I wasn’t there to ski I’ll leave that to the brave and the beautiful, I was there to try some of the fabled food at the tables of the lauded and applauded from the culinary world. The St. Moritz Gourmet Festival is now a 25 year institution bringing highly talented chefs from the four corners of the globe to this most majestic of mountain locations.
The train journey from Zürich to Chur is all green fields with snow capped mountains in the distance but for the final leg of that splendid ride to the chic Mecca, the snow began to take over. With over 100 bridges and 55 tunnels crossing the same valley four times to gain altitude this UNESCO heritage railway is a dream trip any time of the year. At 1800m above sea level I was anticipating it to be cold and snowy at but -14c it was colder than I expected. No matter, everything functions as normal, the trains run, the cars have snow tyres and people wear sensible clothing. Welcome to Switzerland.
My first encounter with the exceptional food of the gourmet festival was at the legendary Badrutt’s Palace known locally as just ‘The Palace’. This cathedral of a place has a fantastic view of the lake (to watch the polo and cricket matches from) and a dining room reminiscent of The Ritz in London. The auteur of this evening’s wonders was no less than Thailand’s Ian Kittichai, the award-winning chef and TV personality with restaurants in Spain, USA, Thailand and India he is truly an international star.
Bringing flavours of the far east to Switzerland is no mean feat, the Swiss are used to high end Michelin level food that is predominantly European in style. They needn’t have worried he was on great form. The six-course gourmet tasting menu took me from mid to hot then a bit hotter via langoustine, duck breast, lobster, black cod and beef short rib. This first-class journey was a nursery slope experience in terms of the full-on heat that Thai food can offer but gave more than a hint of its origins and was beautifully presented with all the aplomb that you’d expect from one of the world’s finest hotels.
St. Moritz has only 5,000 residents, which swells to 8,000 in the winter season. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows each other. The quality of shopping is of course legendary with all the big names you can find in Bond Street and more amply represented. But what is lesser-known is the quality of the food shopping. I called into Glattfelder a family run business. It’s where you go for tea, coffee and of course caviar, this is St. Moritz after all. Established in the 1930’s it’s now run by the granddaughter Nina. They offer a vast array of shop-blended teas and the caviar is sublime, a must for the discerning gastro on holiday.
Time for lunch and it wouldn’t be a trip to Switzerland without a ride in a gondola. Corviglia on the eastern slopes of Pix Mair is where you’ll find great skiing and also White Marmot, a recently opened restaurant serving Italian food. St. Moritz is very close to the Italian border, so the crossover of cuisines is no surprise. This was without doubt one of the finest lunches I have had in a long time.
The view when the weather plays ball is superb (I’m told) it was a white out on my visit. I sat down and the friendly staff started the usual setting of the table and told me about the specials. One of which was truffles. There was no need to hear or read any more. The waiter proudly produced a plate with a glass dome covering five large white truffles. The smell blew me away. Heavy, musky and pungent with that odour that puts hairs on the back of my neck.
My plate of linguini came with some mushrooms tossed in cream and then then the magic was added in front of me. Shaving after shaving of truffle fell onto my plate. As I write this I can counjure up that rich heady smell of fine food indulgence. I LOVED it. What a plate of gourmet food!
After some walking around the town and a little shopping (Swiss Army knives are cheaper here than in the UK so stock up when here) it was time for a little afternoon luxury. Back at ‘The Palace’ they had organised something called The Cult of Chocolate. It seemed almost illegal to eat such carefully crafted concoctions, but I had to. My goodness if you are remotely interested in chocolate then this is for you. Every possible shape, size and variation was there on a massive table. You pay once and visit as much as you like. Maybe you’d like to pause at the large fountain and dip giant strawberries in the flowing brown velvet or try some fondant or just settle with a slice of cake. It was all there for the eating. I was getting full. And others must get full too they use 2.5 tonnes of chocolate each season at the hotel. If you’re staying at the hotel and you have something to celebrate then why not ask Stefan Gerber for one of their specials? They will make anything out of chocolate for you, Stefan (head of chocolate magic) has made Ferraris, yachts, houses, palaces you name it he’s made it.
My time at the gourmet festival was coming to an end, but I did get to try another couple of great choices for the discerning diner: Balthazar, a bar and restaurant set up by Gucci (yes that Gucci) was a fun place to dip into and Del Maulin a small restaurant where I enjoyed an outstanding plate of local venison and a glass or two of fine wine.
With my waistband expanding and jaw aching it was time to shift out of wonderful St. Moritz, I love this town where everyone is so friendly and the level of service is top of the world class the only problem is I enjoy it too much! Time for the gym I think.
I stayed at the Hotel Schweizerhof.
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call our UK Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail them for information at email@example.com for packages, trains and air tickets firstname.lastname@example.org.
Swiss Travel System
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and destination. Prices are £112 in second class and £182 in first class.
The Swiss Travel Pass is the all-in-one ticket to travel by train, bus and boat on an all-inclusive basis from 3-15 days. Prices from £172 in second class. Plus each ticket offers free admission to more than 500 museums nationwide and half-price on the most scenic Swiss mountain railways. For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.
Swiss International Air Lines
SWISS offers more than 180 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Dublin to Zurich, Geneva or Sion (seasonal).
All-inclusive fares start from £74 one-way, including all airport taxes, one piece hold luggage and hand luggage, plus meal and drink. SWISS are also happy to transport your first set of ski or snowboard equipment and boots free of charge in addition to your standard free baggage allowance (excluding hand luggage only fares) and subject to availability. For more information visit www.swiss.com or call +44 (0)345 601 0956.
Neil Hennessy-Vass is Contributing Editor for Our Man On The Ground as well as a widely-published globetrotting food and travel writer and photographer.
Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass