sake of privacy and journalistic source protection I won’t mention by name — will often eat more than once at lunchtime in order to fit in multiple meetings. An antipasto with one fellow diner, followed by a light main course or salad at a different table with another.
Many of these go-to spots have moved around the city over the decades, but their essence has stayed the same: elegant but quiet. Some evoke the decor of certain high-end Mayfair restaurants, with carpeted floors and panelled walls, while others have a typical sophisticated Italian vibe, with their unfaltering starched white tablecloths and sparkling, clear glasses — a must, in Italian high cuisine, when it comes to drinking wine.
For many of the city’s power brokers who dine out frequently, restaurateurs (a small but influential group of businesspeople in their own right) offer a healthy menu — a grilled chicken breast or a fish fillet with a side of steamed vegetables. Romans would be outraged, and many Italians would dub these sorts of pared-back dishes “hospital food”. But for the Milanese, it is not the food (which, by the way, however simple, tends to be excellent) that matters the most, but the conversation (and the guarantee of returning to the office awake).
Obviously, though, it's not the grilled chicken breast that made the establishments below famous and turned some of them into popular dinnertime destinations for elite travellers and now influencers too. It’s the risotto giallo or all’ossobuco, riso al salto (sautéed rice), brasato, raw fish platters and tagliatelle bolognese, so these are worth trying if you are in town.
Via della Spiga 26, 20121 Milan
Good for: Seafood dishes, such as musky octopus with lentils and lobster with raw tomato and onion, plus a varied French and Italian wine list and good cocktails
Not so good for: An informal low-budget meal
FYI: Do not use map apps to locate the restaurant, as you will probably be guided to the wrong location. The clearly marked entrance is between the Sergio Rossi and Borsalino boutiques. Open Monday–Saturday, 12:30pm–3pm and 7pm–midnight. An antipasto and a main plus a cocktail will cost about €80 per person
When Il Baretto turned 50 in 2012, owners Ermanno Taschera and Vincenzo Zagaria gathered 1,200 VIPs to celebrate the milestone. Il Baretto has been a favourite of Italian high society, TV personalities and financiers for decades. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Fiat owner and chief Gianni Agnelli and former prime minister Giulio Andreotti never missed a visit when they were in town.
Nowadays, Agnelli’s descendants, including scion John Elkann and his brother Lapo, are regulars. As are members of two Milanese industrial dynasties, Moratti and Pirelli, including the latter’s chief executive Marco Tronchetti Provera.
The restaurant, which attracts a more international clientele in the evening for both business and leisure, has recently changed location for the third time in its history, though it has never left the heart of Milan’s fashion quarter. Once located on Via Sant’Andrea, it then moved inside the luxury Baglioni hotel on Via Senato — but it kept an entrance on Via della Spiga for the sciure, sophisticated Milanese women, who wanted to pop in for a quick lunch while shopping.
Its new location on Via della Spiga — home to Tiffany and Dolce & Gabbana stores — is nestled within a newly renovated complex managed by Hines, the international property developer. While the restaurant has retained its English members’ club feel — with its tartan carpet floors and vintage horse prints hanging on the wainscoting-covered walls — the more modern setting has given it a more contemporary vibe and the garden area for alfresco dining is a welcome addition.
The restaurant’s menu is simple yet pricey, featuring numerous fish and seafood dishes, as well as typical Milanese items such as riso al salto, a crispy saffron rice dish fried in butter. Try the penne Baretto, a pasta dish with a creamy homemade tomato sauce, followed by one of the homemade desserts such as the pear and chocolate tart. The cocktail list, featuring well-made classics such as negroni and americano, is also worth a mention.
Piazza Belgioioso 2, 20121 Milan
Good for: Private conversations in the main dining hall and a typical Milanese saffron-laced risotto
Not so good for: A romantic date
FYI: Do not show up in shorts and sandals. Open for business breakfasts on Thursday mornings (7.30am–9.30am). Reservations recommended. Open Monday–Friday, 12.30pm–2.30pm and 7.30pm–11.30pm; Saturday, 7.30pm–11.30pm. Starters and pastas, from €18; mains, from €30 (truffle options in season, from €60)
Boeucc, or “hole” in Milanese dialect, opened its doors in central Milan in 1696, making it one of the oldest restaurants in the country. Historic customers include Giuseppe Mazzini, the revolutionary who unified Italy, and Arturo Toscanini, one of the greatest conductors of all time. Unlike the little hole it was back in the day, the main dining hall at its current venue a stone’s throw from La Scala boasts vaulted ceilings, granite columns and marble statues.
Today’s clientele might be more mundane but no less influential by modern standards. At lunchtime on any given day of the week one can be sure to spot at least half a dozen of the nation’s most notable businesspeople, most of whom are male, from across several industries — including media, healthcare and finance — sitting across the well-spaced round and smaller square tables in the main dining hall.
