March 12 2010
Milan is the most posey fashion capital, and finding a bar with real style where you can relax off-duty is not easy. I was sceptical when a friend suggested meeting in the Bar at the Principe Hotel, which I remembered as a place to be seen on a grand Italian scale, all dark marble and gilt, with a huge coloured glass dome and stiff chairs. But the biggest surprise now was not that they’d been allowed to cover the dome with a softly-lit, white tented effect and a vast chandelier, or the soft beige box chairs you could cheerfully snooze in after a hard day on the show circuit, or even the retro-modern new bar with its crystal strips of warm interior light.
The surprise was bar manager Enzo Mirto who, like a character from a 1930s movie, is the sort that people come from continents away to have their drinks mixed by and confide in, even though he is a mere 31. Finding us a corner table in a room full of models and stylists was his pleasure, and he could not have been more solicitous. I don’t much like cocktails or spirits, preferring decent wine or champagne straight, and I hate anything sweet. “Well, you could just have champagne,” said Enzo, looking a little disappointed. “But it’s a pity. Do you like fresh fruit?”
He mixed me a Raspberry Filtrini (€20) with a soupçon of berry vodka, some clear raspberry liqueur, champagne and a bunch of fat raspberries – refreshing and uplifting rather than cloying. For my friend, who had to return to late deadlines, he made a Mocha Martini (€18), a crème de cacao and coffee-based cocktail topped with cappuccino foam.
I had always considered mixologists hyped-up showmen until now, but this Heston Blumenthal of the cocktail, who trained at London hotspots Soho House and Shoreditch House, is the real deal, studying and experimenting in his free time. His latest wheeze is cocktails served in an ice “glass” for added sharpness, with an outer glass to catch meltwater. He even does off-the-cuff mixes for demanding customers – one is now famous as the Bloody Enzo (€20), which entails fennel, ginger and lime in addition to more obvious ingredients.
Gratifyingly, the bar has no VIP area – it’s cool enough not to need one, but genuinely friendly despite the largish space. Even David Beckham, who lives at the Principe when in Milan, gets an ordinary corner table – the same one that we had.