© Roberta Muir 2001
Not Italian, despite the name, but named for Switzerland’s most famous Opera singer. Downstairs is more rustic and upstairs, more formal (after a fashion). Known for dishes such as calves’ head vinaigrette, bollito misto of tongue, snout, knuckle & brisket, and a “haggis-style” sausage. Downstairs serves nothing but these types of meats, which are selected from a large trolley and accompanied simply by bread. Upstairs, although the theme continues, the range is more varied. Soups show a penchant for alcohol, with cream of tomato and gin, marrow bouillon with whisky, and oxtail with brandy. The pan-fried liver was excellent, cooked beautifully rare, and the Tournedos Rossini were so well rested that they melted in the mouth. A cep ravioli in a creamy walnut sauce was moreish and surprisingly not cloying despite the creamy walnut sauce, although the Red Epesse from the Lake Geneva region (50% Gamay 50% Pinot Noir) helped cut through the richness. Quirky Teutonic service, which becomes amiable by the end of the evening, adds to the atmosphere. Don’t be surprised if a second serving arrives just as you finish the first, or that initial reluctance to accept it meets with some persuasion: come hungry! Desserts are also tempting. A panna cotta, creamy, vanilla seed-studded and just holding together, was excellent, despite the passé presentation of swirled coulis and fruit pieces.
Schauplatzgasse 16, Bern, 031 311 2142
An amuse-bouche proves to be more of an “amuse d’oeuil”, quite mild in taste, but presenting a stunning display as a green glass plate divided into 4 sections held a small quenelle of salmon tartare with dots of reduced balsamic; a scalloped millefuille of herb paste with a thin beetroot strip curled around it; 2 slivers of smoked salmon with dill and mustard sprouts; and tiny cuttlefish tentacles with a dice of red and yellow roasted capsicum. An accompanying white merlot from Ticino (Bianco di Merlot, Ticino 1999, from Delea in Losone) was such a novelty, that I almost forget to think about the taste. Like most Swiss whites it is a dry, palate-refreshing wine.
Margrit Schürch describes her husband’s food as “not Bircher muesli cuisine”, going on to explain that he likes to keep each dish to a combination of only 2 or 3 tastes, rather than complicate them with a challenging clash of flavours.
An entrée of “giant” prawns with calves’ head in a crustacean sauce was two perfectly cooked prawns (still translucent), with the succulence of the small cubes of gelatinous calf’s head echoing the texture of the prawns. Duck livers, perfectly seared in a very hot pan, were served with a smooth, sweet, slightly smoky onion purée providing a perfect foil. Scottish lamb was served rolled in a herb crust, rare, but well rested. The herb crust was quite salty (the way the Europeans would expect it) but provided a perfectly crunchy textural contrast to the very tender lamb. The only disappointing dish was a “chicken in half mourning” using Emmentaler truffles. The chicken (from Bresse) was dry, due to the European obsession with not undercooking chicken and the truffles had some aroma but fell short of expectations. The accompanying sauce (salty, savoury and mushroomy) and buttered spinach were, however, excellent. A perfect tarte tatin for two was cooked á la minute and well worth the wait, served with an interesting creamy thyme ice cream. Good coffee and petite fours followed an excellent meal.
Kirchbergstrasse 70, Burgdorf, 034 422 2275
A visit to the Emmental show cheese factory in Affoltern (6km from Burgdorf) can include a self-guided tour of the cheese making process. Nearby, climb to the Lueg lookout for fabulous views of the Alps on a fine day (and great walking tracks if you’re feeling fit) or an eerie view of the higher alpine peaks and trees poking through the “fog sea” on overcast days.
This rustic “inn” at the bottom of the Lueg lookout, offers the best rösti, fabulous roast pork and true country hospitality. Here you can sit in the bar and enjoy coffee or a regional wine, beer or schnapps with the local farmers or dine on authentic Swiss country fare in the restaurant. This is some of the finest country cooking I have encountered in Switzerland.
Lueg Strasse 535, Kaltacker 034 435 1223
Between Affoltern and Burgdorf is the village of Heimiswil.
