For a lucky few, food adventures like this are regularly undertaken. But for the rest of us, including these two Adventurers, a food adventure such as this definitely ranks as a highlight of the holiday adventure. As such, a visit to a Star deserves its own post.
The adventure actually started months before during the planning of the Swiss Adventure. Due to the lucky find of huge savings on the flights to and from Switzerland as well as some other savings and because the rare opportunity arose, the two adventurers decided to treat themselves whilst in Zürich.
The initial plan for this food adventure was to spend two nights at the Sorell Hotel Rütli before transferring to another hotel for a dinner package which included dinner with wine pairings and a room for the night, which would be our last night in Zürich. All that was booked and confirmed. Then a few weeks before departure to Switzerland the adventure took a twist when an email arrived informing us that the hotel and restaurant were going to be closed from Christmas during the time we had booked. So now it was back to the planning board for this one night and for the dinner. The one night of accommodation was easily sorted thanks to the Sorell Hotel Rütli’s online booking management system. A simple case of logging in and changing the departure date to the following day when we were going to leave Zürich for the next part of the Swiss Adventure. The more difficult part was finding a new Star. After poring over the guide along with Google maps a new Star was finally found and selected. This took the form of the Restaurant Pavillon at the Baur au Lac hotel. The Pavillon holds one Michelin Star and 17 Gault Millau Points. The Head Chef is Laurent Eperon. Many people are somewhat familiar with the Michelin Stars (from one to three) that are awarded to the restaurants or dining establishments. A lesser known ranking, and one that I came across for the first time while researching which restaurant to choose for this trip, is the Gault Millau point ranking. The Gault Millau guide uses a ranking of between 0 and 20 points, with 20 being the target for restaurants to aim for. While the Michelin Guide is more popular and therefore generally considered more influential, the Gault Millau Guide of often considered more “purist” as it is purely based on the quality of the food.
The winter evening of Tuesday 22 December 2015 approached after a wonderful day exploring Zürich. During the late afternoon the two adventurers prepared for this much anticipated food adventure. It would be the first time that either would be dining at a Michelin Star restaurant. The walk to the Baur au Lac, located in Talstrasse on the bank of the Schanzengraben canal near the Zürichsee.
On arrival our jackets and coat were taken from us to be hung up. We were escorted to our table which was in the circular section of the restaurant which overlooks either the canal or the beautiful gardens. Soon after been seated the, now standard for Michelin Starred restaurants, first of the Amuse-bouches was served. An Amuse-bouche (literally translated from French to be “mouth amuser”) is an appetizer that is served gratis and according to the Chef’s selection. Usually they are served to prepare the guest for the meal ahead and to offer insight into the Chef’s approach to cuisine. They became an identifiable course during the Nouvelle Cuisine movement of the 1960’s. This was in the form of parmesan cheese puffs with very thing Melba toast. After some sparkling mineral water and the perusal of the menu along with the white gloved presentation of the truffle, at 19CHF per gram (approximately R300 per gram) if my memory serves me correctly, a selection of breads were served. Both adventurers ordered the pre-decided Menu Harmonie with wine pairing. The menu Harmonie consisted of seven courses paired with wines from France, Switzerland, Spain and Italy selected by the Sommelier Aurélien Blanc. Although truffle was included in the one part of the menu we definitely did not pay extra for it! The second Amuse-bouche then arrived which was some Swiss sausage on potato pieces. Then the third Amuse-bouche soon followed. This was a very creative and delicious one. Alfredo served in an egg shell. Both adventurers really enjoyed this Amuse-bouche!
It was now time for the first of the seven courses. The first course was:
NOIX DE COQUILLES SAINT-JACQUES
Roasted scallops and scallop tartar
This was served with a 2012 white wine from the Alsace region in France.
The dish was served in two dishes. The roasted scallop was served warm while the scallop tartar was served cold with a slice of black truffle on top. The contrast of textures and hot/cold made for a delicious course.
