Eating in Switzerland
By Franz Scheurer
The Swiss, by their nature, demand quality, but as they’re naturally thrifty, they also demand a decent portion at an affordable price. This might be why, despite the fact that Switzerland is expensive in general, food is very affordable, even in fine dining restaurants. There are three kinds of eating places: the Café (often called Tea Room), the Gasthof (usually rural) and the Restaurant (the fine diner, anywhere, as the Swiss will travel for good food).
Here are some we visited on a recent trip:
Landgasthof Löwen, Thörigen
Nik Gygax is a bit of a legend in his own lunchbox and people travel from afar to the Oberaargau (near the Emmenthal) to eat at his eponymous restaurant inside this venerable Landgastof in a small country town. Many of our Swiss friends waxed lyrical so we felt we just had to go there.
The stunning old building has been sensitively renovated and it’s an atmosphere of country opulence with warmth and style. The menu looked promising (although we found a couple of spelling mistakes) and the service staff was friendly and trying hard. We skipped the degustation, opting for an à-la-carte three-course selection. The meal started with two amuse gueules: first: a cherry tomato stuffed with tuna tartare accompanied by a seared piece of tuna with passionfruit, second: a mussel shell filled with a mussel salad. The tuna was a good take on (con)fusion with the passionfruit proving, as I expected, to be a total abomination. The tiniest mussels I have ever seen made the salad interesting. Entrées and mains were quite good, however the sweetbread dish I ordered was not available and neither was the wine I ordered, and, apart from a spaghetti dish with a generous shaving of fresh white truffles, nothing was memorable. We liked the fact that whatever wine was ordered by the bottle was available by the glass once that bottle was finished (although at a rather inflated price). The service was inept and confused and the timing was unacceptably slow. We also ordered the ‘Käse vom Wagen’ (Cheese from the Trolley) and what we received, half an hour later, was a plate of pre-cut cheese straight out of the fridge. This is unacceptable! We waited 57 minutes for our dessert (which incidentally was not worth waiting for) and we left, thoroughly disgruntled and disillusioned feeling that we just wasted a lot of money. Gygax, it seems, is no longer interested in his business and trades on his reputation. One can only hope that he either wakes up to himself or the clients hear about the lack of ‘fine’ in the dining experience.
For more information or bookings:
Tel.: 062 961 1672
Restaurant Eintracht, Murten
Murten is a beautiful medieval town at the edge of a lake, with perfectly preserved ramparts going back to the 13th century. Sandstone arcades and shops flank the small main street and the Restaurant Eintracht is pretty much in the centre of town. It’s a simple, local watering hole offering good food and oodles of hospitality and character. Guests habitually talk to each other and one can’t help feeling immediately at home. The menu is robust with items like Fondue, Tripe, Calf’s Liver and Rösti, and they serve a terrific local white wine from the Mont Vully (across the lake from Murten). We ordered Fondue, moitié-moitié (half-half), which means half Gruyère and half Fribourg Vacherin, probably the heaviest version of this Swiss speciality. It arrived with a few slices of superb raw ham and some pickles as an amuse gueule and the fondue was fanbloodytastic. Rich, creamy and potent it was served with substantial quantities of rich, dark Swiss farmer’s bread. You keep stirring the ‘cheese sauce’ whilst you eat and once you’re almost at the bottom of the ‘cacquelon’ (fondue pot) the waitress brings a raw egg and a nip of Cognac and pours it into the pot while the guests stir it into a cheesy, alcoholic omelette. This is a local Murten custom and it guilds the lily to the extend where you’ll roll out of the restaurant like a stuffed turkey at Christmas, but with a very big smile on your face. This is a wonderful, wonderful small restaurant where they go all out to make the guests feel wanted and the sense of hospitality is palpable. I thoroughly recommend the Eintracht; it’s a hell of an introduction to what Switzerland is really like.
For more information or bookings:
Tel.: 026 670 2240
Bellevue Palace, Bern
One of the oldest and most amazing hotels in Switzerland, the Bellevue offers high-end accommodation with all the mod-cons and a fabulous fine dining restaurant with a chef who has managed to cook cutting-edge food for nigh on thirty years.
The restaurant is opulent, richly decorated, full of flowers, gold, crimson and wood everywhere, a carpet so thick you would never find a coin you might drop and a front of house team that offers the kind of choreographed, old-fashioned service long forgotten in the New World. We tried the degustation, a six-course extravaganza for a mere SFr 125 per head (plus wine).
It started with lobster bisque with a passionfruit pesto and here the passionfruit worked beautifully, a mere hint of acid on top of the rich, unctuous broth. The next dish, a ‘Petit cordon-bleu de silure à l’endive belge’, arrived as two thin slivers of giant catfish, wrapped around some smoked salmon, then crumbed and shallow fried, accompanied by beautifully braised witlof julienne with a small quantity of raw witlof mixed in. The dish of the night followed, ravioli of raw egg yolk with black truffle slices, surrounded by a truffle sabayon. Exquisite, stunning, wonderful and memorable. The main course of ‘Aiguilettes de filet de bœuf sauté au sabayon de foie gras, Arbre de Noël au romanesco’ showcased fabulous quality Emmenthal beef, perfectly cooked rare and rested with a tasty foie gras sabayon and a surreal looking vegetable cone, ‘romanesco’, which is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. The cheese trolley (a real one, this time) offered a good selection of Swiss cheeses with one French triple cream from Burgundy. The dessert, a pain d’épice star filled with whipped cream and a dollop of tangerine sorbet sitting on a perfect little meringue presented beautifully and was competently made. A huge and intelligent wine list with wines for every budget seduced our wine savvy Swiss companions and the level of service stunned the Australians. This is a seriously good fine dining restaurant and if you want to experience what it might have been like to be served as royalty this is where you must dine.