Restaurant Landgasthof Taverne zum Löwen
Rustic formality best describes the dichotomy evident in this traditional Gasthof. Silver cloches are ceremonially removed from the main course plates, yet paper towels are provided in the bathrooms. The building is typical old-style Swiss with dark wood and lace curtains, but an eclectic art collection hangs on the walls, as Heimiswil has long been an artists’ haven. Linen, cutlery and glassware are all fine but butter is cut off from large, locally made, blocks at the table. The complex menu of local specialities and modern touches (wasabi makes several appearances, but was undetectable in the actual dishes), also offers a 4, 5 or 6 course degustation option.
Noodles (which usually means fettuccine in Switzerland) with smoked salmon, dill and Noilly Prat sauce was very tasty and a leek soup was rich and satisfying, without being too creamy as Swiss soups often can be. The most impressive dish however, was a sparklingly clear bouillon with bone marrow, beautifully clarified with superb depth of flavour. A hot-smoked, local trout came unadorned except for a half lemon, but accompanied by a plate of minced onion, horseradish cream, diced olives and caper berries. A dessert of “Äpfel Chüechli” was the most memorable dish of all: slices of apple in a very light beer batter served with a crème anglais. Other desserts also looked appetizing, but be warned that Swiss “crème caramel” are generally disappointing to a palate used to the sweeter, softer French style. The wine list here is very comprehensive covering both old and new world well and includes a number of Australian wines (from de Bortolli, Brown Brothers, Tyrrells, Penfolds, Ninth Island and Passing Cloud), and some French Première Grand Crûs at very reasonable prices. The house wine is a red made from the vines growing on the side of the building, which produce about 500kg grapes, or 100 bottles, per year. An extensive range of marc and schnapps are also offered and the coffee is good, as can nearly always be expected in Switzerland. While the service is not 5-star by Australian standards, it is informed and friendly.
Dorfstrasse 2, Heimiswil 034 422 32 06
Sumiswald is a village at the base of the Bernese and Luzerne Alps. Within a short drive from here there are many mountain roads, which in good weather offer spectacular Alpine scenery, and nearly all reach a restaurant or inn where the view can be enjoyed over a restorative coffee or schnapps before the return journey.
This is the place to enjoy good Emmentaler cuisine in comfortable surroundings with friendly service. Here you’ll find a reasonably extensive menu, including the usual rösti, wurst, soups and salads all very well done, and a good wine list. Very reasonable bed and breakfast rates, and a delicious breakfast buffet, make this a great base from which to conduct day trips into the surrounding countryside.
Marktgasse 1, Sumiswald, 034 431 1022 (www.baeren-sumiswald.ch)
The directions to this restaurant, deep in the countryside, are almost as interesting as the menu, but don’t let that put you off this unique experience. “Chrüteroski” (Herb Oskar), as he is known, spent many years as a cowherd in the alpine pastures, learning the culinary and medicinal secrets of the Alpine herbs, before deciding to open his own restaurant cooking with these products. He follows a strictly seasonal pattern (and has in fact published 4 cookbooks, one for each season) and adopts an almost Asian philosophy of food combinations, life-force and healing properties of food. To ensure diners properly understand his detailed menu, he personally comes to each table and gives an impassioned description of the entire menu before orders are taken. Here he expounds his philosophy: ‘to feed the body winter foods, for example, in the height of summer, is unhealthy, this is when the body needs more fluid and, therefore, when foods such as tomatoes and cucumbers (high in water and minerals) are abundant’.
While awaiting this description we sipped a local aperitif, a very tart pink sparkling drink, made from local wild berries and white wine (and, be warned, quite potent). Good linen, flatware and glassware are used and the service is friendly if not always polished. The room differs from most Swiss country restaurants in its absence of heavy woodwork; instead light walls are decorated with pencil sketches of local herbs. Prices are higher here than would be expected in such a remote location, but people travel from far and near to try this unique experience. Three set-menus are offered vegetarian, “nostalgie” (traditional) or seafood.
