> Features

Chefs on tour: Josh Eggleton in Zurich, Switzerland

Chefs on tour: Josh Eggleton in Zurich, Switzerland

Tom Shingler 15 August 2018

Zurich's food scene has gone through a very trendy change in the past few years, with artisanal producers, forward-thinking restaurants and innovative chefs helping transform the city. We went there with chef Josh Eggleton to take a look.

What comes to mind when you think about Swiss food? I’d guess chocolate and fondue are pretty high up on your list. But while they’re certainly important elements of the country’s culinary makeup, there’s an awful lot more going on there than you might realise. Zurich, in particular, is home to a thriving contemporary food scene, with international flavours, fantastic producers and incredible chefs all working together to create something very exciting.

To see what was going on in Switzerland for ourselves, we hopped on a place with Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton to uncover the delights of Zurich (and nearby city Zug). What we found when we got there amongst the beautiful architecture was surprising – instead of stereotypical bankers dining on classical French-influenced dishes, there was a much younger, trendier, casual food scene. From traditional specialities to more modern dishes of fermented vegetables and wood-fired fish, Switzerland is a dark horse in the international food scene. Take a look at what we tasted during our few days there.

Zurich

The first thing that hits you when you walk the streets of Zurich is how clean it is. Even the Limmat – the river that runs through the city from Lake Zurich – is spotless, which is why the locals can be seen swimming in it during warmer days (imagine doing that in the River Thames). There are fountains throughout the city, all of which are full of water of such good quality they can be drunk from.

The architecture is something to behold, too – an incredible mix of old and new, you can find an interesting building down every cobbled side street or alleyway. The most impressive sights tend to be either side of the river, and Hotel Marktgasse, where we would be staying during our trip, was right in the heart of Zurich’s Old Town. Walking along the river also rewarded us with some clear views of Lake Zurich in the distance, bringing a bit of nature into the city.

After checking into our hotel and eating a quick lunch at Hiltl, Europe’s first ever vegetarian restaurant (originally opened in 1898), we met our tour guide Patrick Bösch, who would be showing us the sights and telling us all about the history of Zurich. However, food was the reason we’d come to the city, and Patrick’s tour of the Old Town included a few stops at some of the area’s most important shops and cafés.

First on the list was Conditorei Schober, home to some of the best hot chocolate, pastries and truffles in the city. Dating back to the nineteenth century, it still had the furnishings and trappings of the past. The hot chocolate wasn’t served in a giant glass as we know it here in the UK; instead, it was more like an espresso – a small cup of rich, intense and beautifully flavoured chocolate, with some incredible patisserie and truffles available alongside.

Chocolate is certainly big business in Zurich, with plenty of boutique little shops selling exquisite handmade truffles and bars in beautiful boxes. One such shop was Max Chocolatier, named after the owner’s son. But it’s not just flashy packaging and nice stories that make Swiss chocolate so famous – the quality of the cocoa used is key. That was most evident when we visited La Flor Chocolate, an artisanal producer of single estate bars of cacao, made in very small batches to highlight the different flavour profiles different cacao beans can have.

The people of Zurich obviously have a sweet tooth, but it doesn’t end at chocolate – croissants are what everyone has for breakfast. Seri Wada gave up a career in banking to focus on one thing: creating the best croissants in Zurich (and eventually the world). He’s borderline obsessive about the height, weight and lamination of his pastries, and they were some of the airiest, lightest specimens we’d ever come across. He’s also on a mission to create the best baguettes, with dreams of taking them to Paris and beating the French at their own game.

Producers like La Flor and Seri are part of a new wave of artisans in Zurich, who are taking inspiration from the city’s past and bringing a bit of contemporary hipster charm to its food scene. That’s perhaps what surprised us most about Zurich – the vibrancy and youthfulness of its bars, cafés, producers and restaurants, in a place that has preconceptions of perhaps being a little stuffy, formal and traditional. Take Mikas, for example. Owner Mika Lanz stopped a life of filmmaking to start making Stadtjaeger – Zurich’s own air-dried sausage – in the basement of a church. All the pork comes from organic pigs reared within the city itself, and the whole range of sausages can be found throughout Zurich.

There’s also Turicum Gin – the first gin to ever be made in Zurich. When we paid them a visit they were halfway through creating a batch of bespoke tropical gin for a department store, but their classic London dry has won a slew of international awards in the three years it has been produced.