For more information or bookings:
Tel.: 031 320 4545
Gasthof zum Kreuz, Sumiswald
This is quintessential country guesthouse in the heart of the Emmenthal, run by the Nyffeler-Eisenhut family, cooking refined, affordable food, served with pride and a big smile. In any of several rustic, country-style dining rooms you enjoy the finest linen with rustic glass and tableware and the substantial food with a touch of flair that represents good value for money.
We tried the figs with prosciutto from the Grisons, a pumpkin cream soup, Nüssler Salat (salad of lamb’s ear lettuce, in season in December and glorious!) and a dozen snails for entrées. Mains included ‘Bauern Bratwurst mit Rösti’ (farmer’s pork sausage with Swiss-style hash-browns), ‘Sumiswalder Rollen’ (veal roulade with wild mushroom sauce and the obligatory rösti), ‘Riesen Crevetten Curry mit Ananas’ (king prawn curry with pineapple and rice – not as bad as it sounds) and the daily special, Herb crusted lamb with a selection of vegetables. The savoury food was excellent and the desserts we chose, ‘Öepfuchüechli’ (apple fritters with vanilla sauce) and ‘Brönnti Crème’ (caramelised custard cream) were as good as one could ever hope for. Service was helpful, informed and we noticed a good selection of Single Malts and a Glenfiddich Caoran Reserve, which I had never seen before. When I asked, they quite happily sold me a spare bottle.
The wine list is far above what you would expect and when I commented to the chef about it he took us down into the impressive cellar.
This is a wonderful country inn in a building dating back to the 15th century. Country hospitality at its best!
For more information or bookings:
Gasthof zum Kreuz
Tel.: 034 431 1526
Restaurant Zum Zähringer, Bern
The old city of Bern is naturally protected by the river Aare which forms a u-shaped ring around it. Only the top entrance had to be fortified. The lowlands around the river soon became a place for the river-folk to settle and their ‘questionable’ trade, dealing with ‘foreigners’ on a regular basis made them a suspicious lot in the eyes of the city folk. They even developed their own language to be able to communicate easily in the presence of outsiders. The area is called ‘Matte’ and the language that developed there is called ‘Matte English’. Today little of the animosity between the two exists although the area is still mainly inhabited by the ‘arty’ types (although they have to be reasonably wealthy to live there now). Here you find the Restaurant Zum Zähringer. A solid old building, sensitively renovated, now houses this comfortable and cosy restaurant with an innovative menu and affable, professional service. The menu and the wine list are short and concise. The dishes are innovative and surprisingly modern, without being too try-hard. A dish of hazelnut ravioli with foaming sage butter is superb and a crème brûlée of Jura goat’s cheese with a two coloured lentil salad is a good study in contrasting flavours and textures. Mains like the Scottish lamb are perfectly cooked and full of flavour and it pays to ask what’s in the fish tank downstairs. Desserts are competent and the selection of sorbets exemplary. This is a good fine dining restaurant that is neither over the top nor pretentious where they have not lost the art of making the guest feel pampered yet at ease.
Restaurant Zum Zähringer
031 311 3270
And, saving the best till last:
Gasthof Emmenhof, Burgdorf
Werner and Margrit Schürch run this family restaurant in Burgdorf (the gate to the Emmenthal) with dedication, passion and knowledge. From the outside this seems to be just another Gasthof with a noisy pub section and a fine dining area. Once you step inside the fine dining area you notice the difference. The best linen, tableware and glassware compete with perfectly placed arrangements of the most gorgeous flowers imaginable. A terrific degustation and à-la-carte menu whet your appetite, while a superb wine list containing a terrific choice of wines from every corner of the globe, and a laudably comprehensive choice of the best wines Switzerland has to offer, rounds off the gastronomic first impression. Interestingly there are 3 main courses on the menu for a minimum of 2 persons, something that I have never seen in Australia. The food is sensational and our dinner is exceptional. This is easily the best food and service I have experienced in Switzerland. I never would have thought that anyone apart from Phillip Searle could slow-cook a lamb shoulder so perfectly, but Werner’s lamb, slow-braised in sheep’s milk is just as succulent and outstanding. The house-made bread is straight out of heaven and the cheese trolley turns out to be 2 trolleys, one Swiss and one international. This is absolutely stunning stuff. A piece of beef (for 2) is wonderful quality meat perfectly rested and my ‘four variations on duck and goose liver’ is divine. A dish of small Spanish langoustines with scallops is lip-smackingly, plate-lickingly wonderful and the ravioli of duck liver with smoked eel is daring and superb. Werner is a great chef, cutting edge without falling off the perch and his presentation is wonderful. The wine list is sublime and the focus on Swiss specialties is really attractive. Our Heida and Pinot Noir (both from Wallis) are top-flight wines and surprisingly affordable. A great night out, probably the best in Switzerland, is a fitting closure to our stay in Europe!
Werner and Margrit Schürch
CH 3400 Burgdorf
034 422 2275