Far from the Gucci flagship store and Ferraris parked in Milan’s fashion district, the canals of the Navigli have a more rustic vibe, surrounded by boutiques and small bars for aperitivi. My local ‘fixer’ had suggested the super old-school Trattoria Madonnina for a traditional experience of brusque service, handwritten menus and osso buco but its graffitied shutters had come down without warning and we had to re-think. Emergency Googling led us to Nebbia – apparently one of Milan’s hottest new(ish) restaurants, though any details about it were as hazy as the restaurant’s name suggests. Mercifully they were able to accommodate despite rocking up without a booking.
It was immediately clear this was going to be the polar opposite of Madonnina. Instead of gingham tablecloths, Nebbia has embraced minimalism with space-age loos hidden behind a sliding mirror. The walls are painted a subtle greyish blush, more at the Coteaux d’Aix end of the rosé spectrum than garish Peppa Pig. On this lunchtime visit there was the hubbub of Italians expressing their concerns about the government’s lurch to the right or making the case for wearing thicker jumpers this winter – it seems such concerns are universal. Indeed, from a quick scan of the menu and mini library by our table (including a copy of Noble Rot’s Wine from Another Galaxy), I deduced this casual “neo-trattoria” wants to attract international clientele. Perhaps unsurprising as chef Federico Fiore has worked in both London gastropubs and high-end Paris restaurants. The influences of both clearly show.
This is a kitchen that clearly knows what it’s doing, turning dishes that sound prosaic into something quite thrilling
Wine was the first order of the day but Nebbia’s notably young and quirky list was an initial concern: I feared we would accidentally choose one of those natural wines that tastes of recently-deceased squirrel. The skin-contact Albana Fricandò (2021) had pleasing peach and almond notes with appropriate acidity. To accompany it, a beautifully presented starter of mackerel with end-of-season figs and ricotta worked quite well, with an interesting use of raspberry to cut through the oiliness of the fish. For the more offally inclined there were offerings of ox heart, tripe and deep fried veal’s head, or a more pedestrian steak tartare.
Next up, gorgeous gnudi. These Tuscan dumplings of spinach and nutmeg – like the filling of ravioli but without the pasta encasing – were bathed in a consommé with browned butter and smoked egg yolk. This was a triumph, texturally and conceptually.
And then, in this most unexpected of meals, I wasn’t quite prepared for one of my best dishes of the year: “charcoaled chicken” with corn and friggitelli arrived splattered on the plate like a Rorschach inkblot test but, as I was beginning to learn, appearances at Nebbia are deceptive. The chicken was succulent and the crunchy corn added a further textural dimension, while somehow evoking memories of all the very best barbecues of childhood.
Meanwhile, another secondi of cod, potatoes and finferli (Italian girolles) delighted in its apparent simplicity – yet another dish comprising three core elements, each cooked perfectly and with nowhere to hide. This is a kitchen that clearly knows what it’s doing, turning dishes that sound prosaic into something quite thrilling.
However, the dessert selection was slightly deflating. Steering clear of the walnut semifreddo due to my friend’s nut allergy, it left only cheese or a ‘Flan Parisien.’ Whilst I appreciate how much work goes into a flan (which is essentially a custard tart), this was more of a 2D cardboard cut-out of a dish than a dessert. It might’ve been fine as an afternoon tea treat perhaps, and maybe I’ve been spoilt by similar dishes in London, but it just wasn’t in the same league as Anthony Demetre’s lovely tart with golden sultanas and salted butter at Wild Honey St James. There are certainly more possibilities with a tart.
And whilst service was all fine and dandy, I must also (reluctantly) take off half a mark for the male server who clearly needed to re-apply some deodorant before service – no, it wasn’t the biodynamic wine I assured my companion, it was definitely the waiter’s BO that wafted over our table each time a plate was delivered to our table. Nitpicking, yes, but at least it’s something that can be easily resolved.
Minor misgivings aside, it was a truly excellent and serendipitous lunch – all the more so on discovering it was a reasonable 70 Euros or so each. Nebbia is very much worth a visit if you’re looking for a modern dining experience away from the heaving touristy spots of Milan.
Via Evangelista Torricelli, 15
by J A Smith