August 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
No, not another piece enthusing about English beer but a story of trying to find something simple to eat in Vevey, a market town on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in the Swiss canton of Vaud.
During our summer tour of Switzerland I decided it was time to revisit some of my old haunts. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I spent 4 winters in Vevey working in the offices of a certain international food company. There was a whole team of us out there (referred to unimaginatively as the Equipe) and we must have dined at pretty much every half-decent restaurant within a 15 mile radius of the town.
Back then, the gastronomical heights were occupied by the legendary Frédy Girardet in his restaurant in Crissier above Lausanne. Just about everywhere else was readily accessible and welcoming, serving up generous portions of Suisse Romande cuisine. It was here that I first encountered the Swiss custom of the deuxième service: finish one plate of steak, potatoes, vegetables or whatever and it is whisked away and replaced with an identical one! A blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view.
Something has happened in Vevey in the last 25 years. It’s come out in a rash of Michelin stars and Gault Millau points. For example, I remember Brent as a sleepy little village just above Vevey’s brash neighbour Montreux. It’s now home to Le Pont de Brent, celebrity chef Gérard Rabaey’s 3 Michelin star 19 Gault Millau points restaurant.
Vevey itself is home to Switzerland’s answer to Heston Blumenthal, Denis Martin, whose 2 Michelin star 18 Gault Millau point restaurant is in the Rue du Château, close to the swanky lakeside Trois Couronnes hotel.
With 2 boys in tow (one teenage and one nearly so), we weren’t really in the market for a lengthy candlelit molecular gastronomy session. We were looking for something simpler, a pinte Vaudoise in fact.
What’s a pinte Vaudoise I hear you ask. This is what the official website of the Office of Vaudois Wines www.vins-vaudois.com has to say:
“A recommended pinte vaudoise is a public establishment, all or part of which constitutes a welcoming village inn where you can have wine and a meal. Its primary purpose is to feature Vaudois terroirs, food specialties and A.O.C. wines. Their managers pay great attention to welcoming guests and training their staff to be Vaudois terroir experts. Recommended pintes vaudoises are friendly, so that guests feel like coming back and recommending them to friends.”
Talking of local wines and vineyards, even these have moved upmarket with the intricately terraced Lavaux vineyards becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007. The Lavaux is the 30 km long lakeside strip of land running from the picturesque Château de Chillon in the East to the outskirts of Lausanne in the West.
Scanning the list of pintes available both from the tourist office and the Office of Vaudois wines website, we discovered that we were in luck. Included was the restaurant of our hotel, the Hôtellerie de Châtonneyre, right in the middle of the wine village of Corseaux. The Chât, as we English had christened the hotel, hadn’t changed a bit in 25 odd years. As far as décor and plumbing went, this was not necessarily a good thing, but it was good to see the menu just as I remember it. For a first night in Vevey, there was only one thing to order: Filets de perche, frais du lac:
These small lake fish are found on most of the local restaurant menus. There was only one option to drink with them, a bottle of crisp white Chardonne from grapes grown on the hillside beneath which we were sitting on our sunny terrace.
The boys both ordered duck breast with potato galettes, equally delicious. Pudding was a rather wonderful gratin of raspberries (sabayon poured over fresh raspberries then the dish flashed under the grill to brown and caramelise just a little) served with a melon sorbet.
The next even we decided to visit another old haunt, the Auberge de l’Onde in the neighbouring wine village of St Saphorin. The lakeside village with traditional buildings and narrow winding streets is impossibly picturesque but not designed for the modern motor car as we discovered in an a frank exchange of views with a German registered SUV. You can sit outside on warm evenings:
We opted for the cosy dark wood panelled pinte dining room. It had about as much in common with a true traditional pinte as Heston Blumenthal’s pub does to a traditional British boozer. Why so? With the arrival of ambitious chef Patrick Zimmerman, the Auberge has been taken relentlessly upmarket and has gained a Michelin star and 15 Gault Millau points along the way. This means you won’t find many horny-handed locals supping here. On the night we dined, pretty much all the clientele were, like ourselves, tourists, from the UK, US and Italy.