An entrée of tuna carpaccio is accompanied by wonderful caper-like pickled wild garlic flower buds, and an unnecessary bland terrine of leek, tomato and olive mousse. A yellow pea, white truffle and tapioca soup is velvet smooth, sweet, creamy, truffley, salty and very good. Next is a firm, translucent fillet of Scottish wild-caught salmon smoked in-house over tobacco, hemp and pine, served with an excellent rich, salty, sweet/sour sauerkraut and cranberries. A wonderfully coloured beetroot risotto accompanies al dente “dorsch” (a local fish) cheeks and wafer thin slices of dried lemons with a wonderfully intense flavour. Emmentaler beef fillet arrives very rare, perfectly set, but nicely seared on the outside, with a meltingly good leek and lentil fondue. The cheese selection, as always in Switzerland, is impressive, with 19 soft and 10 hard cheeses, nearly all unpasteurised. A sheep’s milk white mould from Zurich stole the show, although a sweet Austrian blue, reminiscent of King Island Roaring 40’s, was also very good, as was a Parmesan-like 5 year old Sprintz. The dessert cart features no less than 20 desserts. All are made in-house, and all looked very good. A tangy lemon tart, vanilla caramel flan and summer-pudding-style berry gratin all tasted very good too.
Presentation is still very 1980’s with sprinklings of herbs and spices around the edge of the (often unusually shaped and coloured) plates and unnecessary swirls and garnishes, but this is still found throughout Switzerland. It’s worth the trip to try some of the unusual ingredients and experience Oski’s passion. He does also market himself rather well with his cookbooks, children’s story books (based around travel and food), all only in German unfortunately, and a range of house made herbal preserves, syrups and the like, for sale.
Münchenbuchsee, 031 869 0113
This Gasthof is situated at the foot of the Stockhorn Mountain with a view of Switzerland’s most famous peaks, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Built in the late 1600’s as an inn, it has been in the hands of the current owner, Alfred Zurbrügg, since 1982.
Alfred prides himself on providing as much of his own produce as possible. He raises pigs, which become smallgoods, including the prosciutto-style ham and ribs seen drying under the eaves near the entrance. From his dairy comes the delicious butter, which arrives at the table in giant 4kg blocks.
Entering this restaurant is like walking into a museum, many antique documents and everyday necessities of past Swiss life are displayed. Copper pots and old waffle-irons adorn the walls with bunches of drying herbs, all lit by candles and carbine lanterns. Racks of dusty wine bottles, including some rare Swiss varieties such as Humagne, cover one wall. The low ceiling, dark wood, lace runners and curtains, and network of rooms from which to choose, all maintain the feeling of stepping back in time. The menu is compiled using fresh and seasonal produce, to create what Chef Zurbrügg calls “good plain cooking”. A choice of 5 or 6 main dishes is offered daily, with a buffet selection of entrées and desserts.
An amuse-bouche demitasse of bouillon, served with a local sparkling wine based on cider, was followed by platters of local hot smoked trout, Norwegian smoked salmon & prawns, cold cuts (most produced in house) such as Bündnerfleisch, prosciutto & smoked udder, and lettuce & tomato with a typically creamy Swiss dressing. Rösti, the house specialty, accompanied Geschnetzeltes (thin slices of veal in a creamy mushroom sauce), along with the deliciously sweet local yellow carrots (Pfälzer Rüebli) and braised fennel. Second (and third) helpings of all dishes are brought around to the table until guests are truly sated. But make sure you save room for the dessert buffet, which, in Swiss style, is nearly all cream-based. The meringues with fresh cream and the ‘burnt cream’ are must-try local specialities, but the chocolate mousse, mango cream, and raspberry cream were also very good.
This restaurant is popular for functions and large family gatherings as they can also arrange yodellers, alphorn players, flag throwers or even William Tell plays (the fiercely patriotic Swiss can’t get enough of their own folklore), so don’t be surprised what you see on a visit here.
Uebeschi, (10 minutes off the “Thun-Süd” motorway exit, on the road to Allmendingen/Amsoldingen) 033 345 1522