As a child, one of my earliest culinary memories was walking into my mother’s kitchen and watching through a maze of fettucine drying on washing racks as she rolled out and cut strands of pasta. In reality, it was probably just one or two wooden clothes horses, but as a toddler, it seemed so much grander. It is this that I often think back on as one of my first food experiences, paving the way for where I am today.
So then, where better to embark on a culinary adventure than Italy, the home of pasta, some of the world’s best chefs, and producers of some of the finest ingredients. From the simple pleasures of the sweetness of an Italian tomato to the deep layers of umami found in a perfectly aged Parmigiano Reggiano, it is here.
Over the course of three weeks, I traversed Italy, experiencing the best the country had to offer. Think everything from underground speakeasies to swanky cocktail bars, pizzerias to the fine dining destinations, and luxury hotels to country house. On this trip, the two cities which captured me the most were Milan and Florence, so here I share my ultimate guide to experiencing these two cities.
An old textile workshop transformed into an exhilarating, stylish, incredibly sexy and effortlessly cool experience. The double-volume industrial-chic building, features two restaurants and a high-volume bar, together with a 700-year-old olive tree which stands sentinel over the venue.
The lower floor houses the cocktail bar and Moebius tapa bistrot – a small plate menu perfect for aperitivo and casual dining. Upstairs is where you’ll find Sperimentale, the fine-dining offering led by the two Michelin Star executive chef Enrico Croatti. In what is undoubtedly an incredible feat of engineering, the dining room appears to be suspended in space, as if hovering in the center of the building.
Moebius is magnificent in design and well curated; from drinks to food and service, it trully is an epic experience. moebiusmilano.it
An unassuming shopfront – reminiscent of a Chinese take-away shop – is revealed to be the entrance to one of the world’s most notorious speakeasies what is currently number 35 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.
Entering 1930 feels like a step back in time; the vintage furnishings and exposed brick harken back to the decade of speakeasies, moonshine making and clandestine meetings. This is especially true when venturing down to the lower floor, which is housed in a repurposed bomb shelter of a Milan long past, the original shelter rumoured to once have run the length of the city.
Here, the bar has a drink’s list like no other, one which pays homage to the past while pushing boundaries for the future. Diving deep into cocktail lore and supported by artisanal spirits – many made exclusively for the bar – the mixologists have created an incredibly thought through, intensely original menu of exceptional beverages. @1930cocktailbar
Unfussy, uncomplicated and unbelievably delicious. Trippa has to be one of the best trattorias in all of Italy. Chef Diego Rossi delivers plate after plate of produce-forward, deeply flavourful cooking.
As the name may suggest, ‘trippa’ is Italian for tripe, the menu features the ‘ugly bits’ and secondary cuts of meat, in addition to classic Italian dishes and, in line with the current direction of food, a strong vegetable focus.
Deceivingly simple, the dishes, which are comprised of only a handful of ingredients, are expertly cooked to be so much more than the sum of their parts.
Think the likes of fried tripe – by far the best offal I’ve ever had – or the pasta with butter and parmigiana – the rich sauce coating silky ribbons of pasta and the green beans and chicken neck dressed in a pistachio pesto, seasoned to perfection. At Trippa, everything just tastes like ‘more please’. Trippamilano.it
Four Seasons Hotel Milan
An oasis amongst the bustle of Italy’s fashion capital, the Four Seasons Hotel Milan is undoubtedly one of the most sought after addresses in the city.
Dating back to the 15th century, the building has been transformed into a luxurious escape within the heart of Milan’s fashion district. Built around a center courtyard abundant in greenery, one only has to step outside to be met with the foremost names in Italian (and international) fashion, from Gucci to Versace, Tiffany to Cartier.
Inside the hotel is equally stylish the modern interiors juxtaposed with the occasional whisper of its past – the remnants of a fresco peak through the screeded walls, vaulted ceilings sit above the swimming pool and stone hewn pillars line the lush courtyard.
The hotel features five specialty suites, inspired by the hotel’s historic location – both past and present. The sprawling penthouse suite, complete with private elevator and a rooftop terrace, showcases the beauty of the city with views of central Milan and the iconic Duomo. Light, bright and airy, the suite is kitted out in neutral tones, creating a relaxing and peaceful sanctuary.
On the other hand, the fashion suite presents a more modern interpretation of Milanese living with pops of colour, vibrant prints and 50s-inspired furnishings, creating the feel of the trendiest of the city’s apartments.
Rounding out the specialty suites is the presidential suite. in its own secluded wing, the renaissance suite has its original stucco ceiling, and plush velvet finishes in hues of deep purple and red. fourseasons.com
Gucci Giardino and Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura
There are few brands that embody the Italian spirit of style, sophistication and elegance as well as Gucci. Well known for their exquisite gowns, tailoring and fine Italian leather craftmanship, in Florence they have extended the brand DNA into a duo of superb dining establishments which stand side-by-side in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria – Gucci Giardino and Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura.