Although the place felt rather precious, food and service were top class. I opted for the good value Menu du Jour featuring more lake fish, this time the féra (as far as I know unknown in the UK, Latin name Coregonus fera). This is a larger fish than the perch with firm white delicate tasting fillets, just right with the braised leeks, steamed potatoes and beurre blank type sauce with which it was served.
All well and good, but not truly authentic. It was not until we went back to the village of Chardonne where I rented apartment within the village house of Clos Jean-Louis that I spotted what I’d been looking for all along, the unassuming Café au Bon Vin. The menu features typical Vaudois dishes including the mysterious Malakoff. Apparently you can have two of these as a main course and if you like, a third in place of pudding. What were these things?
Thanks to the rather wonderful Swiss-authored food blog www.fxcuisine.com I discovered both that a malakoff is a deep-fried cheese stick and also found detailed instructions, photos and a recipe for whipping some up back home. I commend the blog to you.
Sadly, our discovery of the Café au Bon Vin was too late. We didn’t have time to try it out as we were en route to our mountaintop Mongolian yurt experience…
January 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
After the New Year’s Eve feast (see previous post) it was our turn to rustle up a meal for 14 (6 adults, 8 children) on New Year’s Day. We’d prepared in advance by doing all the shopping, except for the salad ingredients, in Switzerland. Even the bread came from a lovely bakery in Zürich airport terminal. Swiss wine, an essential component of the meal, would have been too heavy to carry so we’d arranged an advance delivery to our hosts’ address by UK wine merchant Nick Dobson Wines. Nick is a man after my own heart who specialises in wines from Austria, Switzerland and Beaujolais. I’ve bought a number of items from him over the years both for home consumption and as gifts and he’s been really efficient, helpful and knowledgeable every time, plus supplied some really enjoyable wines so I would definitely recommend him if you are looking for something unusual. I give his contact details below at the end of this post.
Our Swiss themed menu was:
Bündnerfleisch (dried cured meat from Graubünden) – a mixture of beef and venison
Bündner Nusstorte (caramel walnut pie from Graubünden)
We indulged in a bit of judicious cheating (or careful purchasing depending on your point of view!) and brought back from Klosters a bag of ready grated weighed and blended cheese for the fondue and the Nusstorte too. I give recipes both for cheese fondue and Nusstorte below if you want to have a go at home. Both recipes have been tried and tested more than once back home in the UK.
Our Bündnerfleisch came from an artisanal manufacturer in Klosters, a little shop on the main Landstrasse road close to the Heid ski lift. Bündnerfleisch is salted and cured meat, usually beef but we bought the venison version as well – similar but darker red with a background gamey flavour. The raw meat is first salted and mixed with a secret recipe of herbs and spices before being hung up to dry for several weeks. The meat is then pressed into a distinctive rectangular shape before being very thinly sliced and served. Bündernerfleisch is similar to the better known Italian bresaola which itself comes from the nearby Valtellina.
The people who run the Klosters business very kindly showed me round their processing and drying rooms where I was able to sea the beef pieces maturing slowly in the rafters:
You can read more about Bündnerflesich by following this link: http://www.grischuna.ch/productsE.html. I just wish we could get hold of it more readily over here as it’s delicious.
This was a really easy meal to feed a crowd of people, fun for both grown-ups an children. Neither the truly authentic Bündnerfleisch nor a pre-prepared Nusstorte are readily available here but you could easily substitute a platter of other cured meats and procure a tart from your local bakery to recreate the idea. Here is the grown-ups’ table (the riotous childrens’ table is just next door).
And here’s the beautiful Nusstorte fresh (well almost) from Charly’s in Klosters:
Recipe for cheese fondue “moitié-moitié” (half and half)
This recipe comes from my trusty little Betty Bossi Swiss Specialities cook book, a little ringbound volume with one recipe per page, clear simple and instructions and a photo of every dish. The half and half in the recipe title refers to the mixture of 2 cheeses used in this fondue. This recipe serves 4 people generously.
