Review of Alice Ristorante, Milan

Review of Alice Ristorante, Milan

by Tom Riby 2 April 2015

Great Italian Chefs is already underway. Our producer, Tom, set his sights on Milan as a first visit to meet Viviana Varese who has been re-shaping a new type of cuisine in the fashion capital of Italy.

Tom worked as the producer for Great Italian Chefs.

Tom worked as the producer for Great Italian Chefs. Originally from the UK, he has always been a part of Britain's culinary scene, working with chefs such as Robert Thompson and Gordon Ramsay, Tom now lives in Tuscany, Italy with his family. His obsession with Italy’s culture combined with a shared passion for food is his dream now realised.

When you arrive in Milan you are greeted with a sight not so dissimilar to London, tall buildings and a fast pace of life that swallows you up as soon as you arrive at the station. However, in Milan there is that Italian touch which means there is a particular “style” everywhere you turn, coffee from heaven and the history, well, it can literally take your breath away with landmarks such as the World famous Duomo.

After confirming that Viviana Varese would join our collection of Great Italian Chefs for the app launching in October I travelled over to Milan to visit her famous Alice Ristorante for lunch.

Viviana was born in the seaside town of Salerno and started her culinary career in 1994 at the age of 21 when she took an internship at the restaurant "Mediterraneo" of Piacenza, followed by another famous restaurant "Albareta" Erbusco to learn under the guidance of the Master Chef Gualtiero Marchesi who is a hero of Italian cooking.

Famous for her exquisite seafood and meat dishes, one of the most unique qualities of Viviana’s new cuisine is her emphasis on gluten-free dishes and in particular, her vegetarian offerings which are light but full of flavour. This is something I wanted to try for myself.

On March 2007 Viviana brought all of her experience and knowledge to Milan to open Alice Ristorante with her friend and partner Sandra Ciciriello who researches every product and ingredient for Viviana creating an unbeatable duo. It was not long until Alice Restaurant was awarded with the Michelin Star and praise from L’Espresso and the Gambero Rosso guides.

When you arrive at the building, you are tasked with a journey to reach the top floor where the restaurant is. You must walk through the gourmet shop named Eataly where the most delicious selection of food and wine is on offer from around Italy. Who ever would like to define “whetting the appetite”, I believe this is exactly it.

Alice means “Anchovy” in Italian and once you find the secret door to the restaurant on the top floor you are fully immersed into an Aquarium themed interior with luxury finishes. It’s calm at the top, the seaside feel is just right, especially when you consider you are in the heart of Milan. The furniture and decorations have been carefully chosen by Viviana and Sandra who have selected the works of artists with a sea theme and the Fish PAPIER-MÂCHÉ sculpture by Enrico Paolucci placed on every table was a beautiful testament to the design.

I chose the vegetarian tasting menu. This was a menu that I felt was more relevant to showcasing the latest recipes and dishes by Viviana. I can already tell you that her seafood and meat specialities are among the best. The menu was seven courses ranging from “Aromatic” to “Universo” which I will explain more about.

The first course arrived on a gorgeous stone base that made me feel more at sea included chick pea bites that literally melted in your mouth and the more sumptuous flavours of Pecorino, Mozzarella di Bufala and tomatoes. To be honest, I got a little carried away with the tastes, so they were eaten faster then I could understand the flavours.

Continuing on with a light salad which included Quinoa, Red fruits and Eduli flowers, this deceptive plate exploded with flavours which came from the fruits and highly influenced by the aromatic herbs. I cannot tell you the last time I tasted such a memorable salad, I will carry this experience with me for a very long time.

Chickpea canapés at alice ristorante
Chickpea canapés
Artichoke dish at Alice Ristorante
The stunning artichoke dish
Chocolate dessert at Alice Ristorante
The rich chocolate dessert

The next course comes from Viviana’s influence in her early days of working at the family Pizza Restaurant. A pizzette arrived, made with a lightly fried pastry, basil sauce and quite possibly the most interesting Bavarese of tomato and lemon. The lightness of the pastry allowed more flavour to be lifted from the carefully crafted sauces and punchy yet slightly chilled tomato and lemon Bavarese.

The following course “Follia” was an exquisite work of art. Gnocchi of vegetables with crunchy pearls, peppers and warm Pecorino poured on top. I happen to be a big lover of Pecorino and I complement Viviana and Sandra for their excellent choice of cheeses on offer throughout the whole menu.

Another masterpiece followed shortly afterwards with a dish that pays tribute to the Artichoke. It was carefully decorated dish with artichoke cream and a slightly innocent looking ice cream that created a wonderful fusion of freshness and rich flavours.

Did I mention I was a bit fan of Pecorino? Well the penultimate course was in fact called “Paradiso” and that was exactly what it was. A whole slice of Pecorino from the wheel decorated with a variety of flavours from mustard of orange to Thun apple all positioned on top of the pecorino and grilled ever so slightly. So light yet incredibly delicious.

Viviana’s menu was so accurate, light and imaginative with dishes that delivered above and beyond. It has been one of the most memorable vegetarian menus I have ever eaten and an exciting new cuisine which we have seen changing the landscape of the restaurants today. It’s an inspiring start and I cannot wait to re-create and share Viviana’s recipes at home. I wonder what they may be?