Italian cuisine has the reputation of being one of the best in the world, but for me, a born and bred Roman turned Londoner, eating out in Italy can sometimes be a disappointment. I expect the best of the best, while too many restaurants – and Italian customers – are happy to settle for just “good enough”. Like a risotto that relies on a mix of great flavours, constant attention and immaculate timing, so the perfect restaurant meal requires the best ingredients, skilful preparation, attentive service and a welcoming space to enjoy it.
Ratanà, in Milan’s hip neighbourhood of Isola, ticks all these boxes and delivers on its promise of offering modern interpretations of traditional Milanese and Lombard cuisine. The area around the restaurant has changed hugely in recent years with the development of the city’s business district, Centro Direzionale, and the arrival of the striking Bosco Verticale housing project. The early-20th-century villa in which Ratanà has been located since 2009 stands surrounded by a garden, a children’s playground and towering high rises.
Walking in at 2pm on a Friday, without a reservation, I was lucky enough to find a space to sit at the counter. Surprisingly, the waiter addressed me in English, proof of Ratanà’s popularity with tourists and an ever-growing expat community. The lunch that followed was a simple, yet flawless, two courses and a glass of wine, for a very reasonable €41.50.
The house cocktail (€10), recommended by the waiter, was tempting – a take on a traditional Aperol spritz with Aperitivo Berto, seltz, spumante and Angostura all’arancia – but instead I settled for a glass of Montepulciano Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo “Senzaniente” 2017 (€6), a natural rosé that answered my desire for a light aperitif and a complex wine to pair with meat.
Head chef Cesare Battisti leads the kitchen, adding a creative touch to local dishes such as mondeghili (Milanese meatballs). The menu changes seasonally, but a few dishes are available all year round. Risotto alla Milanese with ossobuco (€30) is a signature dish, a classic saffron-infused risotto and braised veal that works both as a first and second course. As I spotted the vibrant yellow rice and tender meat on my neighbour’s plate, I regretted my decision to steer away from tradition and order pasta instead. But my food envy lasted only until I tasted my tagliolini freschi con ragù di costine di Cinta Senese (€18): perfectly cooked pasta seasoned with a sauce of tomatoes and slow-cooked spare ribs from the best of Italian pigs, a DOP Tuscan breed.
While the main course was a testament to great traditional cooking, the dessert, a deconstructed 80 per cent cocoa chocolate cake with cream, biscuit and lemon sablé (Cioccolato e Limone, €12) showcased Battisti’s ability to take more of a fine-dining approach.
I get a sense there isn’t much Ratanà’s chef and co-founder can’t achieve. Thanks to his appreciation for Italian produce, seasonality and sustainability, he has already managed to offer one of the best dining experiences in Milan.
Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London, passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with the @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.