I have now eaten three meals at the premises called Hotel de Ville in Crissier. The first was at the end of the career of Fredy Girardet, a highly regarded three Michelin star chef who set the restaurant up in 1971. After Mr Girardet retired in 1996 his protégé Philippe Rochat took over, retaining its three Michelin stars and delivering to me a superb meal in 2004. In April 2012 Mr Rochat himself handed over the reins to Benoit Violier, who had worked in these same kitchens for 16 years, and had trained at Jamin under Joel Robuchon. The restaurant is on a hill in the small town of Crissier, itself a few miles from Lausanne. If travelling to Hotel de Ville from abroad then the nearest airport is Geneva. You can take a train directly from Geneva airport to Lausanne; the train journey takes 40 minutes and several trains run per hour, with a quite picturesque journey running partly beside Lake Geneva. This is vastly cheaper than taking a taxi there from the airport, which is a 42 mile journey that will set you back a terrifying amount of Swiss Francs.
The restaurant has two dining rooms, each seating two dozen or so people, and there is also a chef's table in the large kitchen. No fewer than 22 chefs work in the kitchen, serving around fifty diners. There is a lot of continuity in the kitchen; there are no transient stagiers doing internships, and chefs have to commit to a minimum two-year stint when taking a position here. The restaurant closes for a few weeks a year, the staff taking holiday at this time, so there are no "off nights" when the head chef is off doing other things. The dining rooms were pleasantly decorated but not spectacular, with brown carpet, cream walls and fairly low ceiling, but the lighting was excellent and there was no music to distract from the food.
The cooking style is in firmly classical territory, based on impeccable ingredients. There was a tasting menu at CHF 290 (£193), which is what we ate, a lengthier tasting menu at CHF 360, and an a la carte menu as an alternative. The wine list had plenty of well-known growers from France, a significant selection from Switzerland, and a smattering from elsewhere. Mark-ups were very high indeed. Ruedo Verdejo Naia 2011 was CHF 70 for a wine that you can find in a shop for about CHF 14, Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru was CHF 145 for a wine that retails at about CHF 33, and Lynch Bages 1996 was CHF 590 compared to a shop price of CHF 180. Bread was made from scratch and was of a high standard, with country bread, white, sesame or black olive breads as the choices. The texture of each was excellent; my favourite of these was the black olive bread, which had particularly good flavour (19/20).
The only rather ordinary food of the meal was an initial amuse-bouche of Chanterais melon and ham on a little cheese biscuit. Certainly the melon and the ham were of good quality, but the cheese taste dominated, and this seemed a rather ordinary way to begin the meal (15/20). Much better were servings of tomatoes and guacamole on silver spoons. The tomatoes were grown locally and were a type of beef tomato called Rose de Berne; they had remarkable depth of flavour, and the guacamole with them was also terrific (19/20).
A little line of four cylinders of crab mousse (the crab was from Ile de Re off the west coast of France) was next, two of these topped with oscietra caviar, served with a crab consommé with just a little lemon. The crab flavour was superb, the balance of the dish excellent (19/20). Ravioli of ceps with hazelnuts was even better, the mushrooms having terrific flavour, the pasta lovely texture, and above all the sauce having remarkable depth. This was old-school cooking, the sauce an integral part of the dish and not some artistic smear on the plate (20/20).
Dover sole was perfectly cooked, served with another wonderful sauce, an emulsion of lime and hibiscus flower. The fish again was a joy to eat, and the lime gave just enough acidity to the dish (20/20). Blue lobster was next, served with fennel and an intense reduction of the lobster coral, flavoured with peppercorns. The lobster was very tender, the fennel an interesting pairing, and the sauce once again having lovely flavour, in this case with just a hint of spice (20/20). Langoustine from Brittany was the best dish of all, a large langoustine beautifully cooked and served with a wonderful lemon sauce flavoured with a little ginger. This is one of the best langoustine dishes I have ever eaten (20/20).
Entrecote steak, the beef from a local producer, was topped with curly potatoes (a variety called Mona Lisa was used) with a pepper sauce and a little dish of mixed vegetables flavoured with coriander. This was a very good dish, the sauce excellent and the beef having good flavour, but was not quite in the same league as the seafood dishes (18/20). An extensive cheese board offered a selection of both Swiss and French cheeses, all in excellent condition. A series of additional loaves had been baked specially to go with the cheese, of which the fruit and nut bread was particularly good.