Regulars sit at the same spot and are served by the same waiter who remembers their food and drinks preference — a real perk outside the private members’ clubs in a bustling city where people generally have a reputation for being aloof.
Some like to order the restaurant’s time-honoured specialities: risotto Milanese and fried veal brain and zucchini flowers, but most will go for the lighter options such as the raw artichoke salad with Parmesan shavings or a puntarelle salad with anchovies and mozzarella.
Boeucc’s signature Quarantott cocktail made from Campari and rosemary (the full recipe is secret) is available daily but is especially popular for celebrations, which take place in the private dining room.
Meanwhile, the bistro area, situated closer to the entrance behind the bar area — with smaller tables positioned closer together — is designed for a brisker and, possibly, younger clientele on lunch breaks and at breakfast meetings.
This historic venue — which moved to its current location at the outbreak of the second world war — owes its more recent business-oriented shift to Monica Brioschi and Marco Furzier, her accountant husband turned restaurateur, who took over less than 20 years ago.
Brioschi’s father, Paolo, ran the restaurant from 1979 until he died in 2004. He found out in the 1980s that Boeucc was almost 300 years old when a journalist showed him evidence of the existence of the little “hole” osteria, off the central Via Durini — a 10-minute walk from its current location — dating back to the 17th century.
Giannino dal 1899
Via Vittor Pisani 6, 20124 Milan
Good for: An impromptu early lunch upon arriving in Milan by train (the central station is a short walk from the restaurant) and a dinner date
Not so good for: A laid-back informal meal and alfresco dining (though a small terrace area in front of the restaurant is set to open soon)
FYI: Best to reserve if planning to visit between 1pm and 2pm on a weekday. Open Monday–Friday, noon–3pm and 7pm–11pm; Saturday, 7pm–11pm. Starters/pasta, from €18/€25; mains, €28 to €40
Historically, Giannino was popular with 1950s cinema stars; then, about two decades ago, it became the place where multimillion-euro Italian Serie A football deals would be sealed. The restaurant was a favourite of football stars and Wags, as well as the late former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, once AC Milan’s owner. Over the past decade, though, Giannino suffered financial hardship and had a few changes of ownership, taking it a long way from its splendid Sophia Loren and Grace Kelly days. Now, after a turnaround led by a group of Swiss investors, the restaurant is back on track.
Conveniently located between Milan’s central station and the city centre, the restaurant was close to the headquarters of AC Milan before the team’s move. Nowadays, football stars occasionally show up but the clientele is more varied, and you’ll find bankers, journalists, international businesspeople and the local crème de la crème at both lunch and dinner.
At lunchtime the restaurant has a business-y vibe, with the service concentrated between 1pm and 2pm and customers mainly opting for a mix of the lighter options on the menu, including the delicious hummus with lime, raw vegetables, lemon compote and quinoa chips. The tapas include beef Mondeghili (traditional fried meatballs with a Parmesan fondue) and Cantabrian anchovies, black-bread croutons and homemade saffron butter.
At night, when the lights are dimmer and the vibe is cosier, the business crowd return in out-of-office mode. The Sardinian chef, brought in by the new Swiss owners, has introduced some island dishes such as fregola (giant couscous) with seafood, and grilled turbot in a lemon, heirloom chard, sour cream and caviar sauce, which have quickly become customer favourites.
Via Amedei 8, 20123 Milan
Good for: Carnivores. Alfresco dining, particularly during shoulder seasons
Not so good for: Vegans and vegetarians
FYI: Not too pricey by Milanese standards: starters from €12, pasta from €18, mains from €26. Open Monday, 8pm–11pm; Tuesday–Saturday, 12.45pm–3pm and 8pm–11pm
The Milanese outpost of Rome’s famed Dal Bolognese restaurant on the Piazza del Popolo is a more discreet and sophisticated affair, serving traditional food from Bologna and the wider Emilia-Romagna region. Think fettuccine al ragout, tortellini with butter sauce or in brodo (meat broth) and the staple bollito con salse, a mix of boiled beef cuts including tongue, accompanied by a variety of sauces.
Three generations of the Tomaselli family have run the Dal Bolognese restaurants. In the 1950s, Ettore Tomaselli, who had been working at the motorcycle company Ducati in Bologna, emigrated to Morocco, where he opened two Italian restaurants in Casablanca. He returned to Italy with his wife and son in 1960 and bought the original restaurant in Rome.
Dal Bolognese eventually became a favourite of writers, cultural figures and intellectuals such as Alberto Moravia, Jean-Paul Sartre and Orson Welles. In 1966, a plate of tortellini sold for 300 lire, the equivalent of €4 today.
