On our first evening, we took the train to Lausanne where we met up with friends C & D who drove all the way from Zurich so we could all have dinner together. They met us at the station and then we drove to the École hôtelière de Lausanne where we had planned to have dinner at their fine dining restaurant, Le Berceau des Sens, run by the students. They were fully booked that evening but we decided to stay anyway for an aperitif at the students’ bar, walk around a bit and have a look at the hotel school where C & A studied together 20 years ago.
We drove down to Lausanne afterwards and rushed to our dinner reservation at the Château d’Ouchy. Originally a bishops’ residence with the tower constructed in 1170, the chateau was rebuilt completely from ruins in 1885 with only the tower remaining from the original structure and converted to a hotel in 1893. It was bought by the Swiss French Lottery in 2001, renovated completely and reopened as a modern boutique hotel under the management of the Lausanne Palace in 2007.
We arrived to a semi-full bar with a DJ spinning tunes on top of a grand piano and walked through to the restaurant which overlooks the lake. The interiors were modern with lots of white furniture, including an all-white Christmas tree but touches of the old remained with the stone-wall remains of the old tower enclosed in a winter garden-like structure that works well to combine the historical significance of the Chateau.
A banquette corner table was reserved for us and as we sat to peruse the extensive menus, we were served squares of olive-studded focaccia and olive oil. The menu is classic French cuisine using ingredients sourced from the nearby regions of Switzerland. There were several hot and cold starters, a few soups and pastas followed by the main courses: fish from Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) or meat dishes with game featuring heavily in their winter menu. It took us some time to go through the choices and decide what to have. At the bottom of the menu, the source of the meat selections are listed with veal from Switzerland, lamb from New Zealand and game (wild boar and deer) from Austria. We decided on our starters and main courses and chose a bottle of Gigondas 2007 from Pierre Amadieu, a traditional blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
While waiting for our starters, we caught up on what we had all been up to since we met last in Marbella. D & C told us about where they had been in 2009 while we recounted our own travels. The starters were served soon after – the Maine lobster tataki with spinach and mango chutney for D, the pan-fried duck liver with figs and Parmesan for C and a shared pasta starter of Straccetti with jambon de Borne in cream for A and myself. C told us that he was enjoying his starter immensely as foie gras was scarce in the German part of Switzerland where they live because of the animal activists who were against the force-feeding of the ducks. A and I enjoyed our delicious Straccetti flat pasta squares with ruffly-sides tossed in cream and topped with slices of ham and thinly-shaved black truffles.
We continued with the wine and the conversation while waiting for the main courses – fillets of lake-caught Perch meuniere for A & D, venison fillet with black currants, potato fingers and glazed quince for C and Simmental veal (from western Switzerland) with mushrooms and figs for me. I had to try the perch fillets as they were the typical fish from Geneva lake. They were soft flaky white fish pan-fried in butter and garnished with lemon juice and parsley and came with a small green salad and crispy shoestring potatoes. My veal was tender and could be sliced with just a fork. It was seared on the outside and left slightly pink inside. The flavorful veal perfectly complemented by the smashed sweet figs and earthy mushrooms. The restaurant does classic French cuisine and does it well. It’s such a treat to be served food that isn’t fancy or modern but just cooked perfectly using the best ingredients possible. Of course, a nice bottle of wine also helps. In the end though, it’s the company of good friends that make a meal memorable. Thanks to C & D for another enjoyable evening.