With celebrities such as actors George Clooney and Robert De Niro and global entrepreneur Richard Branson having vacation homes in the area, restaurants along Italy’s beautiful Lake Como serve up some very creative dishes.
Best way to enjoy this northern Italian “gourmet trail” is to rent a jeep from Auto Europe and meander along the lake shoreline stopping off at some of the leading restaurants listed below.
La Colombetta – Established a quarter of a century ago by three Sardinian sisters – Silvana, Marianna and Lina – one being the lead chef – this multi-room restaurant sits in the heart of Como. Its high ceiling and elegant design may be due to the fact that it was a former church, later becoming an architect’s office. Attractive foliage of jasmine decorate the façade and just inside the doorway is a framed photograph of Robert de Niro and his family relaxing at table. Offering mainly fish and seafood with a strong influence from the sisters’ native home, even the bread harkens back to the island. Known as “music paper,” it is thin, crusty and wavy, akin to a papadum. Accompanied by sautéed porcini, its delightful earthy flavor tastes like autumn-on-a-plate. One of the menu highlights is shavings of mullet bottarga (dried, cured roe) on a bed of fluffy mashed potatoes, the warmth of the potato teasing out the distinct fish flavor. A tasty pasta seafood choice is pappardelle enriched by nero di sepia with generous, soft chunks of blue lobster. Desserts are a delicious adventure, millefeuille with wild berries and lemon and chilli pepper meringue being a tantalizing twosome. No better way to end the meal than with a myrtle-flavored digestive from the central Sardinian region of Barbagia di Ollolai served by gregarious Angelo, brother of the three sisters.
I Tigli in Theoria – Opened just three years ago in a 15th century building beside the Duomo in central Como, this Michelin-star restaurant has been carefully renovated under the expert eye of Claudio Benzoni, with many original elements left intact and two upper levels converted into traditional stubes, wood-paneled, Alpine-style private dining rooms. Elegance characterizes the downstairs space with a special area with two “chef’s tables” facing the glass-fronted kitchen. Prepared by chef Franco Caffara, the sophisticated tasting menu – with separate fish and meat options – is the largest I’ve ever handled in terms of physical size, being the dimension of a Berliner formatted newspaper. In terms of diversity it is also impressive, with items on the fish tasting menu running the gamut from raw scallops with stracchino mousse, Baerii Italian caviar and crispy sepia biscuits to cod cappuccino, a particularly inventive dish served as if it is a cappuccino with an accompanying croissant, but in fact is a cup with crumbled chocolate and coffee biscuit at its base, shreds of the fish above with a topping of foamy masked potatoes and the croissant being salted brioche. The meat tasting option includes hare ravioli with creamy parmentine potatoes and the Italian shabu shabu – Vicciola beef (a variety of Piedmont cattle raised with hazelnuts) slow cooked in a ramen broth. Aside from the tasting menus, guests can also choose al a carte. For those with food intolerances, a detailed guide featuring a grading system is of immense help.
Gusto – This contemporary restaurant in the Sheraton Lake Como presents an international menu heavily influenced by Italian-style cooking and well-rooted in local tradition, according to chef Carlo Molon. Casual yet elegant, signature dishes include saffron risotto made from carnaroli rice grown by S. Massimo and fried turbot fillet with celeriac cream and chanterelles mushrooms. If not hungry enough for a full dinner, why not try the Italian aperitif “Sheraton Paired,” an innovative concept with the motto, “Savor the unexpected” by which small plates are matched with premium wines selected by “Wine Spectator” and craft beers. Suggestions include humus and roasted octopus with garlic and rosemary served with northeastern Italian chardonnay Jerman; and slow-roasted pork loin with mashed potatoes and rosemary served with Piedmont Barbera d’Asti uvà.’ We enjoyed Craft beers such as the amber Aqua Dulza ‘3Mezzina,’ paired with a crunchy treat of pork fat and spices while ‘Innstadt’ draft beer comes with a typical Neapolitan savory biscuit with pork fat, pepper and almonds.
Locanda La Tirlindana – Restaurants don’t get much closer to lapping, lakeside waters than the quaint, family-owned Locanda La Tirlindana. Its cobblestoned terrace is a genteel delight. Cloth-draped tables directly across from the heavily wooded island of Comacina with a mountain backdrop and boats and ducks floating gently mere yards away lull one into a relaxing reverie. The interior is both elegant and esoteric featuring furnishings such as a giant metallic clock and walls painted in vibrant colors. The restaurant’s signature dish, made by Patricia, the mother, is homemade ravioli filled with mascarpone and lemon – the citrus flavour providing a refreshing twist to the creaminess of the cheese filling. If there during autumn, try the homemade taglierini (ribbon pasta) with freshly-picked porcini. Even fresher is the lake fish – char, offering a milder flavor than salmon and somewhat lighter in color – served pan-fried with a thin slice of pancetta. Seafood offerings include fried baby calamari with a crust of breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic. Why not linger over a selection of desserts presented on slate tiles and comprising a chocolate parfait, creme brûlée, a salted caramel macaroon and panacotta in a mini jam-jar.
La Terrazza – Inside the Grand Hotel Tremezzo and fronting Lake Como, the strategic position of this restaurant leaves one feeling suspended over water, with clear views to the farthest shoreline, the rose-tinted Grigne peaks and the twinkling lights of Bellagio. In the evening, a score of candles in bell jars reflecting off the side and front glass walls create a dazzling, three-dimensional effect. Changing seasonally, dishes are creative to intrigue yet classic to reassure – with scallops with truffle hearts and salad; veal kidney Calvados flambé, fillet of veal with foie gras and black truffle, spinach, pine nuts and raisins; tiramisu and crepes Suzette served flambé with Grand Marnier among diverse items on the menu. Our dining experience was made memorable by a Gragnano pasta from Naples cooked with lobster, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and lesser calamint sauce. Italian staples include osso bucco which consultant chef, Gualtiero Marchesi, and the hotel’s executive chef, Osvaldo Presazzi, imaginatively pair with saffron risotto liberally sprinkled with flakes of parmesan, the meat’s umami richness blending harmoniously with the sheer warmth of the exotic spice; and the ubiquitous tiramisu served delectably in a martini glass.
Al Veluu – Nestling atop a steep hill just outside the quaint town of Tremezzo, this restaurant-cum-hotel offers some of the finest views over Lake Como, both from its outdoor patio and indoors through large, arc-shaped windows. A long-established family restaurant founded in 1975, now run by Luca and Cheryl, it evokes a warm, cosy feeling with flickering candlelight over dinner and a rustic ambience enhanced by old, varnished wood furniture, hanging copper pots and pans, ornate Tuscany wall lamps and miniature potted olive trees on tables. Luca moves among tables confidently, speaking amiably to guests in several languages. The menu emanates strong local influence – even the bottled water, Chiarella, is from the local town of Menaggio – with starters that include baked honey goat’s cheese from San Martino, a few kilometres away – a place to which Cheryl, a walking guide, takes hotel guests and tourists alike on enjoyable countryside hikes. Matching the classic Mediterranean ambience is penne al Veluu with black olives, fresh basil, tomatoes, tiny bits of pancetta and red chilli peppers. An alternative main – if you feel like a complete Italian meal, a complement to the pasta – is escalope of veal with sage, berry capers and tomatoes.
So if you fancy meeting some celebrities and enjoying fine northern Italian cuisine (or both), then head for the Lake Como shoreline. Buon appetito!