Fine Dining Lovers went on a mission to discover the new Mercato Centrale in Milan, the latest addition to the Human Company group, following similar formats already launched in Florence, Rome and Turin. Opened on 2 September, the new market occupies a once-abandoned space in Milan's huge Central Station, on the side overlooking Piazza IV Novembre and Via Sammartini.
The past lingers everywhere in the Central Market, where vaults and walls have been deliberately left rough and littered with graffiti-style graphics that serve as a testimony of a place steeped in history and stories.
Our advice is to fall into the market almost by accident, at any time of day or evening (it opens every day from 7 to midnight), and let yourself be carried away by the atmosphere of an authentic market: a well organised bustle, made up of people coming and going, a multiplicity of products, scents that make the senses dance and colours that make the eyes shine. There is even a radio station, the Radio Laboratory curated by DJ Alessio Bertallot, as well as the artisan who sings among her flowers, Rosalba Piccinni.
If you have the time, chat with the staff at the stalls: they're young but excellently trained guys who will delight you with the story of their products, as proof of the high quality offerings present in this new Milanese gastronomic centre.
Mercato Centrale is potentially a place for everyone: whether you're looking for a pre-departure snack (screens with real-time train timetables abound), or you're meeting with friends for a snack, an aperitif or dinner, or even if you're looking for an informal but high-quality business lunch in the beating heart of one Milan's vital hubs.
It's one of the crucial moments of the day for the Milanese as well as travellers who pass through the Central Station. It must be fast, good, sweet but also savoury. At the Mercato Centrale there is no shortage of places for cappuccino and croissants, but it's not just any breakfast. We are talking about award-winning pastry and excellent ingredients.
The corner of the famous Pasticceria Martesana, a reference point for the city since 1966, is directed by Vincenzo Santoro and offers its usual quality. Croissants, pastries and even small sandwiches to be enjoyed at the market or to take away perhaps to face a train journey with sweetness.
The Neapolitan sfogliatella of Sabato Sessa
Established in 1930 in Naples, the Sessa pastry shop is the icon of the Neapolitan city in terms of sfogliatelle. The market counter is gargantuan, covered with classic sfogliatelle as well as those with cream and chocolate. To top it all off, there are donuts, pancakes and portions of pastry. On the right side, Neapolitan pastry gives way to Sicilian ones made of cassatine and cannoli, not to mention other pastries from around the world. We tasted the pastiera, good even if not among the most enveloping we have tried, and of course the sfogliatella, fragrant and with an intense citrus flavour. We spent 7 euros, which for two quality artisanal products in Milan seemed quite honest.
Davide Longoni's bread and sweets
Davide Longoni's corner needs no introduction, offering sweets at breakfast time, pizzas and focaccias at aperitif time, and freshly baked bread at any time. The varieties of bread are expertly explained by the vendors who describe the products with the same passion with which flours and ingredients are sought. We bought a round rye bread with a crunchy crust and masterfully soft and honeycomb crumb, and we spent just over 4 euros.
Lunch and dinner
Magnificent scenarios open up on main Italian meals. The market is in a simple but very suggestive location that reminds us of the Spanish covered markets where we have been shopping and eating for years - a formula of food and wine experience that was perhaps a little lacking here in Milan. The alternatives for lunch and dinner are many and range from meat to fish, passing through Genoese burgers and focaccias, empanadas, dim sum, bao and much more. Perhaps the vegan and vegetarian offerings are a bit scarce, but there is no lack of excellent products such as truffle by Luciano Savini and pizza by Crosta.
Andrea Collodi's fish market
The fish market is certainly one of the most colourful and amazing corners of the market. On the long counter there are varieties of fish among the most prized, but also no lack of less well-known fish that in recent years is finding its rightful place on the tables of Milanese, and on restaurant menus, including Michelin-starred ones.
Raw seafood, lobster, mullet, turbot, glasswort and all the good things the sea has to offer leave room for small containers of dishes ready to go into the oven or pan. There is no shortage of carpaccio and Italian sushi. It's also possible to buy fish and have it prepared on site, like excellent fried paranza. A very fresh tuna fillet, ready to cook, is sold for 10 euros, which seems to us not only an affordable price for Milan, but also an advantageous one.
