Cracco Addict, Rachel Seed
“Do you need the toilet?” That was the first thing that was said to us as our coats were whisked away to the cloakroom. We stifled giggles, sensing it wouldn’t be appropriate to laugh too loudly in Cracco-Peck, Milan’s most lauded Michelin star eatery. Besides, I don’t think they would have had any idea what we were laughing at. I’m sure the question wouldn’t have sounded nearly as amusing or so forward in Italian. Luckily, anything sounds charming with an Italian accent. The toilets are upstairs, and I imagine he took one look at the height of my heels and decided a trip up the dramatic glass staircase would have been rather traumatic for me (or perhaps for the pristine glass steps) – quite thoughtful, if you think about it.
Cracco-Peck is the result of the genius partnership between Carlo Cracco, an Alain Ducasse prodigy, and Milan’s infamous gourmet food emporium, Peck. The restaurant opened in 2003, and three short years later won its two Michelin stars. And how deserving it is of this prestigious accolade. Memories of the evening still linger wistfully in my mind and on my taste buds; it was as memorable a food experience as I have had in recent years. Carlo Cracco specialises in twists on Milanese classics, playfully experimenting with contrasts of flavours, consistency and styles of cooking. An evening spent here is exciting, dramatic, challenging and quite wonderful.
The restaurant was full and the clientele diverse – young, Sloaney couples; older rotund foodies; the prerequisite American and Japanese tourists; and next to us, a family of four with two children, aged roughly eight and 13, who sat sipping their wine while we wondered how it could be that it was legal for a child of eight to drink wine in Italy but illegal for an adult to use an iron in a hotel room.
The dining room felt slightly austere when we first walked in, but it is stylishly kitted out and the friendliness of the waiting staff and the contented chatter from the all the tables (including some genuine gasps and yelps of surprise and delight as some of the more daring dishes were brought out), helped bring life and warmth to the room. It all felt quite theatrical, like the tables were situated around the edge of the room on purpose; to make it easier to watch the drama unfold at each table as the food arrived.
We started with a glass of Proseco – the Italian ‘Champagne’, and judging by the magnums of the stuff being consumed all around us, the Italians obviously like their bubbly a much as their French neighbours. A selection of snacks (this seems to be the ‘now’ word to replace the more formal amuse-bouche) was brought – the obligatory grissini, miniature canapés, crisps and a little box of wafer-thin dried vegetables (we weren’t sure whether we were supposed to eat these or take them home, so we opted for the latter).
Moments later we were presented with a work of art: a caramalised Russian salad. In the absence of plates or cutlery, we could only assume it was form to use our hands. The crisp, sweet outer layer gave way to a soft, creamy centre – I would have been as happy to have this at the end of the meal as I was at the beginning, and looking back I think that was probably intentional. Carlo Cracco is clearly a man with a sense of the ridiculous as well as the sublime, and it shows in the playfulness of his food.
The seafood salad that arrived next was fresh, light and extremely clever. Fennel, mange tout and ribbons of gelatinous seafood (there is definitely some Blumenthal-esque laboratory work going on in this kitchen) sat beneath clams and mussels and drizzles of herby oil.“Paper eggs” was how the waiter described the next dish. I couldn’t make out anything vaguely egg-like, but under the crispy, paperiness there was definitely an eggy undertone. The “paper eggs” themselves were rather bizarre – even for my adventurous tastes – but the truffle sauce, shavings of truffle and asparagus spears made the dish for me. We were told, “Langoustines doesn’t translate into English,” as though we are too much a land of philistines to have our own word for such a delicacy – as if it is lost on us anyway, so why bother have our own word for it? But the langoustines weren’t lost on us at all. The sweet, juiciness of the shellfish combined with the earthy, bitter seaweed and tart bittersweet mandarin sauce, was an assault on the senses and left me feeling I could eat the entire dish all over again.
At this point, the American tourists arrived and after their snacks and a glass of bubbly, asked for the “Bible”. Whilst I was having a divine experience, I thought that was taking things a bit too far. But he was, of course, referring to the wine list with its choice of over 1,800 bottles from some of the best vineyards in the world. They went for a Californian (“When in Rome…” clearly isn’t an oft-used American cliché – and yes, of course I was eavesdropping) but we went Italian all the way, and sampled some outstanding wines, including a light as a feather Pinot Bianco, San Valatain 2005 and a rich, deep, lingering Valpolicella Superiore Quintarelli Guiseppe.
The dishes were coming out of the kitchen at quite a pace. Next was mayonnaise ravioli with fish tongues (I hoped I heard him wrong, but sadly I did not) and what I’ve described in my notes as a ‘pretty spawn sauce’ – I think the neverending flow of wine was going to my head. I don’t want to say anything bad about this restaurant because there really is nothing to fault, it’s just a matter of taste and not everyone can be expected to like everything that comes out of even the very best of kitchens. So all I will say is that, if you like fish tongues, you’ll love this dish. And if you’ve ever had fish tongues before, to know whether you like them, then all respect to you.
Risotto with ginger and Schezuan pepper and wild rice, and a veal Milanese followed – both were sensational, particularly the modern take on the classic Italian veal dish.
The last savoury dish of bone marrow packed a punch worthy of Mike Tyson, but the gelatinous texture is not for the faint-hearted, and I was ready for the sweet stuff.
Pulp of mango and Fisherman’s Friend was far more delicious than it sounds and the palate cleansing and intense wafer-thin dried fruits were moreish in the extreme, as were the naughty-but-nice caramelised nuts. The deep-fried chocolate-filled doughnuts with an olive oil granita and caviar was incredible. I’m not far-out enough to ever have picked this dish from the menu, but I’m immensely glad it was chosen for me. When I told the cheeky waiter that it was one of the most delicious things I’d ever tasted, he replied: “But you haven’t tried me”! A step too far in anyone’s book, but somehow the Italians get away with so much more than their British counterparts.
We rounded off an already special evening with a tour of the kitchen and an audience with the handsome, charming and talented chef – Mr Carlo Cracco himself. Exhausted, sated and blown away by what we’d just eaten, the walk home through Duomo Square was a picture-postcard end to one of the most memorable foodie nights I’ve ever experienced.
Cracco-Peck, Via Victor Hugo, 4, Milano
Tel. +39 02 876 774