There's more to Swiss cuisine than fondue and chocolate
Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne offers Michelin-starred cuisine and jaw-dropping views
You know Swiss food. Skewered lumps of bread swirled in volcanically hot cheese fondue, followed by copious amounts of chocolate with a side order of muesli. Right?
While these are admittedly three famous elements in the country’s culinary repertoire, there’s a whole lot more to what is one of Europe’s most surprisingly diverse and rich dining cultures.
Switzerland also boasts serious cred on the global stage.
One of the world’s most critically acclaimed chefs, Daniel Humm at New York’s Eleven Madison Park, is proudly Swiss. You don’t reach #3 on the coveted World’s 50 Best Restaurants list without doing something seriously right.
Michelin stars are strewn across his homeland, but you’re also just as likely to find knockout plates in low-key and relaxed dining rooms.
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Throughout Switzerland’s ridiculously picturesque 26 regional cantons, there are dishes to excite even the most jaded of palates.
Here are some of the most memorable:
Anne-Sophie Pic at Beau Rivage Palace, Lausanne
Even in a country known for jaw-dropping and breathtaking landscapes, vistas don’t get much more impressive than the views over Lake Geneva towards the snowcapped mountains of France.
The Beau Rivage Palace dates back to 1861 and has counted a global who’s who amongst its patrons, from Coco Chanel to Nelson Mandela.
French chef Anne-Sophie Pic is the third generation in her family to obtain three Michelin stars and the only female chef in France to currently hold the honor.
Her breathtaking creations in Lausanne include a duckling dish with beetroot, but most renowned is her beautifully simple black and white plate where sea bass meets black caviar from near Bordeaux.
Beau-Rivage Palace, Place du Port 17-19, Lausanne; +41 21 613 33 33
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La Table de Palafitte, Neuchâtel
At the lakeside hotel La Palafitte in Neuchâtel, diners could be forgiven for thinking they’d checked into a cruise ship.
Guests stay in private suites called pavilions on stilts in the water, meaning the lake’s waves lap gently underneath night and day.
In the property’s signature restaurant chef David Sauvignet showcases the region’s products, none of which is more local than the broad whitefish or “fera” caught straight from the lake.
Pan-fried until crisp, it’s served with local artichokes.
Hôtel Palafitte, Route des Gouttes-d’Or 2, 2000 Neuchâtel; +41 32 723 02 02
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ECCO, Giardino Ascona
Chef Rolf Fliegauf is all about local sourcing, which is no surprise given the bounty on his doorstep.
A simple but stellar starter of organic egg yolk with onions and wild herbs uses eggs from a neighbor just 200 meters from the restaurant, while the herbs come from their own meadow behind the hotel.
The dish is more multi-layered than at first sight, with texture and crunch coming from skins of Jerusalem artichokes, sharpness from pickled mushrooms and onions add the freshness. In three of the four official Swiss languages, it’s either Köstlich, delicieux or deliciosu.
ECCO, Giardino Ascona, Via del Segnale 10, Ascona, +41 91 785 88 88
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The TOM Café, IOC museum, Lausanne
At the other end of the price scale in Lausanne, from Anne-Sophie Pic comes another bright and airy dining room with breathtaking views, this time surrounded by the history of the Olympic Games.
The TOM café sits on the top floor of the Olympic Museum, with starters under the heading “Starting Block” and salads named after former host cities serving as a gentle reminder of where you’re sitting.
Chef Pascal Beaud’huin may not have Michelin accolades, but he clearly keeps International Olympic Committee workers and visitors happy with sustainable and healthy plates such as a topical nod to Rio 2016 in the form of Moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew with sea bass, peppers, tomatoes, coconut milk and coriander.
The Olympic Museum, 1 Quai d’Ouchy, Lausanne; +41 21 621 65 11
Pavillon, Bar au Lac, Zurich
Chef de Cuisine Laurent Eperon’s one-Michelin-star dining room has to be one of the most elegant in Switzerland, with its conservatory feel and huge vases of fresh flowers.
His mentor was none other than Pierre Gagnaire, so his take on French haute cuisine is contemporary and innovative in equal measure.
Eperon’s “new-style ratatouille” features summer vegetables including eggplants, zucchini and Datterini tomatoes, while Parmesan chips add texture and even more umami to a beautifully balanced and perfectly plated dish.
Pavillon, Bar Au Lac, Talstrasse 1 8001, Zurich; +41 44 220 50 22
Da Vittorio, St. Moritz
Da Vittorio at The Carlton Hotel overlooks Lake St. Moritz and the mountains behind, a dramatic backdrop to some of the country’s best cuisine inspired by the nearby Italian region of Lombardy.
The elegant and cosmopolitan setting is home to a restaurant where comparatively simple dishes are elevated to whole new levels.
Their signature pasta with tomato sauce, Paccheri “Da Vittorio,” is legendary.
As always, the secret’s in the sauce, here made with two types of tomatoes from local farmers who have been working with the restaurant for decades.
Da Vittorio, Carlton Hotel, Via Johannes Badrutt, 11, St. Moritz; +41 81 836 7000
Il Lago, Four Seasons Geneva
With the supercars parked outside, Il Lago could come across as too cool, but the friendly, warm staff immediately put diners at ease.
The elegant dining room has earned a Michelin star with good reason, thanks to sublime takes on decadent classics.
Lobster Aquarello risotto comes with an emulsion of truffles, naturally. Also not to be missed is the legendary cheese trolley – well, this is Switzerland after all.
Il Lago, 33 Quai des Bergues, Geneva; +41 22 908 7110
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Chris Dwyer is a Hong Kong-based communications consultant and food writer. His restaurant reviews, chef interviews and more can be found at finefooddude.com.