600g day-old bread from a cob or chunky baguette type of loaf (you need the right ratio of crust to crumb – a tin loaf would give too much crumb) cut into cubes
300g mature gruyère cheese
300g vacherin fribourgeois cheese (substitute emmental if vacherin fribourgeois is not available)
300 ml white wine, ideally a Swiss chasselas, otherwise whatever dry white wine you have to hand
1 peeled clove of garlic left whole
1 small glass (liqueur glass) of kirsch
1 tablespoon cornflour
a pinch each of freshly ground black pepper, paprika, freshly grated nutmeg
Grate the cheese using a coarse grater and place into the fondue pan. A traditional fondue pan is referred to as a caquelon. If, like me you bought a ready grated fondue mix of cheeses, simply tip the contents of the packet into the fondue pan. In a separate bowl, mix together the cornflour and white wine. Pour the mixture over the cheese in the fondue pan. Place the pan over a low heat and slowly bring the mixture up to boiling point, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the whole garlic clove, kirsch and seasoning to the mix. Once the mixture is smooth, creamy and bubbling, bring the fondue pan to the table and set your table burner on low. You are now ready to serve. Give the bottom of the pan a stir every so often with a bread cube on the end of your skewer to stop the cheese crust which forms on the base (known as la religieuse) from burning.
Recipe for Bündner Nusstorte
This recipe comes from a little ringbound paperback “Bündner Landfrauen Kochen” (Graubünden farmers’ wives cookbook) and was submitted both by Mrs Annina Mengiardi of Ardez (Swiss German version) and by Mrs Marta Padrun of Lavin (Romansch version) so it is certainly authentic. My Romansch is limited but as far as I can tell, the recipes are identical. The translation from Swiss German is mine as are one or two additions. I’ve made the recipe twice now so can confirm that it works. The sweet pastry dough is a little difficult to handle so be gentle with it. Caramelising the sugar for the filling has to be done carefully as well. The key thing is to seal in the filling thoroughly otherwise it bubbles out when baked. A small slice of the pie is enough so on that basis the recipe would serve 12 people. It’s usually served on its own without cream or ice-cream and is just as good with a cup of tea or coffee as it is for pudding. I wonder if this is the European precursor to the American pecan pie?
300g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch of salt
300g caster sugar
50 ml water
250g roughly chopped walnuts
200 ml double cream
1 dessertspoon of honey
Rub the butter into the flour to which you have added the pinch of salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then the beaten egg and work into a dough handling as lightly as you can. Wrap and chill the dough for half an hour. Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line a loose bottomed flan tin 24-26cm in diameter. Do not trim the excess pastry as you should aim to leave an overlap of 3 cm. Wrap and return the remaining pastry dough to the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
For the filling, melt together the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan and allow to caramelise to a brown colour. Add the chopped walnuts, cream and honey, stir well and allow to cool to room temperature.
Fill the pie base, then roll out a lid and place it over the tart. Seal the edges well. I recommend leaving the pie edges untrimmed at this stage as you can neaten up the edges after baking. Prick the surface with a fork all over decoratively if you like (see picture above) but don’t overdo it as the filling will leak out.
Bake at 220 degrees C for the first 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180 degrees C and bake until the tart is a light golden brown (approx another 30 minutes.
Contact details for Nick Dobson Wines
Telephone 0800 849 3078
January 8, 2010 § 3 Comments
Finally back home after a few days skiing in Klosters and new year celebrations in London. Right now, it feels like there’s just as much snow back home as there was in Switzerland.
Klosters is a schizophrenic kind of place. It’s a favourite haunt of minor royalty (though the only familiar face I spotted was that of shadow chancellor George Osborne sporting, surprisingly not a True Tory blue but, a head-to-toe red ski outfit) yet is very much non-glitzy. In the main street you are more likely to bump into a Swiss Hausfrau wheeling a shopping trolley than a leggy supermodel wheeling a flight bag. Hardware shops rub shoulders in the main street with jewellers’ shopfronts displaying the obligatory Swiss watches. There are more churches (one catholic, one protestant) than nightclubs (just the one – the discreet but shady looking Casa Antica).
Klosters is home to a clutch of well-regarded restaurants most of which are attached to hotels. Perhaps the best known (because Prince Charles chooses to stay here) is the Walserhof. Its restaurant has 2 Michelin stars and 17 Gault Millau points. Here is its inviting front door and a view of chef Armin Amrein’s festive tasting menu.
