Two Great Restaurants

Saturday, October 01st , 2016

 don-alfonso-1890 5472 pumpkin and Capri-crop-v2.JPG 

Hotel de Ville in Crissier opened in 1971 and first gained three Michelin stars under Fredy Girardet, and successfully retained these under Philippe Rochat and then once more under Benoit Violier. The latter tragically committed suicide recently, and the kitchen is now in the capable hands of the long-term former sous chef here, Franck Giovannini. I have been fortunate to eat meals here in all four of these chef eras, and the impressive thing is how little the standard has changed. The cooking is classical French, with proper pools of painstakingly made sauce rather than artful dots on a plate. However this no culinary museum in the style of Paul Bocuse: the dishes move with the times, and incorporate modern ideas and techniques where appropriate.  This most recent meal was superb, right from a dazzling summer vegetable veloute with caviar as a nibble, through a progression of fabulous dishes: egg and porcini, perfect turbot and then duck, culminating in a fine dessert. Service is as slick as ever here, and is much warmer and friendlier than it ever was in the Girardet era.  The food here is as good as at any restaurant in the world.

I next ventured back to the Amalfi Coast, whose best restaurant is perched on the top of a hillside in a little village called Sant Agata. Getting here up the steep, winding hillside roads is quite a challenge, but once you are here you can relax on the property and enjoy the hospitality of the family that run Don Alfonso 1890. The restaurant’s strength is its ingredients, with most of the vegetables served here grown on the family farm a few miles away, strung out over a hillside facing Capri (pictured). The Amalfi lemons, aubergines, peppers and above all the dazzling tomatoes here are as good as you will taste anywhere. The best dishes for me are actually the simplest ones: spaghetti puttanesca highlights the dazzling tomatoes, which are picked daily from the farm at their ripest and brought up to the kitchens. Guinea fowl with pistachios was excellent, as were many other dishes that we tried over a total of five meals here on this visit. The property itself has many charms, including a remarkable wine cellar housed in an ancient tunnel that remained undiscovered until the 1980s but has been dated back to the 6th century BC. There is a genuine sense of welcome from the staff here, who seem to really want their guests to have a great time. Fortunately, with the fabulous produce at the disposal of the kitchen, this is easy enough to do.