Now that is a seriously good set of knives! (with the added bonus of the h-g photo taker reflected in the glass). We are visiting one of the beautiful villas that punctuate the coastline of Lake Como in northern Italy. The Villa del Balbianello was most recently owned by Guido Monzino, a prominent Milanese businessman, collector and dedicated explorer. Guido was also a lover of modern technology, and the villa is equipped with a (by 1980s standards) modern kitchen. When he died in 1988 Monzino, being single and "without issue", left the property to the Italian equivalent of the National Trust.
|Villa del Balbianello|
The gardens are attractive but not stunning, yet have the added cachet of being the setting for the bit towards the end of the 007 movie Casino Royale (2006), where Daniel Craig recovers from a literally ball-breaking experience.
|Bellagio is situated at the junction of two arms of Lake Como|
Various species of lake fish are the local speciality in Bellagio. Lake Como is a cold, (there is a reason no-one swims in the lake even though the daily air temp is 25C plus) deep, mountain fringed lake supporting 28 different species of fish. The h-g doesn't think fresh water fish is as tasty as ocean fish - many people agree with him, but one night he orders Lavarello with sage and butter sauce and pronounces it not bad. I have the mixed fried fish which gives me four different types including crisp little sardines which I have to admit are the tastiest. The others are all soft flesh and do taste a bit the same.
One day we run into an American who lives around here and he recommends, in his words, a little Mom and Pop restaurant and points up into the misty mountains. We get some directions then ask Bella to guide us, which she does. However when we turn on to the dirt road to Trattoria Baita Belvedere she sounds a little strident as she insists we u-turn as soon as possible. I override her and we rumble on to find the most gloriously situated restaurant you have ever seen. Perching on the side of the mountain the small terrace gives out to a wide angle panorama of Bellagio below, the other villages across the lake and into the northern distance to Switzerland.
|Bellatio from Trattoria Baita Belvedere|
It is a family run business including a farm, and Alessandro cures his own meat and makes salamis. They also make cheeses. Our antipasto plate of mixed meat includes from top left prosciutto, coppa, beef, salami and in the centre, pancetta. Everything is in very thin slices yet full of flavour. We follow up with wild boar stew and braised rabbit. Both come with what the menu says is "plane polenta" but it is anything but plain - or plane. It tastes of a rich stock and sage and thyme, not unlike a well made stuffing. Both dishes are well flavoured - the boar is fall apart tender and the stew based is a well cooked mirepoix of carrot, celery and onion, with I'm guessing beef stock and tomato making up the rest of the flavour base.
|Cinghiale - wild boar stew|
As you can see, the presentation is homely and as you can't see, it is all delicious - and cheap, at about 10 Euro less than you'd be paying in the village.
|..and this is my favourite tractor...|
Tomorrow we head south west to Piedmont and the home of Asti Spumante. In the meantime, here's a trip down memory lane, found in the local supermarket.