Let there be light
We are not more than 5km away from the centre of Milan, where the majestic Duomo stands. Away from the throngs of tourists, we drive through streets that are decidedly local and neighbourhoods industrial. This isn’t a side of Milan that most visitors see; but as we pull up to a sleek building named W37, it is a side of Milan that should.
We are here to sample the culinary delights of Lume, a restaurant headed by Chef Luigi Taglienti, which won its first Michelin star within half a year of opening. But first, some context. Lume is part of the the W37 complex, a multi-purpose space resurrected from the former Richard Ginori porcelain factory. The brainchild of Marco Bruzzi and Monica Melotti, it includes apartments, offices, event spaces and – the reason why we are here – the restaurant.
Lume in Italian means light. It is, in fact, the theme of the evening. Literally, at first – because stepping into the restaurant is to enter lustre. It is a particularly sunny day, so the light streams into through the windows into a space defined by white. Prudent use of grey tones by Melotti, who designed the space, save it from seeming too clinical, so the overall atmosphere is that of clean intimacy. The kitchen is on full display, with a sense of delineation offered by incredible latticed wooden panels, which resemble lace doilies. The glow extends outside, into the Orto di Lume al fresco area, ensconced within a giant birdcage – white, of course – and bordered by a garden philosophically linked to ingredients used in the kitchen.
As a space, it is inspiring. And as we sit down for dinner, it is apparent that lume – light – extends figuratively as well.
Chef Taglienti, soft-spoken in person, is remarkably precise in the kitchen. The essence of his cuisine, he says, does not stray from his Italian roots – but there is a refinement to the dishes that makes them more radiant than rustic. To whit, our first course, ‘Ligurian Picture’, consists of delicate thin layers – white prawns from Santa Margherita, cold shellfish consommé, citrus jam, focaccia and courgette trombetta, drizzled with caviar and fermented goat’s milk. It sounds like it could be overwhelming rich, but there is enough restraint and balance here to make it sparkle.
Layers are a common theme for this menu. The second dish – black and white squid – is built upwards, starting with a citrus reduction, pannacotta of colla di pesce and sea urchin, impossibly thin circles of squid (white and dyed with cephalopod ink), topped with a fried spaghetto. Subtly briny and amazingly creamy, this is sheer elegance. Next, a risotto with fresh turmeric juice impresses with its sharp flavours, neatly avoiding the heaviness trap that risotto can often fall into.
A plate of Morone fish and grilled kiwi with pickled patisson courgette seems too stark at first, but pouring seafood jus mixed with kiwi juice lifts it up visually, while tasting delicate, fresh and very, very summery. From the sea to the forests – a soup of peaches, tomato and summer mushrooms provides deep earthy flavours, cut with the zing of fresh herbs. Dessert is a tiramisu, but not as you know it. Encased within a truffle-like shell – topped with a sliver of actual black truffle – it is intense, with sprinkles of sea salt providing some surprising contrast.
In Italy, it is easy to leave a meal feeling swollen with richness. Tonight, I left feeling gratified, in perfect balance. Lume deserves all the accolades it receives. It lives up to its name, in sight and in plate.