According to the ribbon-bound, creamy, thick paper menu sitting on my lap right now, on the 25th January of this year, at about 7.45 p.m. I was tucking into a “Courte nage de langoustines au persil frais” – or “aromatic langoustine broth with fresh parsley” at La Bagatelle, restaurant of the Grand Chalet hotel, Gstaad. There may not be a press invite to “Dinner” heading my way any time soon, but boy do I get some good breaks in my line of work.
The Grand Chalet in Gstaad is an odd little place with simply delicious food. Like a drug-fuelled Heidi in Wonderland theme park regurgitation, this twee, uber-pretty Chalet satisfies every fetishistic Alpine urge from the buxom milkmaid outfits the staff are sporting to zither-playing legend Werner Frey wheeling out the classics in the back corner. Cow ornaments abound (and indeed, cows abound around here, one of which table nine was greatly enjoying in the form of a filet Helvétique à la moelle – with marrowbone).
Head chef Steve Willié and his sommelier, Oporto native Pedro Ferreira, satisfied every one of my gastronomic desires with a foie gras and duck-rich menu accentuated with good, local seasonal ingredients: morels and berries galore. Then before a whirlwind of desserts, mignardises, friandises and coffee, a groaning, pong-heavy cheese trolley was wheeled out that had the effect of electric cattle-prodding my tastebuds into a frenzy of curd-induced delight.
The most exciting part of all, however, was the wine. We demanded an all Swiss, all Valais showcase – when else am I likely to ever taste these exquisite wonders? You can’t seem to buy Swiss wine ANYWHERE and they, quite rightly, keep almost all of it to themselves. We’d wound past vineyards on the train up from Geneva to Gstaad for a good solid hour, endless stretches, the stumpy vines shivering in the crisp winter air. What a joy these vinous libations were. Without further ado, here is what we drank (and accompanying foods):
Pinot Noir Federweiss, Martha & Daniel Gantenbein, Fläsch, Grison 2004.
(Panaché de foie gras de canard et d’oie en deux cuissons)
Daniel Gantenbein is a legend in the Swiss wine world and one of the few Swiss wineries with international significance. Daniel, a trained mechanic, and his wife Martha began in the early eighties with just 4 hectares in wine production. Gantenbein wines are very rare and will be found only in the top caves in Switzerland. If you’ve got £400 to spare, you can buy a bottle of this from… well… get on a train now. Opulent, very oaky, according to Pedro “extremely Burgundian” and with a refined texture. Was enjoying so much I nearly forgot to eat my amuses-bouches. Nearly.
I am far from a trained palate, although it has been described as similar to a “Chambolle Musigny 1st Cru” – which by the sound of it, is praise indeed.
Viognier, Frères Philippoz, Leytron, Valais 2008
(Courte nage de langoustines au persil frais)
Rich banana aroma, this fruity highly drinkable wine went amazingly with the langoustines and the grassy parsley.
Les Bernunes, Nicolas Zufferey, Sierre, Valais 2007
(Magret de canard de Challans roti aux filets d’oranges)
Tastes of fat, black cherries with a slight aftertaste of toasted almonds. Not my favourite of the evening, but excellent with the sweet duck.
Pinot Noir, Fernand Cina, Salgesch, Valais 2009
(cheese trolley… which segued into a pudding of divine moelleux au caramel et fleur de sel et sorbet orange sanguine)
I admit to having been distracted at this point by the cheese trolley, with its 48 cheeses, including 7 from the Valais region alone. I gorged on the famed, grainy, aged Hobelkase of Gstaad, a piney Moelleux du Revard, unpasteurised cow’s cheese matured in pine bark boxes, a creamy Gruyère (about 30 mins away by car), a Tome de Savoie I would have sold my Granny for, a St Marcellin, a Munster (with cumin seeds, of course) and a Langres from the 9th celestial sphere of Paradise. The wine was devillish good. It must have been, I had 4 glasses of it.