Mistral, the sleekest of science labs, is cooking up a storm in postcard-perfect Bellagio. Set on Italy’s loveliest lake, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (an ideal base for those bound for Expo Milano) is a science lab of Italian molecular cuisine. The future of food is here, in this gloriously old-fashioned villa-hotel.
Mistral’s chef, Ettore Bocchia, is Italy’s guru of molecular cuisine. Being a big-hearted Italian, the chef does not blind you with science. Unlike many celebrity chefs, Bocchia believes that bedazzlement is trumped by personal taste. There are no scornful looks if you want a classic seabass with seasonal vegetables followed by the signature “smoke and mirrors” molecular ice cream. The wide-ranging menu lets diners merely dip into molecular dishes or go the whole hog.
Our meal begins with a peachy Bellini on the terrace, echoed by the peachy sunset. Few can resist the interplay between villa and lake, between shimmering light and chugging steamers. John F. Kennedy supposedly romanced Marilyn Monroe on these shores but Hollywood heart-throb George Clooney is Lake Como’s contemporary poster boy. Discreet Carlo Pierato, awarded Italy’s Best Maitre D’, has served Clooney but is keener to wax lyrical about the fish tempura in a sweet-and-sour sauce.
Mistral lunch with a view
Molecular cuisine plays upon all the senses. Comfort food such as aubergine parmigiana is deconstructed as coolly minimalist layers served in a retro cocktail glass. I have some initial trepidation over seemingly bizarre combinations of flavour, from sugar-fried turbot to gorgonzola ice cream, but I go with the flow and am rewarded by taste explosions of Sicilian red prawns with guacamole ice cream and cuttlefish ink wafers. The celeriac dumplings with pea purée and caviar are more powerful than a palette cleanser.
Molecular pear timbale
The seven-course molecular tasting menu includes double desserts. My dining companion prefers the mint meringue filled with wild berries, marinated strawberries and chocolate sauce. For me, it’s the peach fondant with raspberry sauce, almonds and nitrogen-frozen ice cream. This is concocted at the table during 16 seconds of wizardry straight out of Harry Potter. Amid swirls of magic mist, the ice cream freezes before our eyes; the texture is satisfyingly cold but doesn’t chill the throat. Diners unversed in the dark arts of ice cream look on enviously.
Despite the liquid nitrogen used in flash freezing, chef Bocchia is no mad professor enslaved by his molecular powers. You can also dine on Italian classics with a twist, such as ricotta- and beet-stuffed ravioli in a creamy Parmesan and black truffle sauce. The chef from Parma is at home with pasta. The after-dinner treats are friandises, dainty morsels made by Italy’s best pastry chef.
When the meal concludes, we walk off dinner along Bellagio’s bustling waterfront, a promenade of peaches-and-cream villas punctuated by lime trees. I remind myself to return in May when the azaleas are ablaze. Despite no sighting of Clooney, Villa Serbelloni’s views are seductive enough for an incurable romantic like me.
Mistral Restaurant on Lake Como
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