Listen… You can hear the tranquility.
I am at one of the most beautiful restaurant locations in the world. Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is situated at the tip of Isola Comacina, a small island in the middle of Lake Como that holds a mysterious curse. The restaurant boasts a stellar clientèle of the rich and famous, with the likes of George Clooney, Richard Branson, Elton John, Brad Pitt and other celebrities.
Isola Comacina – an island in Lake Como
The island is reached by boat, and we arrive on Navigazione Laghi from Como, an hour and half boat ride so picturesque that it feels like mere minutes.
View of the restaurant from the boat
The restaurant is perched on a hill and we ascend through a private walkway that leads directly to the patio.
Entrance to Locanda dell’Isola Comacina
We are greeted by Benvenuto Puricelli, the “Oste” or host of the Locanda and he shows us to the best table overlooking the languid waters of the lake. For a few moments, I am led to believe that we are the only guests, and for fifteen minutes, we have the place to ourselves until a Dutch couple arrive followed by three Brits with young children.
Vino with a view
Lunch at Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is part of our anniversary trip, a culinary celebration that had us dining at Alain Ducasse’s Le Jules Verne in Paris, Guy Martin’s Le Grand Véfour in Paris, Burj Al Arab in Dubai for afternoon tea and other notable establishments.
We toast to this celebratory lunch with a Cantina di Negrar Soave Classico, the wine that is set with the menu.
At the Locanda, the same set menu has been served since 1947 and it remains an exquisite example of simplicity. Six courses are offered which include a “finishing touch” with a finale that makes it a unique experience.
First Course: Antipasto All’isolana
Antipasto All’isolana begins with half a tomato topped with a slice of lemon, salt, extra virgin olive oil and oregano.
Tomato with a slice of lemon
This is followed by a selection of vegetables dressed in olive oil which vary according to the seasons.
Assorted antipasti dishes
There are beans, celery, carrots, baked onions, sweet peppers, courgettes and beetroot – cooked and drizzled in olive oil.
Every dish is an example of simplicity and flavour, and as much as I enjoy the food, I cannot prise my eyes from the view ahead.
First course with a view
The antipasto course continues with Proscuiotto Tipo Praga, ham that has been cooked in a steamer then lightly smoked in a wood oven and thin slices of Bresaola della Vatellina, air-dried beef that is aged in their cellar.
Proscuiotto Tipo Praga (L) and Bresaola della Vatellina (R)
Second Course: Trota Alla Contrabbandiera
The first of the hot dishes arrive with Trota alla Contrabbandiera, a fresh salmon trout cooked on a wood grill.
Salmon trout served at table
The trout is boned at the table and served dressed with salt, lemon, extra virgin olive oil and pepper.
Trota Alla Contrabbandiera
The fish is said to be sourced from the lake and it is a generous serving that is tender and flavoursome.
Third Course: Rottami di Pollo in Padella
Rottami di Pollo in Padella is described as chicken that is opened, “crushed”, fried in oil in an iron pot then finished in a wood oven.
Rottami di Pollo in Padella – Chicken
The skin is lovely and crisp, and the flesh is tender and moist. The dish is served with a green salad.
Fourth Course: Grana all’escavadora
The cheese course of Parmiggiano Reggiano is a delight in presentation. Chunks are cut from the middle of the form and given into the hand of the diner “to provide a great emotional impact”.
Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
Cheese served in hand
Fifth Course: Arance Alla Castellana
Prepared at the diner’s table, sliced oranges are served with “fior di vaniglia” ice cream and covered with crema all’isolana or Crema di San Giovanni.
Arance Alla Castellana prepared at table
Arance Alla Castellana with crema all’isolana
Sixth Course/Finishing Touch: Caffe All’uso delle Canaglie in Armi
The final course begins with a long standing tradition and the sounding of the bell. The host makes his entrance wearing a bobble hat and a tartan waistcoat. While burning brandy and sugar in a copper pot, he recounts the story of the island before he adds it to the coffee.
Benvenuto Puricelli telling the story of the island
Exorcism of fire
In 1169, the Bishop Vidulf of Como put a curse on Isola Comacina, (Isola Comense or Cumana as it was known). “No longer shall bells ring, no stone shall be put on stone, nobody shall be host, under pain of unnatural death.” Ever since, inhabitants of the island have been trying to exorcise the curse.
Copper pots with sugar and brandy
Previous owners of the original restaurant were known to have met an ill fate. And in 1976, Benvenuto Purcelli bought the restaurant from Lino Nessi, who was told in 1949 by the English writer Francis Dale to undo the curse with fire rituals.
Sugar and brandy
Consequently, every meal ends with the burning of brandy in a pot before sugar and coffee are added and it is served to guests – an “exorcism of fire” or a blessing to ensure the safe return of guests home.
Coffee being served
Brandy coffee with that amazing view
The interior of the Locanda is a reminder of the popularity of the restaurant. In the bar area with overhanging plates, photos of Benvenuto and the celebrities who have dined here grace the walls.
Benvenuto, the “Oste” (the host)
Photo wall of celebrities
An indoor dining room with a rustic decor reminiscent of a Swiss chalet offers an alternate ambience to terrace dining with spectacular views.
Interior of dining room
Dining room mural
Lunch at Locanda dell’Isola Comacina amidst the natural beauty of Lake Como is an unparallelled experience. The location alone leaves you in awe. The food in its simplicity and abundance ensures your satisfaction. The hospitality of the Oste embraces you like an old friend of the family while the history of the island and its curse is a mind trip back in time. And if you’re celebrating a special occasion, it is an experience that you will always hold close to your heart.
Getting There and Visitor Tips
- The set menu price per person including wine, water, cover charge and tax is 64 euros. No credit cards are accepted.
- Bookings can be made through the restaurant’s website. Check for opening times during summer and winter.
- Not all ferry services stop at Isola Comacina. Check www.navigazionelaghi.it for the timetable.
- Allow yourself some time to explore the island on foot before lunch. The island is beautiful in its tranquility and you get a feel for its history. Check out the Photo Tour of Isola Comacina
- Lunch is a leisurely affair not to be hurried. If returning to Como after lunch, you are most likely to miss the 14:21 boat. You can either wait for the next one at 16:39 the small café/bar near the landing dock, or catch a boat to Bellagio or other towns to explore the surrounds.
Locanda dell’Isola Comacina
Lake Como, Italy
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