On a recent trip to Zurich, I discovered new and old favorites that serve up very good food and a sense of the city.
This charming French bistro just off of Rennweg feels like a slice of Paris. Black and white photos of café society between the wars hang on the walls. The mirror-backed bar dominates the narrow dining room, where diners crowd tables covered with white paper covers and order typical French fare as leeks vinaigrette, coq au vin and moules marinieres, though the house specialty is entrecote served with matchstick fries. Not surprisingly, the wine list emphasizes French labels. Part of the authentic French feel comes from the smoky haze that suffuses the small restaurant, making it feel more Parisian than today’s smoke-free L’Ami Louis. However, for people who don’t like a smoky atmosphere it may be a turn-off.
Located in the landmark building of Switzerland’s renowned newspaper, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Goethe Bar is a café that sits just to the north of the city’s Opera House and a block from the lakefront. With vast glass windows facing onto the Sechselauten Platz and sleek modern furniture, this is a perfect spot for breakfast, a light meal, coffee break or cocktail. The menu features light fare such as onion soup, salad nicoise and croque monsieurs. If you can’t snag one of the tables or comfortable couches in the back, there’s a long bar with red cushioned stools. A rack of newspapers invites lingering on warm or wintry days.
In the same building as the Goethe Bar, Brasserie Schiller is clearly meant to be the older, more sophisticated sister. The grand 19th-century proportions of the building have been modernized with contemporary furniture and lighting fixtures to create a cozy, modern dining room. At lunch light streams through towering windows and at dinner, you can watch opera goers streaming in and out of the adjacent Opera House. Of course, many attendees will eat here before or after for the performance, dining on French cuisine such as foie gras and fresh salmon, and for main courses rack of lamb or loup de mer. Desserts include perennial favorites like tarte tatin and chocolate soufflé.
Opened in 1912, the Odeon is one of Zurich’s landmarks. Among the legendary figures who have passed through its doors are Lenin, Mussolini and James Joyce. As part of the city’s recent gentrification, it has been spiffed up with an eye toward preserving its Art Nouveau charm but luring a new generation who will come for lunch in the day or a cocktail in the evening. Its central location near the Brucke bridge makes it a great place for a quick break. In summer tables with red umbrellas are set outside with French bistro chairs, but even if you can grab one be sure to go inside to see the fantastic curved wooden bar.
The Antinori family, which is known around the world for its fantastic Tuscan reds, has wine bars in various cities around Europe, including its in homebase of Florence and in Vienna. The outpost in Zurich, which opened in 1995, is located in a postcard-perfect medieval house, complete with a painted façade and wooden shutters, just off of the Bahnhoffstrasse. Of course, the primary draw is the collection of great Italian wines but the traditional Italian cuisine is also among the best in this increasingly gourmet city. It’s popular among businessmen but the tables upstairs tend to be reserved for smaller parties. Be sure wander the neighboring streets of the Augustiner quarter before or after your meal. It’s filled with historic houses that now house fashionable boutiques and bars.
This fantastic hotel in the Old Town may be a boutique property but its offers five different restaurants, all of which are excellent. The gourmet Widder has won raves from the other bible of European foodies (not Michelin, but Gault Millau) for such dishes as lobster coated in bacon with garlic mousse and poultry sauce and duck essence with mace and orange-thyme brioche. In the summer, the Courtyard, which occupies a central courtyard within the hotel’s collection of medieval buildings is a great outdoor dining refuge. Most popular with locals is the Wirtschaft Zur Schtund, which specializes in traditional Swiss dishes such as tartes flambees, sausage and cheese platters and Alsace flammkuchen (a savory flan). The atmospheric dining hall features terra cotta tile floors, long wooden tables and walls hung with antique farm tools. It’s the kind of neighborhood place with a spare yet beautiful aesthetic that would appeal to a poet. The Widder Bar, which contains wooden beams from the 13th century, red leather suits and modern art, draws a lively crowd with music most nights. Finally, if none of the public venues please, the hotel will arrange for a private dinner in one of its art-filled rooms.