‘How do you like your eggs in the morning?’ opens Dean Martin’s cheery refrain played out in breezy breakfasts bars and restaurants the world over. Ironically, and rather sadly, considering the connections of the aforementioned singer to the land of his forebears, that song doesn’t play here.

‘Here’ is an old hotel in Central Milan where the character is reserved strictly for the endearing structure crammed in among the busy alleyways of the ancient capital of Lombardy. Instead of Deano’s sublime warbling comes the unwelcome racket of the local MTV’s ad breaks for ‘Cheesy-peas’ or some such Fastshow-like nonsense. The hotel’s matriarch sternly keeps watch, oblivious to the over-bearing television. A ‘buongiorno’ is uttered without bonhomie and my coffee order taken without so much as a ‘va bene’.

Breakfast is free, thankfully. Which is the best thing that can be said about it. The TV barks out more shouty incomprehensible barf. A troupe of Korean tourists eagerly map out their days sightseeing, safety in numbers is clearly the way forward in this gaff. One or two more guests stumble in and are greeted with the same frostiness as befell my arrival.

The fruit juice is served in one of those cups they give you to swill your mouth out in the dentist’s chair. The contents taste the same as the stuff they give you to swill your mouth out in the dentist’s chair. I move on to the espresso. It’s as bitter as mine host’s demeanour.
The bread rolls are set out with the functionality of croquet balls in a rack. And taste as such. Croissants like puffy boomerangs are the alternative with a meagre selection of gold-foil wrapped soft cheeses and unhappy looking yoghurts.

Wedged into my corner table I watch as Mamma moves un-smilingly along the same route from her seat, elevated like the head of the convent’s might be, to kitchen, from kitchen to seat, and back again. Drinks orders taken, doled out and dispensed with the kind of welcome usually reserved for the lifers on death row.

In fact, I have seen this kind of growling, scowling uncompromising performance many times over before. Watching Football Italia as a teenager, this style of totalitarianism was doled out on a weekly basis by the then captain of Internazionale (Oh, go on then Inter Milan), Guiseppe Bergomi.
Hotel guests are put in their place like opposing forwards stealing into the penalty area. There’s no shirt pulling, elbows or other such intimidatory tactics. But then there’s no need to. Mamma rules by fear alone. The catenaccio of the cafe-bar, belligerent and brutal. Pure Bergomi.

Breakfast comes to an end. No sign of the eggs of Deano’s song. And thankfully, looking up for the last time at Mamma, no sign of that song’s kiss either. I grab my things and head, into the autumnal Milano morning air. Hopefully there’s a bit more ‘bienvenuto’ and a bit less Bergomi to this city….