Go eat your personality at Contraste. Or at least, food that is reflective of yourself, specifically chosen by the restaurant to complement their character appraisal of you. Opening the menu reveals a mirror, “reflecting the guest’s image,” I’m told, “and to help form a series of suitable plates.” Which explains why this chubby wayfarer sat for twenty-five-plus dishes – although, many are no more than a single bite, a dainty, down-in-one, tasty morsel.
Not another contemporary twist promise, another twiddly-accented, jus-dribbling, foam-flicking chef
The restaurant has a good reputation locally and much further afield for serving fresh, innovative Italian food with a contemporary twist. Oh, holy Madonna, not another contemporary twist promise, another twiddly-accented, jus-dribbling, foam-flicking chef wielding tweezers as if they were a conductor’s baton. And the long, ludicrous menu, the hard sell from front of house, the ‘concept’. Umph, the expanded, gangling list of ingredients; argh, the concept! Call me an Uber, Mario!
But no, instead I’m rewarded with a meal that surprises with ingredients reinterpreting Italian forms and aspects through the lens of a displanted chef from Uruguay. Matias Perdomo has the twiddly-adventitious accent, but everything else is drive and experimentation. He arrived in Italy at 21, working his way through the ranks at Pont de Ferr, one of Milan’s most popular trattorias. And, while he admits that “this is the country with the best food,” dedicating his career to exploring and understanding it – a fruitless ambition but one, he says, he’ll “have fun trying.” And at Contraste, the influence of Italy looms large.
A mysterious black box with a key kicks things off. Inside, three appetizers: a lush and soften foie gras crème brûlée – French, but stay with me – a Venetian sarde in saor and a Piedmontese beef tartare that I could have eaten over and over. There’s a brief respite in the offering of a glass of Luggin Succo di Mela apple juice before an amberjack fish mosaic arrives, a colourful rubik of small-cubed amberjack alongside cubes of grapefruit, orange, black squid, foie gras and macadamia nut. Then, thinly-sliced langoustine like ribbons is covered in a resplendent, bright orange chorizo sauce which I imagine poured over nachos and pizza and pasta and popcorn, cascading down my chin. Finally, a tart-like potato slice is topped with a piquant chorizo-octopus gel and its delicious suckers.
Then, a flurry of dishes: caramelised onion and goats cheese is sealed within a blown sugar casing – a staple from Matias’ Pont de Ferr days – then a tiny carbonara within a bite-size pasta ball and beef sashimi with umeboshi (salted) plum. Again, there’s a brief period of rest and a breather of booze – Mangauaro Grillo from Sicily – but barely had I adjusted my belt and here comes service again: thinly-sliced scallops have been transformed into supple noodles in an umami-hit dashi, then salted sea bass – the casing cracked, the fish deboned and the dish presented tableside – then codfish with a traditional Piedmontese bagna càuda (garlic and anchovies fondue); mussels, more pasta, pork, veal and pigeon. Then, another tartare but this time of rabbit, and a terrific donut alla bolognese served with a glass of fruity Valpolicella Saseti, Monte Dall’Ora from the hills of Verona. The donut is a classic pasta recipe, but fried; the bolognese a classic ragù.
I sigh a defeatist sigh as desserts begin to emerge. Still, each is suitably sized and flows nicely on from the savoury courses: a porcini ice cream and cioccolato face, moulded to replicate the restaurant’s iconic sculpture “The Secret” by the Milanese artist Matteo Pugliese that greets guests upon entering. Then, a fig leaf ice cream with basil oil which is quickly surpassed by a wonderfully artistic “Campari Sicily” (pictured top of page) shaped in the style of a Cola bottle but with the refreshing booze-laden hit of bittersweet orange. Then, to end, a fluffy tearaway segment of sweet “Rosa’s Cake” which, like the best of things, is created with simplicity using just eggs, sugar and water, and that I have since attempted to recreate at home – unsuccessfully.
I’d grown bored of the long, reserve 4-days of your life, look-at-me, look-at-me tasting menus that tire and repeat. This, though, reinstalled my love for the long-list and reminded me how exciting and revolutionary restaurants can be. When the chef and their team are pushing, driving, kicking down doors; researching, reimagining, rewarding the diner with something they’ve never seen, felt or tasted before. That’s a rare find, but this is some of the best modern eating in Italy with just the right amount of pretension. The rotating menu – 45 recipes each service – is the result of numerous tastings, staff feedback and managerial disagreements; continually adapting and evolving, with plates never losing focus of what an ingredient offers and the role it plays in each playful course.
I was also reminded just how important great service is to the dining experience and overall success of a restaurant. Not merely good service, but great – you’d think that anyone could write down an order, hand it to the kitchen and return with exactly what was written down, but you’d be surprised. Perhaps it has something to do with the Milanese, who all think they have more in common with what’s fashionable than the rest of Italy – judging by the service here, they do. The restaurant’s aspirations are clear. This is a one Michelin-star place with obvious two-star ambitions. And I’d go along with that. C
Contraste, Via Giuseppe Meda, 2, 20136 Milan MI, Italy
+39 02 4953 6597; contrastemilano.it