Baur au Lac, Zurich. Contributed by Jens Hoffmann
We checked in at the Baur au Lac. It has the discerning tastes of its guests to thank for the leading position it has maintained for all the years in the international luxury hotel industry.
The Baur is one of my favourites.
The Baur au Lac.
Set in its own park, the hotel enjoys a unique location overlooking the lake and the Alps – and yet is still but a few minutes’ walk from the Paradeplatz financial district and the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s celebrated shopping high street.
The grande dame of Zurich, which opened on the shore of Lake Zurich in 1844, is one of those classic hotels that reminds guests of the old-fashioned glamour that used to animate hotels, that used to make staying in one feel so indulgent and exotic. Walking down one of the wide corridors—built that way to accommodate the ball gowns of the aristocracy who used the hotel as a summer retreat—it’s easy to imagine yourself, just for a second, inhabiting that life of leisure.
The history here is impressive and if you have a faible for history and historic persons it is just perfect. So people who like the “philosophical air of history” will be happy and the owners try to allowing the changes and developments of this generation.
In the years after Austrian hotelier Johannes Baur opened his retreat for nobles who wished to remain incognito, the hotel quickly made its reputation based on luxury, splendor, and discretion. Richard Wagner premiered the first act of his Valkyrie opera at the hotel in 1856, and in 1892 Bertha von Suttner convinced the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel of the need for the international Nobel Peace Prize.
Now run by the sixth generation of the family that founded it, the Baur au Lac still traffics in traditional luxuries. You have the choice of different hotel cars e.g. Rolls-Royce Phantom. The bathrooms are clad in marble, and the curtains are uncommonly voluminous.
While offering the ultimate in comfort, luxury and privacy, the rooms and suites have been equipped with every, yet hardly noticeable technical refinement. The large, luxuriously appointed marble bathrooms with separate shower and toilet, heated floor and daylight match up to the highest demands of comfort, design and equipment. First decorated by an owner’s wife with pieces from and inspired by her world travels, they have a residential feel that mixes Art Deco with French modernism, and all their furnishings were made expressly for the hotel. Celebritiy watch out works perfect.
We had a fantastic time and a great tea time.
Try the Dolder Grand hotel restaurant. It overlooks Zurich from a hilltop.
The dining room is modern in décor, with lovely views out over Zurich’s lake on one side, and over woods and mountains from the other side of the dining room.
The wine list is just great.
We began with assorted nibbles: asparagus with raspberry, crisp breads with cheese, cucumber and salmon with cream cheese on pumpernickel, sweet potato with dill. Presentation was pretty and the flavours clear and distinct. An initial selection of breads comprised garlic baguette, focaccia and and pumpkin bread. These were clearly very fresh and well made, later a further bread selection appeared, again beautifully made.
Our main meal was tuna with cucumber, apple and wasabi granita: the tuna itself was high quality, the granita having excellent texture, and the balance of flavours of the cucumber, apple and wasabi was top class, the wasabi providing just enough bite for the tuna, n ext were langoustines, both raw and cooked, with strawberries marinated in vinegar. The langoustines themselves were very good, the combination with strawberries not something I would have thought of, though in this case the acidity provided by the vinegar helped balance the dish more than I would have expected. Just yummy.
For dessert we had rhubarb cake with baby meringues, hazelnut ice-cream, rhubarb jelly and lime zest with little hazelnut biscuits and shortbread: this was attractive and refreshing. The petit fours included seasonal fruit with lemon myrtle tree jelly, cotton candy with pepper and sea salt, liquorice ice cream, lavender macaroon, orange jellied ices with fennel and olive oil, lemon with Szechuan pepper biscuit with red rice and fruit chocolate with basil. I found some of these combinations too off the wall for me, while the macaroon itself was too hard in texture, a rare technical slip in a meal that was otherwise hard to fault in terms of cooking technique.
Strolling through Zurich is always different.
Travelling in Switzerland. Resto tip #2:
Resto tip: Schauenstein
Schauenstein is located in the Swiss Alps, in the sleepy “city” of Furstenau, in reality an alpine village. It is about 100 miles from Zurich, which by train can be reached in two and a half hours: from Zurich airport change at Zurich central station and take the train to Chur (very nice, the oldest town in Switzerland) then change again to reach the station of Thusis, which is a few miles from Furstenau.
It is a lengthy journey but a scenic one, as the train goes past an impressive lake and then heads into the snow-capped mountains. The final leg of the train ride is the so-called “Glacier Express”, which serves assorted famous ski resorts such as Davos. Its name proves that the Swiss do, after all, have a sense of humour, as it should really be called the Glacial Express based on its true velocity. The scenery it passes is certainly very pretty, and you have plenty of time to admire it.
Schauenstein itself is just great, the dining area is split into two separate rooms, with the kitchen in between. This is not mass catering – the restaurant accommodates just 16 customers at lunch and 26 at dinner. The decor reflects the age of the building, with lots of wood paneling and impressively thick doors.
The wine cellar has around 3,000 bottles, presented in a thick tome. There was a wide selection of Swiss wines, but also plenty of the classics.
Lets talk food:
Canapés included rocket sorbet with apple, with intense and well-balanced flavour. A potato and leek soup also had plenty of flavour.
Churros were excellent, with a spicy dip, while the best nibble was char, served on a cracker, simple but tasting superb.
Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a soft, doughy white bread, served warm with local butter. Just delicious.
Our first amuse-bouche was langoustine from Brittany, pan-fried and also served raw, with basil mousse and lemon espuma. On the side were delicate rice crisps and a lovely langoustine jelly with lime foam; the langoustines were of high quality, the lemon and lime elements works brilliant togehter.
Tuna and cucumber in various forms now appeared, including some raw tuna with avocado foam. Some tuna was seared, some served as sashimi, some marinated, each with different preparations of cucumber; all were of excellent quality. Veal tartare was next, served with sweetbread and also a deep fried piece of veal. The veal itself was lovely, but the star was a sweetcorn sauce, which had remarkable flavour and worked really well with the veal, with a sweetcorn powder adding a contrasting textural element.
Yummy and for me enough, just a small dessert.
It was marinated mango and pineapple, refreshing, with passion fruit and mascarpone sorbet, but on the side was a dish of spectacularly rich chocolate fondant.
All dishes were well balanced, with appealing combinations of flavours, and some surprises mixed in with the familiar.
Baur au Lac Baur au Lac