Eating in Lake Como, Italy: Where you get three decadent meals a day

"So," says Gianni, taking my arm. "Do you like to eat?"

There's only one response, when the food and beverage director of an Italian five-star hotel has you in their grip. "Si," I reply. And again, con passione. "Si!"

Gianni inhales deeply, drawing himself up to his full height which, like me, is an imposing 163 centimetres, and we sweep into the breakfast room of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo.

You think you've had good breakfast buffets. This one is an extravaganza – white-clothed tables are laden with shining silver cloches and the dining room is set in a glass box that acts as a picture frame for Lake Como. It all faces the ridiculously photogenic Bellagio village and the beautiful, snowy faces of the Grigna massif.

Gianni turns his face from the bacon and eggs, sniffs with derision at the pancakes and cereals, doesn't even acknowledge the table of gluten-free breads. He stops at the table – nay, altar – dedicated entirely to cheese.

What draws the bling-laden crowds, now the sun has gone down on the scenery, is the chance to eat gold.

"I want only to eat local food," I whisper, a little faint at the sight.

He flares his nostrils at the challenge, selects a silver knife and plunges it into the cheeses from the region's alpine pastures: fresh, tight ricotta, plaited buffalo mozzarella, a washed rind. He carves with a flamboyance that denies the existence of cholesterol.

Next stop: the charcuterie table, where the prosciutto, the parma and the pancetta are ignored, while slices of fine bresaola, an air-dried beef that originated here in Italy's Lombardy region, are flipped onto my plate with gay abandon. Any spare space is filled with sweet-salty-tart mustard fruits – stone fruits that the hotel's kitchens have marinated in vinegar and sugar – and, with a final dash of panache, Gianni garnishes the ricotta with a slash of golden chestnut honey, drawn from high in the mountains around the lakes.

Eaten solo, the meats and cheeses exhibit pushy sharpness or overwhelming blandness: but with the honey and mustard fruits, the plate sings a song of its provenance. Clever Gianni. Clever me for going for a pre-breakfast run.

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The family-owned Grand Hotel Tremezzo is set on the shores of Lake Como, and has been doling out premier hospitality since 1910. Its 89 rooms, jewel-coloured salon and luxury spa have a surprisingly youthful, unsurprisingly beautiful clientele lured by the lakeside location and its proposal-inducing villas and villages.

One lunchtime, we take a hotel boat out onto the lake. Actually, that's not a boat, that's a Venetian motor launch. Its glossy timbers cut through the lake's glacial waters as captain Giuseppe delivers us to a little island and its long-standing restaurant, Locanda dell'Isola Comacina.

The menu is unchanged since 1984: we gush at the perfect tomato topped with olive oil and lemon, hoover whole baked onions and prosciutto, inhale fresh salmon trout boned at the table, devour chicken fried in an iron pot, drink the Italian soave poured freely into our glasses.

For the fourth course, our host Benvenuto Puricelli places a fresh-cut chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano into our outstretched hands, at the fifth, we're swooning over slices of Sicilian blood orange topped with handmade ice-cream and a golden liqueur.

By the sixth course, Benvenuto is sporting a knitted beanie and chanting an exorcism, as brandy and coffee rain down on us. By the end, I feel I should be smoking a cigarette and promising to call.

It's a hard meal to follow (and requires another good run), but our hotel obliges. Each evening, La Terrazza restaurant is packed. What draws the bling-laden crowds, now the sun has gone down on the scenery, is the chance to eat gold.

Winning the title of Most Decadent Dish of the Week is a black plate filled with deep golden saffron risotto topped with the thinnest, but surprisingly large, square of gold leaf.

Devised in 1981 by Italy's first three Michelin-star chef, Gualtiero Marchesi, it's faithfully reproduced by the hotel's executive chef Osvaldo Presazzi, and upon eating it, I'm ceremoniously presented with a certificate of authentication for the dish. Mine is Number 100624.

The risotto is perfectly al dente, with that dusty deliciousness that comes only from the world's most expensive spice. And the gold tastes like the ephemera that it is: a fleeting concept of luxury that disappears faster than an inner-city rental.

Like my breakfast and my lunch, it's Lake Como on a plate: gold, bold, with glamour untold.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/italy/

lakecomo.it

FLY

Cathay Pacific flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Milan via Hong Kong. See cathaypacific.com

STAY

Stays at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, in the village of Tremezzina, cost from €430 a night. See grandhoteltremezzo.com

DRIVE

The hotel is one hour's drive from Milan Airport, and the only way to get there is in a black Maserati, see aurora-limousineservice.com

TASTE

Eno Salumeria del Centro. At this 24-hour store in Como city, shop up last-minute gifts from squid-ink pasta and mountain herbs to olive oil in phallus-shaped bottles (I'm not sure why.) It's also grappenoteca, with a vast array of grappa, see enosalumeriadelcentro.it

Kitchen Restaurant chef Francesco Soletti's CV includes stints at restaurants in the Eiffel Tower, Paris' Plaza Athenee and Louix XV in Monaco, with chef Alain Ducasse. Eat it all. See kitchencomo.com

Cooking class at Grand Hotel Tremezzo. The executive chef of the hotel's new L'Escale Trattoria, Martin Vitolini, will have you swearing off instant pasta, whipping up a perfect little tagliatelle with just flour, water and eggs. Best, you get to eat it in the hotel's lakeside gardens.

Belinda Jackson travelled as a guest of Hotel Grand Tremezzo and Cathay Pacific.

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