Sunday, October 13, 2013

Basel - The food

Basel being a big centre for exhibitions is not short of extremely high end restaurants. No less than 20 Michelin starred restaurants are within a 30 mile radius of Basel. But these did not interest us. What we wanted was more traditional food, local food and local wine.

There is one dramatic difference between the food in Strasbourg and Basel. The French are the leaders in gastronomy and they celebrate the pig. Bacon, Lardons, hams, sausages and all manner of pig are eaten and on the menu. The more staid Switzerland has Veal. The ultimate meat for the Swiss is Veal. There is a very sensible reason for this. If you remember your schoolboy geography and you recall the posters of Switzerland you will remember the pastures and the cows and the milk and cheese and chocolate. Milk is big business in Switzerland. You will also recall your school biology, only cows give milk. The male of the species is good for only two things, fertilisation and food. Thus, the clever Swiss have realised that the best thing to do with the extra unwanted young male calves is to turn them into food, and what delicious food it is.

The other thing we found is that the food, at least in the category of restaurants we went to, was that the food was very simple German/Swiss/Austrian food. Cooking school simple, cooking school classic, that is what I mean. Most of the menus we saw had similar food. I hasten to add that we are not talking about the sophisticated Michelin restaurants, but the local restaurants in and around town. Most menus had Wiener Schnitzel in Veal [most expensive] or Pork [far cheaper], Veal with Mushroom and Cream Sauce and Steak Cafe De Paris which is a Fillet Steak with Butter and chips. Every menu had Green Salad and Mixed Salad. Sorbets were popular desserts. Of course most restaurants had Rosti the delicious Potato Cake that is so typically Swiss. You could have Rosti with eggs, sausages or Veal or anything you wanted. Mind you all the food was very good, if a bit limited.

The first night dinner was at Restaurant Zur Harmonie. This was highly recommended. When we got there the restaurant was rather empty. Soon it started to fill and our fellow diners were all obviously locals. Once again a 60 seat restaurant with just two waitresses and one man tending the bar. For starters I ordered a Green Salad with Bacon and Croutons. If you add some poached eggs this becomes a classic French Salad. This version had no eggs but it was really delicious. HRH the Queen got a piece of Munster a classic washed rind Swiss cheese with Caraway. The combination was delicious.  Since it was our first meal, we both ordered Rosti, mine with Veal and HRH the Queen got some sausages. The Rosti was a little disappointing, but, overall it was a good meal.

Green Salad with Bacon and Croutons

Munster with Caraway

Rosti with Sliced Veal and Mushrooms

Rosti with Sausages

Chocolate Mousse

Plum Sorbet with Plum Brandy

Our dear friends the Arzano’s are jewellers in Mumbai. They go to Basel for the Jewellery show and had told us that their favourite restaurant was Restaurant Elsbethenstubli, so we made a reservation and turned up for dinner. This was a really nice restaurant. Being in Switzerland we had to have a Fondue, so Fondue it was with a bowl of Green Salad and a selection of air dried Beef and Pork, being local specialities. The Fondue was delicious and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.    

Assorted air dried Beef and Pork

Green Salad


Last night we had a reservation at Safran Zunft a fine dining restaurant right in the centre of the old town. This was an old style restaurant, tableside service, graceful waiters, lots of cutlery replacement, wine being poured by the waiters. Very nice indeed. The food was really nice and there was a higher standard of cooking. We had a bottle of local red wine to go with our food, a very nice light wine. All Swiss reds are light. To start HRH the Queen had a Venison Consommé with vegetables and Deer Chestnut Ravioli. Stunning is the only word to describe this. The Consommé was golden and totally clear with a deep rich meaty flavour. The vegetables were precisely cut cubes – Brunoise- is the technical word. Really old school classic food. I ordered an unusual dish. A Lemongrass Crème Brulee with Prawn and toasted Brioche. The Crème Brulee was sweet but combined well with the Prawn. As I said an odd choice but it worked.

Lemongrass Crème Brulee with Prawn and toasted Brioche

Venison Consommé with vegetables and Deer Chestnut Ravioli. See the steam rising!

The knife skills. Perfect cubes of vegetables

For our main course, HRH the Queen had a Deer Cutlet coated in Bacon, Red Currant Sauce, Rosti and Brussels Sprouts. Game is in season so Deer and Venison was on most menus. This was another great dish. The Deer was rare and the Bacon gave it moistness as well as salt. The Rosti was much better than at Zur Harmonie. Have a look at the photos of the Rosti in the meal we had at Harmonie and the difference is apparent. I ordered my favourite, Veal with Mushrooms in a cream sauce with Rosti. Excellent. A really nice meal, good food, good wine and great service.

Veal with Mushrooms in a Cream Sauce with Rosti

Deer Cutlet coated in Bacon, Red Currant Sauce, Rosti and Brussels Sprouts

All in all, food in Basel was good, not terribly exciting, but simple, old school and tasty.  

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