Fausto Savigni's meat and cured meats
Fausto Savigni's meat counter is a feast for the eyes of carnivores, a red meat paradise. The Florentine, still to be cut, transports us among the Tuscan hills for a moment. The Sambuca Pistoiese company also offers Cinta Senese pork and vacuum-packed products to take home. Here too it is possible to choose the cuts you prefer and entrust it to the cooking of the chefs in the corner to savour them directly at the tables of the Market.
Fresh pasta from the Michelis family
Produced in the Mondovì laboratories in Piedmont, the fresh pasta of the Michelis family is a family pasta. You can guess by the care and quality of the ingredients. We tasted fresh trofie with saffron, shrimp bisque, sakura and red shrimp tartare. Creamy and callused, the pasta is served in generous portions on biodegradable dishes that respect the environment. We paid 15 euros and it seemed very well spent, but you know: pasta is always pasta, at any time of day.
Matias Perdomo's Empanadas
Train departing and craving a quick snack? At Mercato Centrale there is space for exquisitely Latin-flavoured street food, such as the empanadas signed by the Contraste group. A spin-off of the store in via San Maurilio of the Michelin-starred trio formed by Simon Press, Matias Perdomo and Thomas Piras, the corner offers typical dumplings of meat, fish or vegetables cooked fresh for a quick snack or a takeaway lunch or dinner.
Joe Bastianich's American barbecue
It could be the rise of Bastianich's television success, or the surprising passion of the Milanese for the barbecue (incredibly unexpected even for us in the editorial staff), but it was the corner of the American barbecue (at 7 pm on a Tuesday in September, with the Super Salone in the middle of design week) that boasted the longest queue. We made our way through the queue and burgers appeared on the counter that looked like towers. The smoked scent was irresistible and spread throughout the upper floor of the market. Definitely to try.
Boiled meat and lampredotto by Giacomo Trapani
Also on the floor above Mercato Centrale there is a very small corner dedicated to tripe, boiled meats and lampredotto. For lovers of Florentine offal, this is the point of reference. The Tuscan accent of those serving you will not go unnoticed, and eating a plate of Florentine tripe or biting into a sandwich with lampredotto, while closing your eyes, will transport you back to Tuscany for a moment. Be careful not to get too distracted and to consult the train timetables that occasionally appear on the screens of the entire market, as long as you have to take a train.
Giovanni Mineo and Simone Lombardi's pizza
Is there a need to present the Crosta pizza? Maybe not, but at the corner they tell it so well that we listen to that poem we know by heart as if it were the first time. The pizzas are blast-chilled already rolled out and seasoned with the tomato base. Then they are stuffed and baked in large ovens for just over two minutes. We taste the iconic marinara with fior di latte mozzarella, Taggia olives, capers, olives and grated lemon zest. Crunchy and full of bubbles, it is impossible to stop eating it.
Drink (well and responsibly)
A glass of wine for lunch or dinner, an ice-cold beer when it's hot, a well-mixed drink. These are all occasions in which the Milanese drink willingly, but there is a moment that is sacred, the one that separates the moment in which the work computer is turned off from that of dinner: the aperitif.
The day in Milan is marked by aperitif time, it is everyone's favourite moment, without denial.
The Tannico wine shop
Here we find a very well curated selection of wines from Italy and the world. All the labels are explained and told with care. You can accompany them with glorious platters of cold cuts and cheeses, and enjoy the Milanese aperitif with all your senses.
Flavio Angiolillo's cocktail bar
The smiles and competence that have characterised all the openings signed by Angiolillo and the Farmily group, can be found here at the Mercato Centrale. The corner is small, surrounded by stools on which, comfortably seated, you can be told about the drinks that have made Milan famous in the world of international mixology. The drinks are simple, understandable and perfectly balanced, mirroring what the bar world has been trying to explain for some time: less alcohol and more concept. Always good.