A time comes in everyones life when they turn 30. No longer able to blithely describe yourself as “mid twenties” (admittedly this description has been stretched for a while) and falling within a whole new age category on surveys, turning 30 is a milestone. When it happens there are two options, to ignore the event completely and pretend it is not happening or to make the most of a “zero” birthday and engineer an extravagant celebration.
Approach to the island
MTV boyfriend has been known to despairingly refer to my birthdays as “festivals” due to their long drawn out nature so it was no surprise to him when I decided that in order to adequately celebrate turning 30 I would hire a villa on Lake Como in Italy with a group of friends and organise a long lunch at Locanda dell’Isola Comacina. Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is Lake Como’s only island and can only be reached by boat. What a way to arrive though as the ferry moors on the pier and you see the restaurant clinging to the side of the island which is otherwise mainly deserted. Walk up the steps and you will be greeted by the owner Benevenuto Puricelli dressed in a tartan waistcoat and incongrously a bobble hat.
He will show you to your seat on the wide and sunny terrace and after that there is nothing else that you need to think about except for how much food and wine is really too much. You see, Locanda dell’Isola Comacina has had the same set menu for almost 50 years and so one perfect course after another will be laid in front of you while you relax and take in the sparkling lake vistas. To begin, half a tomato bursting with freshness and topped with a thin slice of lemon and a dusting of oregano. “You must eat the lemon with the tomato” our waiter advises and we do savouring the tart bite with the sweet tomato.
Bresaola and ham
In a flurry of small plates the antipasto course arrives with lashings of roasted zucchini, bowls of beans, delicate slivers of carrot and onions roasted in their skins until they are caramelised and sticky with sweetness. There is meat as well, succulent hunks of ham and thin layers of bresaola the air dried beef that is emblematic of this region of Italy. All this to be eaten with long baguettes of fresh bread which are placed on the table to be shared between us by tearing off portions.
Next are huge whole roasted salmon which are brought to the table by our waiter who douses them with salt and olive oil before squeezing several lemons over them. Then he expertly fillets the fish in front of us and we are all presented with a serving of salmon which flakes off the fork and straight into the memory bank as one of those unforgettable dishes. Onto the roasted chicken which has been rubbed in herbs until the skin turns crispy and then is carved into chunks and presented in bowls to share. It is a little on the dry side but this is really the only fault I could pick in our entire meal. To whet our appetite for dessert the cheese course arrived comprising a huge wheel of Parmesan from which our waiter gouged out wedges to be nibbled on.
The wheel of Parmesan
Finally dessert arrives. No pretensions here, good quality vanilla ice cream served with a banana liqueur and fresh blueberries. Throughout our meal the wine has been free flowing and to finish it off Benevenuto mixes up some brandy spiced coffee in an elaborate ceremony that has something to do with warding spirits off the island and a lot to do with why Benevenuto is wearing a bobble hat. We are all charmed and as the birthday girl I get to taste the coffee first to decide whether it is appropriately alcoholic for the entire lunchtime sitting. If this is what being 30 is like I think that I can cope.
Details: Ossucio, Lake Como, Italy (Ph +39 0344 55083)
Damage: Pricey (€62 for the set menu which includes all wine and food)
If you liked reading this you might be interested in last year’s birthday celebration which was a bit of a quieter affair at Fifteen
restaurant in London. Or for more on Italy we loved the Salumi menu at Al Pompiere