Despite being ever so slightly depressed as a week in the Dolomites came to an end and two of our team flew back to London, Mary and I soldiered on and made the most of an evening in the buzzing Navigli district of Milan. Who knew that Milan used to be well connected by canals? Not me. Only two now remain in the centre, the Naviglio Grande (built over 800 years ago!) and Naviglio Pavese, to the south east of the Duomo. These canals and the streets around them make up the Navigli district, a vibrant area packed with art galleries, boutique shops, cocktail bars, restaurants and more. You can go for a wander with your drinks, jump on a boat tour, drop into a 4th century basilica, catch an open-air gig, or simply grab a spot for sunset by the water.
We kicked off our night with dinner at Al Pont de Ferr, an unassuming Michelin-starred osteria on Ripa di Porta Ticinese. You can go all out with their tasting menus ($55 or $75), but we went a la carte, opting for outstanding, filling plates of black risotto, pork chop and crunchy squid, and tagliolini of fresh saffron paste with bottarga, fennel, lemongrass, and candied cedar. And some wine, of course. For around $20, they also threw in some exciting amuses bouches and a theme park of a bread board. All the while, locals and tourists passed by, probably unaware of the riches on offer at this outstanding restaurant.
For dessert, we hit the backstreets and grabbed some superior gelato at LatteNeve – the single origin chocolate and Piedmont hazelnut were to die for. Just over the road, all-day hangout Taglio provided us with brunch and caffeine the following morning. After ice cream, we returned to Naviglio Grande for a stroll around the calming Santa Maria delle Grazie al Naviglio church, hidden in plain sight, followed by fresh beers at the lively BQ Birra Artigianale Di Qualita brewpub.
The rest of the evening was spent at Mag Café, one of Milan’s finest cocktail bars. We were fortunate enough to know someone on the inside to secure a couple of seats at the bar, where the action is. Otherwise we may have had a bit of a wait, as this is one popular place. It’s worth that wait, especially if you make it there soon whilst they still have their awesome fairytale-inspired drinks list on offer. It’s up there with the likes of Dead Rabbit & Little Red Door’s recent creative menus, and might just get them noticed by World’s 50 Best Bars and Tales of the Cocktail.
We worked our way through La Bella e La Bestia amongst others before we were whisked away to their secret room, Backdoor43. It’s probably the smallest bar in the world, with a twist – whilst you can supposedly book the four seats in this tiny but beautiful booze-hole for an hour or two, you can also queue up outside for takeaway drinks delivered at high speed through a tiny hatch. Whilst the thirsty punters were comically craning their necks to submit their orders to a pair of hands, we were cosily tucked up inside, controlling the music from an iPad and enjoying bespoke cocktails and next level hospitality from our personal mixologist. All too soon, our time was up, but we did manage to squeeze in a negroni or two back in Mag Café before it closed – the perfect way to end a wonderful evening in the Navigli.