Sunday, 27 July 2014

Dreaming of Mozzarella (Picture Heavy)

If you've never been to Italy before and you're stopping by Milan, there's a place you really should know about.

If you're into mozzarella in a big way and can't think of a better way to spend a lazy summer afternoon than sipping a chilled glass of white whilst nibbling on breadsticks and cutting fleshy hunks off a great, creamy ball of cheese, accompanied by olives, salamis, sundered tomatoes, whatever takes your fancy.. then Obika is your place.

I believe the original Obika mozzarella bar opened in Rome but my attention was first drawn to the delicious haven in Milan.

I had walked past the sign outside La Rinascente in Piazza Duomo and wondered hungrily what a mozzarella bar would be like. Yet I would always forget; the city centre isn't usually my dinner destination and Magro always had a new place to visit up his sleeve.

But one day, as we ambled lazily down Corso Garibaldi, we decided to stop by at the Brera branch.

First things first, mozzarella is not the only thing on the menu (although it wouldn't be too terrible if it were). You can also find a range of pasta and pizza dishes although these are a little overpriced in comparison to the fare found throughout the rest of the city (individual restaurant menus can be found complete with prices on the Obika website).

We began with a selection of their fried antipasti (finger-lickin' good) which came with a delicious spicy sauce. My favourite were the fried cauliflower florets and sage leaves.

Trying to keep things healthy, we also went for a plate of seasonal grilled vegetables and a butternut squash, pumpkin seed and cacio salad on the side of our cheese.

Everything was delicious although we had definitely ordered more than we could chew! Even so, my curiosity wasn't satisfied and whilst the dessert menu looked exquisite, I was still in the midst of my sugar wean so I refrained (that took serious willpower people!)

I dreamt of a day I could sit there in the fading evening light with my girls and a glass of fresh white wine, picking over a huge range of delicacies.

Wishes do come true.

Ok fine there was a boy at the table too. But he was Sophie's boyfriend and he was absolutely lovely so we'll let him into our girly secret.

I was too busy scrutinising the menu anyway.

Having just got back from Puglia, there was only one thing on my mind: stracciatella di burrata.

You have probably heard of burrata, that wonderful creamy mozzarella with an incredibly messy heart. Well stracciatella is literally just those scrappy, sloppy strands of cheese that didn't quite make it into the finished product. It's everything that's brilliant about burrata without the prim exterior.

I wasn't sure whether it was worth going for it seeing as I'd just been eating the real deal for a week so whilst we oohed and aahed over the menus, we got stuck into the thing I'd been missing the most the last time; il vino.

You have probably seen Jess and Sophie pop up in various posts before. These two lovely ladies were also doing their Erasmus in Milan at the same time as me. Jess was studying music at the university and Sophie was working in a law firm (scary!)

We clinked glasses to celebrate just being in Italy and having survived the year with the beautiful, eternal Duomo as our backdrop.

The decor at Obika is fresh and simple with monochrome tones and splashes of red. We wanted to keep our little pot of rosemary on our table but as they're used to show waiters which tables are still waiting to have their order taken, we had to content ourselves with the next table's instead.

The sun began to set, positively sloshing the normally pink Duomo in gold.

We also drank in the gold...

...and drizzled it on our food.

Yes, that's right. I went for it in the end.

I'm a best of both worlds kinda girl.

I like to have my cake and eat it.

I wanted burrata.. but I wanted the smoked mozzarella I had had last time too.

So I had both.

Burrata for starter (ok, really it was stracciatella but burrata is easier on the keyboard) and smoked for my mains.

Here's how to eat it like a lady.

It really was that good. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

As stracciatella and burrata have to be eaten pretty much as soon as they're made for the best gastro-experience, it's a pretty risky business to eat them outside of the region in which they're made. It's why they're so difficult to track down even though the entire world is secretly obsessed with them.

How could you not be?

Let's get another look at that.

Slopped into my chilled tomato soup with a generous drizzle of olive oil, it's something I won't forget for a while.

Don't ask.

So for my next cheese-laden course, I plumped for the smoked mozzarella with Sicilian caponata on the side.

I have never quite tasted a smoked cheese like this. I can't really describe it except to say that it is the smokiest cheese I have ever tasted. It tastes like a bonfire but in a really, really good way.

I couldn't think of a better accompaniment than the Autumn flavours of caponata.

Before any time at all had passed (or so it felt), the sunlight had faded completely and we were treated to a magnificent view of the duomo lit up by night.

You would have thought that this would be enough to content me for one night. No.

I had pudding.


...ok three times.

And it really, genuinely was all mine. And I ate every last morsel! And I don't regret a thing! Hooray!

The pudding wine may have helped with that though.

