This May Be the World’s Most Opulent Brunch Buffet

Sunday brunch at the Bulgari Milano is as glamorous as any alta moda experience in Italy.

<p>Matteo Lippera</p>

Matteo Lippera

What do you think of when you hear hotel brunch buffet? If the concept conjures visions of rowdy Las Vegas affairs that orbit around watered-down mimosas and countless stations of warming trays that look like they’ve not been changed in hours, well, no one would blame you. We’ve all been there.

Nonetheless, on a recent trip to Milan, I made a reservation to indulge in a Sunday brunch at the Bulgari Milano, where a parade of shiny Italian sports cars, from Lamborghinis to Ferraris, line up for valet as I approach the hotel on foot. I’m jolted by the sneaking suspicion that this is going to be nothing like the buffets I’ve been to.

Well, I may have already known that because at 130 Euros per person without drinks (about $140 with today’s conversion), this is certainly the priciest brunch buffet I’ve ever signed up for, and the in-person vibes only reinforce what I’m thinking before I've even entered the building. As soon as a woman slips out of a sports car in a bubble-gum pink tweed Chanel outfit, I know. And now I’m terrified that my sweater-overcoat-and-wide-leg-trouser combo may not be chic enough for this all-you-can-eat extravaganza.

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Brunch at the Bulgari Milano has been ongoing for as long as the hotel has been open: 20 years. A server indicates that there isn’t much of a brunch scene in the city, so locals love to show up here. And show up they do. Inside Il Ristorante-Niko Romito, there’s a subtle but palpable buzz in the light-bathed dining room that's arranged like an amphitheater with all the tables facing the bar and the window beyond it. (In the summer, brunch is served in the leafy garden outside.)

The people-watching is absolutely top-notch: There are elegant couples on their weekend dates, large multi-generational families occupying multiple tables that have been pushed together, and even larger friend groups seated at enormous round tables. Everyone looks fabulous in their designer attire. I spot Louis Vuitton monograms, Prada’s shiny technical nylon, a slinky ‘90s-inspired dress that I’m hoping is the handiwork of Jacquemus, and, because this is Italy, some of the most beautifully tailored suits I've ever seen.

As someone who is not shy about an all-you-can-eat sushi joint, loading up on protein at a Korean barbecue buffet, or being given two hours to drink as many bellinis as he can for $25, I generally don’t think of any dining experience where you’re invited to be your most gluttonous to be stylish or elegant. Maybe it’s just me, but I think you need stretch materials and forgiving silhouettes if you’re planning on pushing the limits of your food consumption. So when diners show up in some of the outfits I’m seeing at the Bulgari, I doubt they're going all in with the impressive spread the restaurant has laid out. But I am proven wrong. They’re eating. I see them all going back for seconds. And why wouldn’t they? The food is from Niko Romito, one of Bulgari’s premier culinary partners and the chef at Reale, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Southern Italy's Abruzzo region.

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Given that this function is a 20-year fixture at the hotel, a true Milanese institution at this point, the brunch is a managed expertly. The bar is split up into two sections: One is for cold antipasti, like your salads, crudités, and raw bar. Niko Romito’s iconic (and rich) vitello tonnato (a sliced veal and tuna dish served cold with a sauce like mayonnaise) is there, too. And the other side is dedicated to your larger, cooked proteins: grilled prawns, steak, roasted chicken.

One of the highlights is the separate cheese counter topped with formaggi from up and down the boot of Italy: mandarone provolone, Bitto cheese from the mountains of Valgerola, super craveable Toma from Piedmont, buffalo mozzarella, and blue cheese of fior di latte — best savored with a swipe of chestnut honey.

If this already sounds like a lot, then you need to pace yourself, because there’s also an a la minute pasta course. The menu at the table tells you what will be rolling out of the kitchen. Today, it’s a risotto cooked with fontina cheese and chicories; an orecchiette tossed in a bright, herbaceous rapini sauce; and my favorite of the three (because you can try them all), the calamarata, tubes of pasta shaped like squid rings in a puttanesca sauce with red tuna. I fight to not have multiple bowls of the latter since there’s much more to experience: The dessert selection is tucked away in an adjacent room.

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I’m thinking, I’ve eaten enough dairy to potentially grow taller; I am full of vitello tonnato; the three bowls of pasta may cover the carbs needed to successfully run a 5K. But I go to the dessert room anyway, where the aroma of freshly prepared pastries, cakes, and fruits hangs seductively in the air. For desserts, Romito creates a national homage to Italy’s rich pastry-making heritage: There’s Sicilian cannolis and cassatas, chocolate cake with almond flour from Capri, and profiteroles, which are often credited as being French, but legend has it that the creator was an Italian chef who was brought over to France by Catherine de Medici. Everything is ruthlessly irresistible, but I settle on a small piece of hazelnut cake from Piedmont, a slice of tiramisu, and a couple of pieces of plump profiteroles.

When it comes to drinks, you can order a la carte: brioche-y, lemon-y Ruinart Champagne, voluptuous Barolos from Piedmont, and a special section of the menu is dedicated to women-led, organic wineries all over Italy. If you’re already in it for the $140 brunch, why not indulge in a couple of top-shelf glasses? The people-watching is a lot more fun with bubbles.

An average Sunday brunch service at Bulgari Milano typically seats 150 people, and reservations are booked out a month in advance. So if this glamorous and delicious mid-day affair sounds like something you want to experience, reserve a table well ahead of your trip to Milan. If you’re staying at the hotel as an overnight guest, your request for a brunch seating is prioritized but sadly not guaranteed given the popularity.

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