3 star dining in the Alps

Saturday, April 02nd , 2011

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This was the first time I have visited the Dorchester Grill since its previous chef Aiden Byrne struck out on his own. The cooking of Brian Hughson was not in the same league, but is fine – a butternut squash risotto was very good for example. However the prices here are crazy, with £47.50 for Dover Sole, and a wine list whose prices are regularly five or more times the retail price. The weird décor does not help the experience, and it is hard to see what appeals to anyone other than hotel guests, preferably those on expenses.

It was not a great hotel dining week all round, as Capability at the new Waldorf Astoria showed. The pastry chef is quite good, but there were assorted and pretty blatant errors in the cooking of the savoury dishes, and no chef to moan at since he had already taken himself off elsewhere. I don’t know what it is about some UK chefs; if I ask “is the chef in today?” in a restaurant in France or Germany they look at me as if I am mad (“of course he/she is”), but so often in England they are off filming something, attending a conference somewhere exotic or on holiday. This is OK if the kitchen runs like clockwork, but how a chef two weeks into a new opening can choose not to be present in the kitchen simply eludes me.

By contrast when I popped into Zafferano Andy Needham was visibly present, and produced an excellent lunch, as his kitchen pretty much always does: things here do not arrive at the table raw, or burnt, just perfectly cooked, time after time after time. I also had a very enjoyable meal at Cambio de Tercio, with a particularly interesting dish of slow roast tomato, cooked for eight hours, with tremendous depth of flavour, as one highlight. Cambio now has a sister sherry bar, Capoto y Toros, just a few doors down from the main restaurant, selling 100 different sherries, plus some tapas: sherry is a much underrated drink in my view, and I really hope this place prospers.

I also had a short jaunt to Switzerland to try the only new three Michelin star restaurant in Europe this year: Schauenstein. This was excellent, with terrific food in a very pretty alpine setting. The cooking involved very fine ingredients and great technical precision, and can be thoroughly recommended. Oh yes, the chef was there too.

On the way back we stopped at The Restaurant in Zurich, recently elevated to two star status. The cooking here is much more modern in style, but although there were some exotic flavour combinations these almost all actually worked, and the technical skill in the kitchen was very high. One dish of white asparagus with egg yolk (illustrated) was enhanced with various tiny elements to add a texture here, a little acidity there, and the overall effect was dazzling. It occurred to me while eating that if this was in London it would probably be the best restaurant in London, yet has only just been awarded a second star.