There were just too many delicious things and like I said, I like to have my cake and eat it. Suffice to say I was incredibly full by the time we waddled back through the food hall and took the lift down to the real world.

I couldn't fault Obika on anything. Being up on the terrace overlooking the duomo, you pay a little extra on each item you order but really you're paying for the view...

...and a truly magical evening.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Congratulations Graduates!!

Before I resume my huuuuge Milanese catch up, a little recognition is in order.

Most of my absolutely amazing friends have recently graduated from university in a shower of firsts and 2:1s and I couldn't be prouder of them!

Whilst I was relaxing in Milan, they were getting their heads down and studying their hearts out in preparation for their final exams. Stress levels were high and at times hopes were low but they have all come out of university having achieved their very best.

On my way home, I swung by Exeter to visit my uni friends during their special week.

As I was working up on campus selling the university merchandise, I really got a chance to experience the atmosphere of grad week.

It was bloody amazing.

After landing at Bristol airport, I travelled to Exeter by train, enlisted the help of a poor unsuspecting taxi driver to get my hugely heavy bags to the house on time and earned my keep for the next few days by cooking spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino and cracking open the prosecco for the lovely girls I used to live with, Alice and Liz.

Of course this meant I was already pretty happy by the time we started making our way through the alleyways of Exeter.

We headed to the Monkeysuit bar, where cocktails are magnificently delicious, strong and definitely won't break the bank with prices from £3.95. Ten minutes walk from my house next year and I think I'll be visiting quite a bit...

These lovely ladies (Ellen, Ginte and Amy), who have just graduated (congratulations!), joined me for a catch up and soon, all ideas of just having two went flying out the window.

And despite having work at 8am the next morning (sob) they persuaded me to go out...

Where I found even more lovely ladies! And look at all these gorgeous faces, how could I not? Ellen, Ginte, Emma and Josie were my course mates back in the days and I miss them lots already.

I had so much fun even though some people managed to get themselves thrown out for being a bit too cheeky to the bouncers (not mentioning any names here, you know who you are!) Sadly a day of travelling caught up with me and I just couldn't dance anymore but I didn't go to bed without a trip to the Arena burger van... Cheesy Tuesday wouldn't be cheesy enough without cheesy chips right?

The next morning was taken up with work. Sitting outside in the little gazebo we had set up, I could see all of the grads coming out, fresh from their ceremonies, to line up outside the Great Hall for photos. All of a sudden we would hear a huge cheer, much like the sound that erupts from a roller coaster, and the air above would be full of hundreds of swirling black caps.

Waiters milled around with champagne and canap├ęs and cupcakes whilst we looked hungrily on, trying to beckon them over to our table.

We got there in the end.

One of the grads of the day was Liz, one of my closest friends and housemate from my first two years.

It was so exciting getting ready with her in the morning and watching her prepare for her graduation ceremony with her Mum and boyfriend, Nick. Nick has been in Italy for the past year as well, studying in Venice as part of his course and they survived the distance which deserves another round of congratulations, don't you think?

The rest of the week passed in a blur of meet ups and breakfasts.

The beautiful Sophie, a fellow Psychology student, and one who has kept me sane during many a moment of despair with her no-nonsense attitude to life.

Beautiful girls and fried food, what more can you ask for? P.s Tea on the Green's breakfast hash is MONSTROUS. I had the veggie version of course.

That week I also discovered what happens when you deliver a hefty Game of Thrones spoiler to someone a bit further back in the series. I'm sorry Emma, I thought you had watched that far!

The week ended for me as all good weeks end: at a house party.

There was sangria, there was whisky, there was the cinnamon challenge.

I managed to get mud all over my brand new Massimo Dutti top (€20 in the sale, thank you very much Milan) whilst trying to create an atmospheric candle arrangement in the garden but luckily the night was saved by a bit of Vanish (thanks Tom!)

I had so much fun seeing all of my lovely friends. The old, the new, the departing, the new arrivals. I was so sad to leave halfway through the night, ready for my early departure the next morning but the puppy was calling, as was my mum's birthday.

And as I didn't get to see most of my gorgeous friends graduating, here are some pictures others took of the beautiful graduates from Exeter and home (hi Grace!) and Milan (hi Martina!) I love you all, well done, you are incredible and don't leave me forever! I feel really, really sad and nostalgic for the final year I never had with all these beautiful people (who ALL decided to move up to my end of town the year I wasn't there, THANKS A LOT GUYS). I don't regret taking a year abroad for a second of course; the experience, the people and the opportunities that brought have been second to none. But still. I am emotional. And I want all of these people to come back next year too. Sob sob.

Too many beautiful and talented people.