The cocktail bar, Gucci Giardino (Gucci Garden), is housed in a building once tenanted by a local florist and draws on the location’s floral past, pairing it with the house’s iconic style and the expertise of mixologist Martina Bonci. It is an exquisite space, one which evokes a sense of playful wonder and old-world charm.
The drinks menu has a host of incredibly elegant, refined and inventive drinks, like butterfly pea negronis with bright yellow lemon buttons and deconstructed martinis. The cocktails are accompanied by an elegant menu of decadent small plates.
Next door, the equally impressive Osteria is a project in partnership with the world-renowned Massimo Bottura. Here, the kitchen, led by the incredibly talented duo of Mexican-born Karime Lopez and Japanese-born Konda Takahiko, sees the merging of the two chefs’ cultures underscored with Massimo’s ingenuity and playfulness, together with impeccable aesthetic of Gucci.
Dishes such as “The Journey to Mexico”, an aubergine dish elevated with the help of bold Mexican flavours, “The Cannolo that wants to be a Canneloni”, a riff on two very different Italian classics and the “Non Dire Cassata”, a pre-dessert of spaghetti with flavours of pistachio and almond cream, all come together to create a beautiful tasting menu, bringing together the strengths of all chefs involved.
Once finished your meal or cocktail, pop next door for a spot of shopping at the Gucci Giardino Boutique or visit the Gucci Museum, where there’s sure to be a fascinating exhibition centered around the many facets of the fashion house on display. gucciosterio.com
With a history spanning two centuries, Locale is found within the remnants of the Concini Palace within the city’s historic Noble Quarter. Dating back to the 1200s, the building is steeped in Italian history and lore.
The ground floor features a series of distinct spaces: the garden – now the cocktail bar under a glass greenhouse which, on warmer evenings, opens to the elements – the library, court, amorino and the room of mirrors. Each space takes guests on a journey through time, from what has been to what is now.
While the ground floor comprises of the original palace, the basement is of a Florence long forgotten, a 1200s dwelling built before the streets were raised to the level they are at today. You’ll find a warren of passageways and vaulted rooms now used for the likes of wine storage, kitchens and private dining rooms.
The multifaceted space, used as both a conceptual fine-dining restaurant and award-winning cocktail bar means you can go for dinner before findig yourself migrating to the bar, where head bartender Alessandro Mengoini will shake, stir and pour up an array of his exceptional signature cocktails. Come midnight and the lights are lowered, the music is turned up, and everyone is invited to dance the night away.
Locale is undisputedly the most fun you can have on a night out in Florence. localefirenze.it
Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
The former private residence of one of Italy’s noble families, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is a visual spectacular. From the lush gardens to the frescos, stuccos and bevvy of sculptures around every corner, it is magnificent in its entirety.
The renaissance era palazzo, set within the largest private gardens in Florence, is the ultimate getaway for those looking to enjoy the city and still escape to tranquility away from the throngs of tourists.
It is also home to the Michelin-starred Il Palagio, where chef Paolo Lavezzini guides guests through a masterfully curated fine-dining experience inspired by the seasons. It is incredibly clever cooking, showcasing the finest of Italian produce to the best of its abilities.
The Atrium Bar is also worth a mention, and it is here that the talented mixologists have devised a menu which pays homage to the many people who have graced the property. There gin martinis are not to be missed.
The lavish finishes follow through to the rooms with the historical suites transporting guests back to in time thanks to the ornate headboards set underneath painted vaulted ceilings, complimented with the original Capodimonte Maioliche-style ceramic floor below it and 17th-century frescoes.
A night at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is to live like a king, if but only for your stay. The exquisite design is matched with impeccable, warm and friendly hospitality, delivering all you could ask for and then some. fourseasons.com
The famed birthplace of the negroni has returned to Florence with the reopening of Giacosa. Situated just across from its original location, the new setting is a stunning reinvention of the original café, where Count Negroni is said to have devised the much-loved cocktail.
Tones of gold, green and midnight blue, along with textures of brass, wood, leather and marble and some art-deco flare are used to great effect, creating a space which is as luxurious as it is welcoming.
The bar, helmed by head mixologist Lucca Mani and bar manager Gabriele Manfredi, is serving up some seriously impressive cocktails. Naturally, the classic negroni is on offer, as are negroni twists, signature pours and a host of seltzers.
Walking into Giacosa just feels special, they’ve captured the essence of the names history and imbued it with a vibrant modern touch, backed by a seriously impressive bar team.