Of course, a city’s food scene isn’t defined just by its producers – it needs events and restaurants too. One of the standout restaurants during our time in the city was Restaurant Markthalle at Im Viadukt, based under railway tracks next to a large covered market which sells the best food and drink from Zurich’s talented artisans. There was also the city’s incredible street food festival, which was more akin to Glastonbury than the average British event, with a huge tent housing dozens of stands, plus a whole field of outdoor vans and shacks offering cuisines from all over the world.

The street food festival was part of FOOD ZURICH, a two-week annual celebration that sees the entire city champion its culinary credentials. Over 150 events were held in the 2018 edition, with 2019 (taking place from 16–26 May) set to be even bigger, and the highlight of our whole trip was a very special dinner cooked by chef Chris Züger as part of the festival.

Chris cooks using ‘fire rings’ – essentially large round metal pits with a wood fire in the middle, which heats up the flat surface so it can be cooked on. A long line of these were set up outside the offices of Transhelvetica (a Swiss magazine celebrating the nation’s culture), with Chris and his team of chefs cooking up a special, one-off menu that showcased ingredients from Switzerland’s four linguistic regions: vegetables from the German-speaking areas; fish from the French-speaking areas; beef from the Italian-speaking areas and cheese from the Romansh-speaking areas. If you ever needed proof that Zurich is home to some incredible cooking, this was it – think fermented and charred lettuce leaves, whole roasted trout, incredible pieces of beef and a dessert combining cheese, strawberries and even very finely grated wood to bring a sense of the forest to the dish.

Zug

By now it should be clear that Zurich is a bit of a foodie paradise, with a real buzz and energy around its thriving food scene. But our trip to Switzerland did include a day trip to Zug, a town just half an hour away on the train with a very different feel to it. Like Zurich, it had a beautiful lake to walk around and take in, but there was a much more relaxed feel to the place. The municipality of Zug happens to have the lowest corporation tax in all of Switzerland, which is why many global companies have their headquarters there, and it was quite amusing to see Porsches and Ferraris gently rolling along the roads amongst the quaint and traditional Swiss buildings.

Don’t write Zug off as an outpost of Zurich, though – it has its own traditions, culture and specialities which make a visit there well worth it. Our first stop was Confiserie Speck, a café and cake shop that’s been in the Speck family since 1895. It’s famous for its cherry-flavoured cakes and chocolates, showcasing kirsch liqueur in every way possible. The cherry chocolate liqueurs are shaped like bells to commemorate Zug’s eighteenth century tradition of only picking cherries once the bells of St Michael’s Church rang out.

It was the Zuger Kirschtorte that stood out above all else, however. The kirsch-soaked sponge (created using a very special machine which sprays the cake with the spirit) is sandwiched between two layers of biscuit, covered in a light crumb and finished with a dusting of icing sugar. Zug is known for its cherry-flavoured sweets, although very few actually contain real cherries – it’s all about the kirsch.

As well as its sweet cakes and chocolates, Zug is known for some very fine restaurants, the most iconic being Restaurant Schiff which highlights local ingredients. An unusual crème brulée made with local goat cheese started things off, before we tasted a local fish caught in Lake Zug known as Zuger Rötel. A little like trout, it had pink flaky flesh which was accompanied by some simple sides. There’s no better place to taste the local fish of Zug, as the restaurant overlooks the lake.

After we had said goodbye to our guide Patrick, we left Switzerland with a newfound respect for its food scene. It’s obviously developed and grown rapidly in the past few years, with new generations of chefs and producers breaking with tradition to create something more contemporary, fresh and exciting. But by making something modern in a place like Zurich, there’s a beautiful juxtaposition between the old buildings, cafés, confiseries and chocolate shops, and the trendy new food movement which champions artisanal technique above all else. Most intrepid foodies head to places like Italy, France and Spain for a good meal, but it looks like Switzerland – especially Zurich – is fast becoming a must-visit destination.

Comments ()

Chefs on tour: Josh Eggleton in Zurich, Switzerland

 

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

Change your username in user settings to something more personal.

 

(Editing)

>

This comment was edited

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

This comment has been deleted

Report this comment

Please state your report in the space below

Please enter text

Reports must be less than 750 characters

loading

>

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

(Editing)

>

This comment was edited

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

This comment has been deleted

Report this comment

Please state your report in the space below

Please enter text

Reports must be less than 750 characters

loading

>

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

Be the first to leave a comment on this page...
...   ...
 

Please enter text

Comments must be less than characters

Change your username in user settings to something more personal.