Opposite Sala Comacina and Ossucio lies Isola Comacina, the only island in Lake Como. It is home to almost nothing except one restaurant -the ‘Locanda dell Isola Comacina’. According to its own website it’s a ‘unique place, different from all the other restaurants’, and it’s not difficult to see why.
For one thing it has served the same menu every day since 1947. But what a menu! It starts with ‘antipasto all isolana’, a combination of seasoned tomato, eight fresh vegetables, ham and air dried beef. The second course is grilled lake trout; the third, chicken from a wood oven. After that comes Parmagiano cheese, served in unique way – a cheese the size of a bucket is brought to the table and each diner gets a chunk placed directly in his or her hand, ‘to provide a great emotional impact’. Next is sliced fruit (orange or peach) with ‘fior di vaniglia’ ice cream, all covered in ‘crema all’isolana’. The finishing touch is coffee, which you might imagine would be a simple affair, but is in fact the climax of the meal.
What happens is that a bell rings and the owner, Benvenuto Puricelli, performs a ceremony called ‘the exorcism of fire’. This involves ‘burning’ a pot of brandy, then adding sugar and coffee before serving. The origins of this ceremony lie in the untimely deaths of the two original promoters of the Locanda. One – Sandro de Col, a speedboat champion – died in a motorboat accident and the other – silk manufacturer, Carlo Sachi – is intriguingly and glamorously described as being ‘killed at Villa D’Este by Countess Bellentani’.
The third person involved in the creation of the restaurant, Lino Nessi, then lost heart and was about to give up the project when he was contacted by an English writer, Francis Dale, with information about an exorcism of fire. And that as the website says (obviously skipping a few steps in the story) is why you get burned brandy at the end of your meal. You don’t actually need to know this in advance because Benvenuto apparently gives a talk on the history of the island as part of the ceremony. We say ‘apparently’ because, as vegetarians, the Locanda is not for us. But if they ever develop a vegetarian option, we’ll be first in the queue. The fixed price of the meal is 60 Euros per head, inclusive of wine. Credit cards are not accepted.
This may seem a weird sort of place but its list of famous guests – almost everybody who is, or has been, anybody – is proof of a successful ‘recipe for success’ and opens up the possibility of a bit of celebrity spotting (including of course, George, Brad and Matt).