Established in 1974, this third-generation two-Michelin starred restaurant is situated on the charming Lago Mergozzo (one of the cleanest lakes in Italy). Piccolo Lago is a dream-like setting with an elegant interior leading to panoramic glass windows that hang over the tranquil lake, which is set before a majestic mountain backdrop. Eating in the restaurant protruding into the lake makes for a truly exceptional experience – particularly when matched with this level of cuisine. As it says in the menu “imagine this place as a ship about to take you on a journey. Piccolo Lago is a moor. Crossing the threshold onto the water is merely the beginning of your adventure”. Indeed sitting at a table, it is as though you are on a ship on the lake, destined for a remarkable culinary destination.
The current owner-managers, Raffaella & chef Marco Sacco took over the establishment in the 90’s and have maintained their two Michelin stars since 2007. As a guest you are faced with a choice of two different 10 course menus: one in a traditional Italian style and the other, innovative. Both menus focus on quality rather than quantity of ingredients and are presented with taste at the forefront (although it is fair to say, the whole experience is pure artistry). In fact, the printed menu appears very simplistic with only a word for each course – perhaps because the owners wish to keep the details a secret, but more likely because of their unpretentious nature, which focuses on authentic yet outstanding cuisine.
It is fair to say that Marco is a pioneering chef. During the off-season at Piccolo Lago, you may find Marco consulting for numerous top restaurants in Asia (the latest one opens later this month in Hong Kong) and social projects (several years ago he raised awareness about food wastage by salvaging four tonnes of ingredients that would have been discarded and serving them on 5,000 plates in a square in Milan). When asked about the pressure of maintaining two stars, the owners mentioned that they “don’t do it for the stars, but are just really passionate about the cuisine and the quality and that the Michelin stars are like a bonus. If they come at the end of the year, we are happy, but if not, we’ll keep fuelling our passion and maintaining the standards.”
GUEST EXPERIENCE HIGHLIGHTS:
§ The dining room is very spacious, accommodating between 60-70 people and the design style is minimalistic and elegant, from the furnishings through to the lighting, allowing guests to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds them. The restaurant is suitable for summer and winter with extraordinary views, bright windows and a large fireplace.
§ The staff are a distinctive attribute. We were welcomed by the authentic, open and passionate owners who were very informative and helpful. There are a total of 40 people working at the restaurant and the tables had a 1:1 staff to guest ratio at lunch, making guests feel well cared for.
§ Gastronomy: As you can expect for a two-Michelin star menu, the cuisine is outstanding. Each dish is a delight – an artistic expression that ultimately serve the tastebuds. Some of our highlights included:
∼ A 2014 Philipponnat Champagne marked as a special edition for Piccolo Lago with a high percentage of Pinot Noir.
∼ At the table were hand-made grissini and crispy bread (which was fried and then baked).
∼ The first course included a very tender and succulent prosciutto on a light soft pizza base from Valle Vigezzo, especially selected for Piccolo Lago. This came with a plate featuring delicious fried chicken feet, chicken wing meat in a delicate cubic presentation and a small tasting bowl of chicken broth.
∼ For the second course, we were faced with a slice of trout smoked with juniper and presented with raspberry jelly, balsamic powder and violet petals.
∼ The journey continued to further delightful destinations. We had already lost count by the third course, but here we indulged in a delicious flan – a certain highlight of the restaurant – which was prepared with Caseificio San Bernardino cheese and a delicious mustard of pair and blueberry sauce.
∼ The fourth course was the “Au Koque”, a signature dish at Piccolo Lago. Guests prepare the final three stages at the table – firstly, they crack the prosciutto on the tagliolini pasta, secondly they crack the baked milk slice and then, finally, they pour the sauce in (egg and gin distilled on Lake Maggiore, presented in a perfectly cut egg shell). This ensures that the meal is perfectly cooked, avoiding any loss to the quality of flavours and textures.
∼ The fifth course was called “White fish” and consisted of a lavarello from Lake Maggiore served with a thin slice of apricot jelly and apple paste as well as fried skin from the fish and a full fish skeleton, served like a piece of art and designed to be eaten.
∼ Our sixth course was the “Beef grill”, a tribute to the tradition of the restaurant as it was first introduced in 1974. It included a tender beef filet as well as cuts from the heart and head and was served with capsicum and potato. The grilled section from the head was particularly delicious.
∼ For our seventh course, we were served a white asparagus as a dessert. It was served with tapioca and home-made peanut paste along with Zabaione ice cream (which is, in simplistic form, a blend of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine).
∼ The final course was a tea or coffee served with a very generous apple Tarte Tatin and an indulgent chocolate (a La Perla gianduiotto traditional hazelnut chocolate wrapped like a gold ingot).
§ Best times to visit are March through to September. We would recommend visiting for lunch to appreciate the extraordinary view.
§ Book a table in the overhanging section of the restaurant that extends over the lake. This gives one the feeling of being on a ship.
§ For a uniquely romantic experience on the lake itself, guests can book the electric boat and enjoy a picnic prepared by Marco.
§ Weddings and corporate functions are also possible on the large grass area directly on the shores of the lake (with the wedding tent erected). For enquiries, guests can speak to Jessica, the Marco & Raffaella’s daughter.
§ For a more hands-on culinary experience guests can enjoy the “In the kitchen with the chefs” option, where you can see them preparing the food in the kitchen and there’s no limit to the courses!
§ We recommend guests stopover for at least a night at Villa & Palazzo Aminta, which has also made The Luxologist.