Food | The Gannet

Swiss swish

Just like its topography, Switzerland’s gastronomy scales great heights.

April 04 2010
Bill Knott

Like many birds, The Gannet is not especially fond of icy weather (swooping for fish in frozen lakes is rather hard on the beak), but there are compensations, not least in Switzerland, where winter sports and the pleasures of the table go hand in mitten.

In St Moritz, where copies of the Financial Times are so ubiquitous they practically hand them out on the ski lifts, there are plenty of places to be fed and watered. But the most elevated, in both senses of the word, is La Marmite in Corviglia, perched high above St Moritz on the Piz Nair mountain.

Here, chef Reto Mathis and wife Barbara preside over a restaurant that eschews formality (difficult in ski boots) in favour of luxury: caviar and truffles are specialities, and they have many years’ experience in choosing and serving both. The food is exquisite, with a Mediterranean aesthetic, while the brasserie half of the restaurant is perfect for those who want onion soup or steak tartare. The view through the plate-glass windows is so beautiful it is almost vulgar. Do be careful, however, of the light-headedness induced by a combination of altitude and home-made grappa.

Down in Zürich, meanwhile, gastronomy is a year-round sport, and there are few better slopes on which to enjoy it than the one which supports the wonderfully opulent Dolder Grand, recently transformed (by Norman Foster, among others) into one of the finest hotels in Europe. It has a restaurant to match. Most hotel kitchens have to churn out breakfasts and room service as well as the highfalutin stuff, usually to the gourmet’s detriment: The Dolder’s chef, Heiko Nieder, has no such problems, and the results are impressive, as a Michelin star and 17/20 in Gault Millau might confirm.

The restaurant’s rather sexy interior – by United Designers – is both atmospheric and discreet. Service is faultlessly knowledgeable, the wine list is exemplary and the food stays just the right side of experimental to be thoroughly satisfying.

One of the buzzwords in avant-garde gastronomy is “spherification”, a technique pioneered at El Bulli in which liquids are transformed into caviar-like balls using a bath of calcium chloride; Nieder’s pre-prandial spheres are filled with vodka martini, a very neat trick indeed.

The highlights of the meal itself included a sensationally good little tower of saucisson and Savoy cabbage, showered with lavish shavings of black truffle; a perfectly pink breast of pigeon, served with a confit of the leg; and a miraculously smoky fillet of trout with sweetcorn and brown shrimps.

Heiko Nieder’s restaurant is thrillingly good. It has to be: in a city as affluent and gastronomically literate as Zürich, it takes a lot to tempt the “gnomes” from their homes.