The Milanese venue opened in 2005, but to this day, not much has changed in the food offering, the traditional vibe and the clientele.
Nestled within Palazzo Recalcati, the restaurant has an aristocratic feel that attracts chief executives, socialites and entrepreneurs. The courtyard, a favourite seating spot for both business and leisure diners, is open throughout the year if the weather is mild.
On any given day of the week there will be a mixed crowd lunching at this venue, while at night the average age tends to increase to over 50.
Menu options also include lighter fare and more broadly Italian dishes such as prosciutto and mozzarella and tomato.
Via Cesare Cantù, 7, 20123 Milan
Good for: Variety of food and atmosphere
Not so good for: Going unnoticed at lunch time
FYI: Best to reserve. Open Monday–Saturday, noon–2.30pm and 7pm–10.30pm. Starters from €15; pastas from €24; mains from €30
Al Mercante owes its name to its former location on the Piazza dei Mercanti, a market square first built in 1233 and one of the city’s most beautiful historic landmarks, where up until 2018 owners Simona and Claudio Romanini would dress their tables for a lively dining experience that spilled outside.
The restaurant has since moved a few hundred metres to another square, beside the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, and the Romaninis, who took over the restaurant from their parents, have given it a modern makeove with a mix of high capitonnè backrests, pristine white tablecloths, modern wood elements and works of contemporary art on the walls. Though its menu — arguably one of the longest to be found in a high-end restaurant — has kept its traditional dishes, such as cotoletta alla Milanese, spaghetti vongole e bottarga and vitello tonnato, which the regulars keep coming back for, it keeps expanding with newer additions. Claudio likes to joke that they’re so passionate about food they have “gone crazy”, and have a hard time keeping the length of the menu in check.
Meanwhile, the carte du jour changes daily and depends on what the local farmers’ market is offering on the day. The raw fish options are hugely popular.
Al Mercante was once the place where you could find La Scala habitués and its ballet and opera stars, such as the late Carla Fracci, dining before or after performances. Over time it has become a lunchtime favourite for lawyers, banking executives and headhunters, many of whom work around the nearby Piazza Cordusio.
Via Savona 10, 20144 Milan
Good for: Seeing and being seen, a raw-fish feast and its wine list
Not so good for: Dressing down and vegetarians
FYI: Always be sure to book but do so well in advance if you plan to visit during one of Milan’s Fashion or Design Weeks. Open Monday–Tuesday, 7pm–midnight; Wednesday–Saturday, noon–3pm and 7pm–midnight. Tasting menu, €148 per person. With a few exceptions, dishes are about €30
Enrico Buonocore was 31 in 2007 when he opened Langosteria on Via Savona, a hip road off the Navigli district south of Milan’s city centre, where the headquarters of many Italian fashion houses are located.
Unsurprisingly, the high-end seafood restaurant quickly became a fashion-industry favourite, and over the past decade has launched a Langosteria bistro and café in Milan’s historic centre, a twin restaurant near Portofino, another in Paris and its latest one, last January in St Moritz.
As Buonocore likes to say: “Langosteria became a trend.” The entrepreneur, who draws inspiration from his travels, compares the restaurant’s concept to that of Zuma or Nobu. Valentina Bertini, the group’s wine manager, says that Buonocore is very detail-oriented and pays attention to the lighting of each table and to the backrest of every seat in every one of his restaurants, as “the wrong seating position can be detrimental to the meal”.
Moncler’s owner and chief executive Remo Ruffini took a stake in Langosteria in 2018 and he is also one of its regulars, with the luxury puffer jackets group’s headquarters a short walk from the restaurant.
Bertini says Ruffini’s investment has helped propel the Langosteria brand internationally. Many of its current customers are elite travellers who discovered the restaurant through its branches in Portofino and abroad and who visit when in Milan. He says one such diner returned for four nights in a row on his latest trip.
The customary Milanese clientele of high-spending professionals, who made Langosteria one of the city’s most popular restaurants, also keep coming back, for dishes such as king crab alla catalana (raw celery, tomato and onion), warm seafood salad with lemon and oil and the “carousel of raw fish”, which includes red snapper, gambero rosso and langoustines. Every meal begins with a small serving of the house’s pappa al pomodoro, a thick Tuscan bread soup with fresh tomatoes, and a topping of clams.
The wine list, which is as thick and glossy as a copy of Vogue, features more than 2,300 labels, including rare vintage champagnes that can cost up to several thousand euros per bottle.
During Milan Design Week in early spring, the Fashion Weeks and the days around the Italian Grand Prix (held at Monza, just outside of the city), the restaurant is fully booked and requires reservations at least three weeks in advance. It’s generally always busy, though, so trying a walk-in for dinner is not a good idea, especially at the weekend. You might, however, have better luck at lunch, which it only recently started offering.
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