Milan | The Small

Not so much a restaurant as an experience, The Small, just off the far end of Corso Buenos Aires, does its best to defy definition – and even description. It’s not just fashionably shabby-chic, it’s refined and sexy; a concept, yes, but more a personal statement, a way of life as espoused by Alessandro Lo Piccolo and Giancarlo Petriglia, partners in life as in this venture. From tiny beginnings (under 20 square meters), it doubled its floor space this year to accomodate up to 40 diners if the weather’s clement and you count the tables out on the pavement. But the excellent little bistrot in Milan‘s Loreto area is huge in attitude, bursting at the seams with a variegated and continually evolving collection of homeware, artworks and interior design pieces – from furniture to bric-à-brac, from the chair you sit on to the table linen, from antique to vintage. No random assortment, this amazing décor, but studied and signed by Giancarlo, fashion designer with a penchant for accessories, 8 years at the top with Trussardi and on to a series of other prestigious experiences including his own label, lately also creative director of the new chic Opera line by Piquadro.

But day to day life at The Small – the eating and drinking and making sure you love every minute of it – is Alessandro‘s concern. Hailing from Sicily but with a background as eclectic as the décor, he’s the one tirelessly rearranging the furniture, tweaking the table settings and managing work behind the scenes (where he favours the long, slow cooking techniques of haute cuisine). Simple Italian dishes lightly revisited make up the menu: try the excellent tartare, a deliciously thick chickpea soup on a winter evening, or a perfect, creamy risotto alla milanese incredibly without a jot of butter. The Small (in case, like me, you hadn’t noticed) is less a reference to the diminutive origins of this cosy Milanese eatery as Alessandro‘s surname in translation. He’s the charming host, and an exceptionally caring one whether you’re a first-timer or one of the many returnees who’ve become friends. I saw him literally holding the baby while Mum and Dad enjoyed their meal…. It’s one of the coolest and best in town and you must book, well in advance to be sure.