Michelin chef Daniel Humm’s favourite Zurich restaurants, from finest dining to food trucks
Humm, who is chef/owner of the New York restaurant that tops the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, was born just outside the Swiss city. He recommends the best places, from classic old-school Swiss to contemporary European cuisine
If you were to ask people the first thing they thought of when you mention Zurich, the words “efficient”, “clean” and “safe” may come near the top of the list. All are admirable attributes, but they are not likely to set the pulse racing.
There are other reasons that keep it at or near the top of lists of the world’s most liveable cities, not least of which is the city’s brilliant food culture.
Zurich has great quality produce from one of the most pristine environments in Europe, classic recipes and a young multicultural population. The result is a city where food surprises and impresses at every turn – and every level. Naturally there are fine dining temples with impeccable ingredients and service, but also a whole raft of cheapercafes and food trucks which show a relaxed, bohemian side to the city.
One man who knows Zurich’s dining scene is Daniel Humm, chef and co-owner of the Michelin three-star Eleven Madison Park in New York and current holder of the top spot on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Humm was born 40 miles from Zurich and explains: “Zurich is very much rooted in classic cooking focused on the origin of humble ingredients. I was taught from the very beginning that cooking is all about elevating this produce – because otherwise it’s just assembling.”
We start with a look at three of Humm’s recommendations, beginning with his former employer at the Baur Au Lac hotel. The 173-year-old property is home to a number of celebrated restaurants, including the one Michelin-starred Pavillon. However, it’s the more casual – but still refined – Rive Gauche which serves a bona fide classic, loved by Humm. He should know, as he used to work there making what he proclaims is, “The best steak tartare in the world”.
There’s no particular secret, it seems, other than the highest quality ingredients and decades of experience. Very finely minced USDA beef, almost smooth to the point of purée, combined with tomato, chilli and capers. To accompany, sharp cornichons, pickled onions and breadsticks.
The crispy-skinned sea bass with mussels and caponata is a fine way to follow, but overall the tartare wins the day.
A 10-minute walk across the bridges of Zurich, overlooking the lake, brings you to Kronenhalle where an austere-looking facade gives way to a warm interior of wood-panelled rooms, lace curtains, stained glass, brass lamps and white linen tablecloths.
The menu is resolutely and defiantly old school, with Swiss classics prepared at the table by white-jacketed waiters and served to a moneyed clientele. If it feels a tad stiff, it’s not without humour as an older waiter comes in flamboyantly singing Happy Birthday, in English, before placing a cake at a table and encouraging a round of applause for the birthday boy.
From the lunchtime menu, take your pick from the “Proposals of the Day”, such as melon soup with port, rabbit with ratatouille on potato rosti, or veal steak with spaetzle, those noodle-like ribbons that translate whimsically as “little sparrows”. Veal another way is my choice, carved tableside and served with a rich golden jus, while pickled cucumbers and tomatoes cut through the richness in an accompanying potato salad. Incidentally it’s one of the cheapest lunch main courses on the menu at a still substantial 46 Swiss francs (US$47) – but I do get asked if I want more meat or salad.
Humm’s final recommendation is much more modest and recalls his time schlepping through the snow to get to the finest produce at Bürkliplatz market. Located on the quayside where boats depart for tours of Lake Zurich, the market takes place twice weekly.
On display are seasonal and local herbs, vegetables and flowers, fresh bread and salumi. Perhaps unsurprisingly given our location, the cheese stalls steal the show, with an amazing array. The hard appenzeller from the northeast of the country, emmental, sensational cave-aged gruyère but, best of all, the hard to pronounce füürtufel or “fire devil”, which is liberally studded with habanero, jalapeno and cayenne pepper. Sliced onto local rye bread, paired with tomatoes and a cold beer, this makes for a picnic of champions.
The Dolder Grand is another legendary Zurich hotel, overlooking the city and lake and only a few minutes’ drive from the city centre.
For fine dining in the city, there’s no better option than The Restaurant under affable German chef, Heiko Nieder. The two Michelin-starred dining room is elegant and contemporary, the perfect stage for an outstanding dinner. Nieder melds ingredients that, on paper, sound frankly weird, but work brilliantly on the plate.
Dishes include lobster with rhubarb, confit salmon with coconut, licorice and lettuce, or sea bass with mustard. As is often the case with those touched by culinary greatness, the odd quickly becomes the sublime. Many dishes had Asian touches or influences, so it was a surprise to learn Nieder had never worked there. A sensational dessert of strawberry textures with buckwheat, tarragon and Peruvian chilli were a perfect finale, while throughout dinner the plating matched the execution and touches such as the selection of amuse-bouches, bread and petits fours were flawlessly executed.
From haute cuisine to the humbler scene of Zurich’s summer street food festival, a reminder of how Hong Kong dropped the ball so badly with food trucks.
More than 100 vendors in total offered every cuisine imaginable, from Afghan pastries to okonomiyaki, Sichuan dumplings to Swiss raclette. Getting there on the tram showed a new side to the city, bohemian and hipster with a clear environmentally-conscious slant that extended to the ground where the trucks were neatly congregated. Despite a couple of thousand people sitting and eating outside, not one piece of litter was visible and absolutely everything was recycled.
The Swiss goulash vendors explained how they cook their pork for 18 hours in a secret mix of tomatoes, peppers and paprika, before serving it in a bread bowl. The fish sandwich from the grammatically-questionable “Peruvian Bro’s” was singing with lime and chilli before the home-made tartare sauce was added under the crunch of pickled carrots. Best of all were light and crispy cigars of filo enveloping herby feta, to be dipped into an unusual but delicious spiced watermelon sauce.
Taste test reveals truth about Hong Kong’s food trucks: snacks that are bland, overpriced and hard to eat
The sun was slowly setting as bands played around the venue, while it was clear that visitors and locals, parents and kids alike, were loving the food, tunes and relaxed atmosphere. Zurich, a liveable city? You better believe it.
Rive Gauche at Baur au Lac
Talstrasse 1, 8001, Zurich, tel: +41 44 220 50 60
Rämistrasse 4, 8001, tel: +41 44 262 99 00
The Dolder Grand, Kurhausstrasse 65, 8032, tel: +41 44 456 60 00
Zurich Street Food Festival (until Sept 24)
Hardturmstrasse 402, 8048