The first dessert was a red berry concoction served in a cocktail glass. Mixed red fruits were atop a layer of vanilla ice cream and a ring of biscuit, whilst underneath was blackcurrant jelly and strawberry purée. The fruits were superbly ripe, the texture of the purée and jelly terrific. A lovely, refreshing dessert (19/20). This was followed by a perfectly risen passion fruit soufflé, which was removed from its dish and served on a dinner plate with mangos in a passion fruit and mango sauce. The soufflé was impeccably cooked through, light as you could wish, and the mangos were lovely (19/20). As often with top restaurants, the little details are carefully attended to, and here the coffee was superb, having great flavour, served with a few petit fours. The star of these was a pair of magnificent lemon madeleines, but also lovely was rum baba, fruit jelly and a biscuit tuile (19/20).
Service was very slick throughout the evening, with the restaurant manager having worked here for no less than 34 years. There was a large collection of well-trained staff, ensuring that topping up of water, wine and bread was flawless; the staff seemed friendlier than I recall from previous visits, and was the sort of exemplary service that only the most finely tuned restaurants can pull off. The bill came to CHF 829 between two i.e. £276 a head, for the tasting menu, a bottle of Louis Roederer champagne, two further glasses of wine, coffee and water (CHF 7 a bottle for Evian). Of course this is a lot of money, but this is Switzerland, and the large brigade of chefs and waiters and impeccable ingredients all cost money. This level of bill is still below what you can pay in Paris. More to the point, the food was absolutely dazzling, a tour de force of classical French cooking.
Below are notes from my meal in September 2004, when Philippe Rochat was cooking.
The restaurant is in the pretty village of Crissier, a few miles from Lausanne. It must be the only 3 star Michelin restaurant to have a guard dog (a sort of cross Alsatian, Doberman and Hound of the Baskervilles) behind the reception desk – surely this isn’t the sort of place that a brawl is likely to break out and they need the dog as backup? It certainly has an impressive bark, and I saw nobody refusing to pay the service charge. Service itself is pleasant and yet not quite at the peak of perfection that France can deliver at its very best. Fortunately, the food amply compensates. The décor is less gloomy than when this place was run by Freddy Girardet.
Bread was a selection of rolls: olive, cereal, white, brown, country and black bread (19/20). Amuse-bouche was a slice of vegetable terrine served with a little artichoke and an excellent small salad with a fine grapefruit dressing (18/20). My wfie started her meal with ravioli of celery, served with tiny diced potato, pistachios and chopped vegetables served with a celery froth (19/20). Even better was my starter, two beautifully presented hemispheres consisting of cep mousse surrounded by a perfect fan of cep slices, almost like a 3D tarte tatin in appearance, the mushrooms resting in a frothy sauce of the cooking juices. The taste of the ceps was as sublime as the presentation, and I would rate this dishes one of the most memorable I have ever eaten (20/20 is barely a sufficient) score.
We shared a large slab of turbot carved at the table, served with a creamy vin jaune sauce laced with crushed peppercorns, which worked really well to give an edge to the sauce without overwhelming it. Alongside were some perfect baby tomatoes, some carrot, fennel, a skewer of black olives and a small potato filled with roasted onion (20/20). Cheese was in fine condition: Brie was runny, Camembert tasty, a fresh goat smooth, St Maure silky rather than chalky and Munster in fine fettle, as was an aged Gruyere (20/20).
A pre-dessert of sorbets and ice creams were all in perfect condition: apricot, blackcurrant and strawberry sorbet, caramel, vanilla and lemon ice cream (20/20). Our main dessert was a perfect passion fruit soufflé served with passion fruit coulis. After all this, we were presented with a selection from a large dessert trolley (which, rather sneakily, you are charged extra for though this was not announced). Here was a wide selection of tarts and fruits; I had a lovely lemon tart slice, and some excellent strawberries.
Coffee was excellent, though perhaps only 19/20 but served with fine petit-fours: a passion fruit macaroon, a raspberry sponge, a chocolate truffle, a tart of mixed fruit (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry with a spear of sugar) a red fruit jelly, a lemon sponge, a choux bun, a palet d’or chocolate, a chocolate with hazelnut filling, some chocolate covered almonds and a chocolate with a liquid raspberry centre. We had Cuvee Frederich Emile from Trimbach from a mostly French wine list. Overall a really magnificent meal.