Il Borgo Il Linguaccione isn’t the sort of restaurant you stumble across.
It’s the sort of restaurant you end up at because Marcello gets talking to this guy Pasquale, down at the Varese fire department. And he tells Marcello about this place up in the hills. Il Borgo Il Linguaccione, and it’s in Brinzio: a bit northwest of Varese, a bit more northwest of Como, quite a lot northwest of Milan. The sort of place where you could take, say, some English visitors you want to give a taste of real Lombardy, under-the-skin-of-Lombardy Lombardy, land of cheese-rich pastas and buttery, fat-marbled salami. The sort of place you want to be in porcini season.
And Marcello relays that to us on the way from the airport, and we’re in, thoroughly in. In for the lunchtime, winding drive up to Brinzio, and the porcini risotto, because in Lombardy in the autumn if a restaurant’s not serving risotto ai porcini then why aren’t you at a different restaurant? On top of that this plan comes Anna-Maria-approved, and if it’s good enough for Marcello’s mother then it’s good enough for us (too good for us, actually, better than we can handle, probably: it takes years of Italian living to train yourself up to the sort of unhurried, sprawling lunches our Varese visits are always scattered with, to being able to throw yourself into it, knowing that the lunch will draw steadily onwards into the afternoon till you’re just three or four hours from doing the same all over again at dinner).
Il Borgo, says the internet, is the sort of place that in the evenings gets busy, really busy – heaving, actually, say some mildly rueful posts. But on a late autumn, tipping-into-winter lunchtime it’s far from it, just enough people there to be mildly buzzy but still probably a waiter for every two diners.
It’s the sort of place where you get welcomed at the door like family, get welcomed the way, if you’re English, maybe your own family doesn’t even welcome each other. It’s the sort of place filled with the odd collection of knick-knacks and wooden shutters and vague kitsch that plenty of Hackney venues aspire to but can’t quite pull off. It takes an organic collection of debris building up for years, and decorating done with more fondness than rigidity, and a total indifference to theme. The sort of place where you can’t identify a motif, unless the motif is meat platter.
Meat platters are where we start, and in a different country the meat platters would also be where we finish, because at Il Borgo when they say ‘a little antipasti, just a small amount to begin’ they mean a heavy banquet of a board, two of them, between five people. And wine, a nearby province’s red with a warm burr, so cheap it could make a Londoner weep if you had any attention to spare, if you weren’t so emotionally invested in the meat, and the fried artichokes, and the slowly vanishing antipasti. And then pasta, the waiter tells-asks us, you’ll want pasta now. And we do, but we also feel a commitment to that porcini risotto.
And when it turns out we’re stuck on the decision-making, and because this is the sort of place where they’ll do you the kindness of pretending it’s the most natural thing in the world to want everything: they bring us everything. Large plates arrive, each separated out into thick, creamy dollops of risotto, meaty, blueberry-flecked piles of linguini and pumpkin-rich tagliatelle.
And there’s amaro, of course, and coffee, of course, and they’re punctuated by tiramisu. And it’s hours later when we step back into the cold outside, because we might not have been trained up to long, sprawling Italian lunches from our childhoods but Il Borgo Il Linguaccione makes it feel like second nature. It’s just that sort of place.
Il Borgo il Linguaccione is open from Monday – Friday from 7 pm, and from 12 pm – 2.30 pm and 7 pm – 11.30 pm at the weekend. Il Borgo il Linguaccione, Via Piave, 5, 21030, Brinzio VA, Italy.