The second course was:
FOIE GRAS DE CANARD DE BOUAYÉ
Duck liver terrine, variation of quince
This was served with a 2012 white wine from Switzerland.
The dish was beautifully presented and involved some nice flavours and textures. The sweet wine went well with foie gras.
The third course was:
SOLE PETIT BATEAU ET COQUILLAGES
Poached sole roulade
Normande sauce with mussels.
This was served with a 2011 white wine from Spain.
The dish was beautifully presented and tasted delicious.
The fourth course was:
A SUNDAY EVENING AT MY GRANDMOTHER
This was an interesting course consisting of a raw egg yolk, crispy onion, some vegetable purée and a Hollandaise type sauce.
The fifth course was:
CHEVREUIL D’AUTRICH -CROSS THE CHANNEL-
Roasted saddle of venison, Arabica game gravy
This course was served with an excellent 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley red from France.
The venison was cooked perfectly (for Andy) medium and the sauce was full of flavour and delicious. Andy’s fellow adventurer usually prefers her meat a little more cooked but at a Michelin Star restaurant the Chef chooses how well cooked his dishes are. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape red definitely complimented the food perfectly and was one of the best pairings I have ever tasted. The onion as well as the potato purée was perfect to accompany the venison. Each of the adventurers were served a small bowl of warmed red cabbage on the side.
The sixth course was:
This course took a similar form to the “A Sunday Evening at My Grandmother” and consisted of Mandarines served in three forms along with a Mandarine sauce.
The seventh and final course was a choice of one of two. Andy enjoyed the:
Sour cream and yellow lemon mousse
Lemon Sablé Breton
This was served with a delicious Italian 2014 Moscato dAsti Barisél from Piedmont.
Andy’s fellow adventurer opted instead for the:
FROMAGES AFFINÉS DU CHARIOT
Selection of cheeses from the trolley
These cheeses were some of the best cheeses that either of us had ever tasted! Some more bread was served with the cheese selection.
Afterwards it was time for the traditional cappuccino and espresso accompanied by an assortment of petit fours.
Mention must also be made of the service at the Pavillon. It was simply amazing. We were extremely well looked after by all the staff from the front of house, to all the waiters and waitresses. When the courses were served it was always by a minimum of 3 staff – one to hold the tray and one per dish that was taken from the tray and placed in front of each of us in a synchronized and precise performance. A small side table was also provided for scarves and handbag etc. The waiters and waitresses were always available yet also not intrusive. It was definitely a case of “you are our guest and we will take care of all your needs while you are here with us”.
The ambiance and decor create a light and intimate atmosphere in the main circular section of the restaurant without feeling like you are too close to the neighbouring table.
The food was excellent, delicious and full of flavours with a nice range of textures. One could taste the freshness of the ingredients. The traditional ingredients worked well with what one could detect was creative preparation that fused contemporary and classic styles.
Overall, combining the food and the service, it was simply at a higher level than anything I have experienced before. But mention must be made of the difference in dining culture between South Africa and Europe. That includes the likes of The Test Kitchen (voted Number 1 restaurant in South Africa for multiple years), AtholPlace Restaurant and Cube (which you can read about here in another Adventures of Andy blog post) and another excellent restaurant which will be dealt with in another food adventure blog post after the third part of the Swiss Adventure.
Outside on the edge of the gardens of the Baur au Lac was a huge gingerbread/chocolate house complete with smoke periodically rising out of the chimney. We expected Hansel and Gretel to walk out the door of the house at any moment. It was decided that they would not appreciate us having a taste of the house and besides, after the awesome fine dining there was not space for another bite!
After an amazing dinner the cold night air of Zürich during the walk along the banks of the Limmat River, with frequent photo stops, was very welcome.
If you enjoyed this food adventure then please like and share so that others can also experience the adventure we (you and I) have just been on. Comments are appreciated. Please check back soon for the rest of the Swiss blog posts. You can also see more pictures from the Switzerland Adventure on my Instagram @andyrlapin.