Interestingly, the Swiss place more emphasis on the Gault Millau ranking than Michelin. Gault Millau is an alternative French restaurant rating system which awards points for food alone. A maximum of 20 points are available which until recently meant in practice that the top score was in fact 19: with a French philosophical bent, Messrs Gault and Millau determined that perfection was never attainable. Controversially, in 2004 (by which date Messrs Gault and Millau were long gone), 2 restaurants in France were awarded the magical maximum 20 points and that number has subsequently grown to a handful. Falling standards or genuine excellence I wonder?
Sadly, I’m not in a position to comment on Gault Millau ratings as all their rated restaurants in Klosters (the Alpina, the Chesa Grischuna and the Rustico as well as the Walserhof) were fully booked.
This was perhaps a blessing in disguise as there is only so much cheffy food a body can eat and on a skiing holiday something more substantial is required. We paid visits to the cosy restaurant at the Steinbock Hotel (just across the road from the Walserhof), the Grill Room at the Pardenn Hotel, the restaurant in the swanky Hotel Vereina and, finally, for a more informal evening, the Pizzeria Fellini.
The Steinbock has to be one of Klosters’ best-kept secrets. It has a charming dining-room, soft lighting, wood beams and pink linen. On the evening we visited, the clientele was mainly Swiss families out for a celebratory meal. This is us, disturbing their peace just a little:
We chose the set four-course menu. Particularly good were the pheasant consommé and the parmesan-crusted lamb main course.
Both these dishes were undeniably old-fashioned – straight out of Escoffier in fact. My copy of Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire includes 137 consommé recipes. Whilst some of these are outlandish (swallows’ nest consommé for example), I think that a well-made simply garnished consommé is delicious, fits perfectly into a multi-course meal and deserves a revival. The lamb was served with lots of lovely vegetables and the most enormous caperberries (Kapernäpfel in German). These seem to be the latest trendy ingredient in the German speaking world – they keep cropping up in restuarant menus and German food magazines.
We drank a bottle of local red wine with our meal, a Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Mayenfeld in the Rhine Valley a few miles away. Mayenfeld, more commonly spelt Maienfeld, is famous for being the local town mentioned in “Heidi”.
Next evening was the grill room at the Pardenn, a largish 60s hotel a little way out of town on the Monbiel road. Again, we opted for the 4 course tasting menu. The venison tartare first course was outstanding, as was my pudding choice of savarin, a dinky individual rum baba:
Yes, I know that the presentation looks a little stuck in a 60s/70s timewarp (as frankly does the hotel décor – alpine gemütlich it is not) but believe me, the syrup-drenched savarin was delicious.
Next evening, we chose the restaurant at the Hotel Vereina. The Vereina is an outsized Disney castle of a building plonked right in the middle of town. Unusually for Klosters, it aims to attract the kind of clientele who like to display their money. We were ushered into the dining room which looked to have had an extreme makeover back in the late 1980s – a lot of ornate steel and glass furniture combined with swags of fabric, not that easy on the eye.
Despite the shortcomings in ambience, the staff were, seemingly as ever in Switzerland, charming and appropriately attentive. The food was for the most part pleasant but nothing to write home about, international hotel cuisine without much personality – in my case it was just a bowl of soup and piece of grilled veal, no more, no less. Then the puddings came. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth, but the 3 choices we made (I opted just for an extra spoon to share all 3) were excellent – an unctuous crème brûlée, a chocolate fondant with a perfectly melting interior and, best of all, George’s choice of a vanilla soufflé:
Our final evening was a relaxed affair at the Pizzeria Fellini. The service was swift and efficient, the pizzas properly thin and crusty. Special mention has to go to my choice of a raclette pizza – melted raclette cheese (no tomato), gherkins and tiny pickled onions all on a pizza base. Perhaps the ultimate example of fusion food?
Landstrasse 141 . CH-7250 Klosters
Tel: +41 (0)81 410 29 29
Fax: + 41 (0)81 410 29 39
Landstrasse 146 . CH-7250 Klosters
Telefon: +41 (0)81 422 45 45
Fax: + 41 (0)81 422 16 36
Landstrasse 146 . CH-7250 Klosters
Tel: +41 (0)81 422 45 45
Fax: + 41 (0)81 422 16 36
Landstrasse 179 . CH-7250 Klosters
Tel: +41 (0)81 410 27 27
Fax: + 41 (0)81 410 27 28
Bahnhofstrasse 22. CH-7250 Klosters
Tel. +41 (0)81 422 22 11