Within the historic Three Kings hotel, which dates back to 1681, the flagship restaurant is Cheval Blanc, named after the famous St Emilion wine. Its head chef since 2007 is Peter Knogl, originally from Bavaria and whose mentor was the prodigiously talented Heinz Winkler (at one time the youngest ever 3 star Michelin chef, a title held since 2002 by Le Calandre chef Massimiliano Alajmo). Mr Knogl also worked in Andalucia for seven years before moving to Basel, and briefly in London at Les Saveurs. He gained a star for the restaurant in 2007, a second one just a year later and finally was awarded the ultimate third Michelin star in the 2016 guide.
The dining room is on the ground floor of the hotel, looks out over the Rhine, and seats up a maximum of thirty guests. It has a wooden floor that is partly carpeted, with low noise levels. Tables are large and well spaced, with dishes served on white Limoges china. There was a tasting menu at CHF 220 (£160) that we opted for, in addition to a full set of carte choices.
The wine list had fairly broad global coverage, so as well as Swiss and French wines there were selections from Spain, Italy, the US and South Africa, amongst others. Example references were Markus Molitor Kosterberg Riesling 2013 at CHF 60 for a bottle that you can pick up in a shop for CHF 15, the enjoyable I Sistri Chardonnay 2012 at CHF 85 compared to a retail price of about CHF 20, and the excellent Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 at CHF 125 compared to its shop price of CHF 30. Naturally there are grander wines available too, such as Chateau Palmer Alter Ego 2011 at CHF 220 compared to its current market value of around CHF 70.
A gentleman originally from Alsace bakes all the bread entirely from scratch in the kitchen each morning. The selection today was tomato, buckwheat, baguette or olive bread. These all had excellent texture and flavour, my favourite being the olive (19/20). An initial nibble was a little cup containing a carabinero prawn in a chilled jalapeño mousse. This was a carefully judged dish, the mousse having just enough bite to enhance the flavour of the high quality fresh prawn without overwhelming it (19/20). The theme of gentle spices continued with the next nibbles. A delicate beetroot macaron was filled with wasabi cream, the spice carefully controlled and working well with the beetroot (19/20). A garam masala and foie gras macaron had liver that was prepared with a gentle Indian spice mix, served with a yoghurt crisp and orange gel. This was stunning, the liver flavour glorious and just lifted by the subtle spices, the orange providing a touch of balancing acidity (20/20). These nibbles were a really impressive start to the meal and showed considerable culinary technique and control.
Next was razor clam with red pepper ragu and balsamic vinaigrette, alongside pata negra and mushroom cream on a mushroom crisp. The clam was exceptionally tender, the red pepper ragu avoiding the slightly metallic flavour that this ingredient can often bring. The mushroom elements were also top class, with a delicate crisp and deep flavour (19/20).
The first official dish of the meal was a pretty dish of kingfish carpaccio with avocado and radish, along with little pieces of crisp pastry. The fish had excellent inherent flavour, enhanced with a little miso, a combination that went well with the avocado; the radish was high quality and there was a pleasing textural contrast from the crisp pastry. This dish was hard to fault, with its lovely combination of high quality elements, a symphony of flavours working harmoniously together (20/20).
The meal continued on a high note with cassolette of seasonal white asparagus and morels garnished with pea shoots. Both the main vegetables featured had superb flavour and were precisely cooked, resting in an intense creamy mushroom sauce with deep flavour and just a touch of acidity. This was classical cooking at its best, the sauce showing off the highly seasonal core ingredients (20/20).
Red mullet had crispy scales (using a technique borrowed from Japan) and was served with a cream of black garlic with saffron sauce, resting on a tomato vinaigrette. This was another glorious dish, the mullet having superb flavour, the saffron carefully controlled and the tomato and garlic flavours strong and distinct. Once again the quality of the sauce was remarkable (20/20).
Pigeon from Bresse was flavoured with Moroccan spices and preserved lemon, served with carrot mousseline and a reduction of the cooking juices. The texture of the high quality pigeon was impressive, its flavour enhanced by the gentle spices, and the richness balanced by the touch of lemon and the earthiness of the carrot. This was one of the best pigeon dishes I can ever recall eating (20/20). My wife, who doesn’t eat meat, had instead a terrific turbot with cucumber and deep-fried leek with potatoes on the side (19/20).
Cheese was provided by a combination of the famous Alsace affineur Bernard Antony and a Swiss supplier called Sterchi. The cheeses, mostly French but with some Swiss ones too, were all in excellent condition. A pair of different loaves was offered with the cheese course, both top-notch.
Pre-dessert was mandarin with mascarpone ice cream, yoghurt spring cake and yuzu macarons. This was a very refreshing way to transition from the savoury to the sweet, the flavours not too sharp but still having a good level of acidity (18/20). Gariguette strawberries came in several forms including marinated and as a mousse, garnished with lime cress. The fruits had terrific flavour, such a contrast to the strawberries that we have sadly become used to in the UK (19/20). Praline with a biscuit base came with little blobs of lemon and a delicate sugar decoration. This was another very enjoyable dish though I preferred the strawberry dessert (18/20).
Alongside the coffee came an array of mignardise. There was a macaron of grapefruit, millefeuille of nougat and hazelnut, croquette of cream and lemon and mandarin, and mousse of yoghurt with cocoa and passion fruit jelly. Separately served on spoons were mango mousse with lemongrass espuma and mousse of lemon with pineapple jelly. These were all superb petit fours, the mousses in particular dazzling (20/20). The coffee itself was lovely, an all Arabica Ethiopian coffee from a supplier called Rast Cafe in Lucerne.
Service was superb throughout the meal, as precise as the fine Swiss clock hanging on the wall of the dining room. A nice touch was that the staff were actually quite relaxed and friendly rather than being overly formal. The bill came to CHF 291 (£212) per person including a bottle of very good Riesling. Of course this is hardly cheap, but this is Switzerland and we are talking about a three star Michelin restaurant. Overall this was a deeply impressive meal, thoroughly deserving its recent three star accolade. The skill level in the kitchen in the preparation of sauces in particular was dazzling, and the ingredients were of the highest quality.