This article was also published in the Financial Times.
The sun had finally come out and those on both sides of the numerous stalls at the Saturday market in the Place du Marché in Carouge, one of Geneva’s more characterful quarters, were reveling in it.
While the biggest crowds were drawn to the wine being poured by those working at Domaine des Esserts or to the six-piece band, two very different and much smaller stalls combined to exemplify the past few months’ unusually wet weather. One offered a range of colourful roses whose heady aroma mixed with that of spit-roasting chickens and legs of lamb while next door was the most magnificent array of wild mushrooms.
Quite how verdant all of the countryside that surrounds Geneva is this particular summer became even more obvious an hour later once we’d arrived at the Domaine du Châteauvieux half an hour west of the city. We were politely escorted past the meticulous open kitchen, through the dining room and out on to the terrace that was a most impressive vantage point.
There was the Rhône river catching the sun’s rays and, close by, a nature reserve above which a series of birds elegantly swooped. There was a grandstand view of a bicycle race taking place along the valley floor. Directly beneath us was a steeply sloping vineyard. There could hardly be anything calmer and more life-affirming than the view across to the range of mountains in the distance, where Mount Blanc is apparently visible on clearer days.
Our reverie was broken by the smartly dressed maître d’ and sommelier brandishing a large menu and wine list. As they departed our eyes took in the prices and we gasped.
First courses here are 80-90 Swiss francs, main courses 90-100 and desserts over 40. Our collective and immediate reaction – that we settle for the prix fixe lunch menu – was thwarted by the fact that this is only available on weekdays.
While these prices immediately confirmed the opinion of the Bulgarians, Greeks, Norwegians, Americans and British gathered around our friend’s dinner table the night before and who are now living in Geneva, that the best-value restaurants in this city are to be found across the French border in Annecy, we were here, I comforted my wife, to learn. And I have to say that despite a bill of 440 Swiss Francs, we both left extremely impressed.
While the principal reason for this only became evident as we were leaving and I bumped into Philippe Chevrier, the smiling chef/proprietor, his excellent food was not the only factor.
Most obviously, there was an undeniable sense of warmth and bonhomie that emanated from all the staff, from the maître d’ to the sommelier. This spirit also infused the more nervous young waiter, born in Mumbai, who served us our Japanese green tea that came, this being Switzerland, with a choice of timers.
Then there was the opportunity to be rewarded by following a rule that today can be put to very good effect in almost all expensive restaurants: drink local. This wine list’s prices take off when it comes to France but a 2010 Petite Arvine made in the Valais by René Favre et Fils, a cuvée apparently named ‘John & Mike’, at 55 francs proved a crisp aperitif and was equally vibrant with our food.
An amuse bouche of the succulent meat from a shoulder of lamb inside crisp filo pastry and a small bowl of a tomato gazpacho whetted the appetite for two excellent first courses. These were spears of asparagus alongside plump langoustines from Brittany topped with caviar, and finely diced cannelloni of tuna wrapped in lardo, the white and seriously fatty Italian ham rather than pasta, that was served with a toast spread with a seaweed butter. Under the cannelloni were thin, jelly-like, strips made, Chevrier subsequently explained to me, from a heavily reduced bouillabaisse. It was a stunning dish.
Equally impressive were our two fish dishes: a fillet of turbot with a creamy, appetising yuzu sauce and grilled lobster on a mound of risotto laced with asparagus and morel mushrooms. For sound financial reasons we skipped dessert, a good decision given the quality of the petits fours.
The following day, the only slightly larger amount of 485 Swiss francs bought an equally enjoyable lunch for four.
La Closerie in the suburb of Cologny belongs to Viviana and Angelo Citiulo and their very personal approach is obvious once one has walked past the pharmacy in this small retail development. Right by the entrance is a line up of some of Italy’s top wines and inside the front door is an immediate expression of their hospitality: a three-tiered dessert trolley laden with punnets of raspberries, strawberries and blackberries; freshly baked tarts stuffed with apples, pears and pêches des vignes; a raspberry millefeuille and a rich chocolate cake.
By the time we got to the dessert stage our equally food- and wine-obsessed Genoese companion was a very happy man. He lauded the vitello tonnato and the sautéed squid that were the more intricate of our first courses and we all shared the same enthusiasm for the pastas – trofie with bottarga and ravioli with a broad bean sauce – and a lemon risotto with scamorza cheese, that followed. A fascinating bottle of Bressan’s Ego 2000 from Friuli at 170 Swiss francs went a long way to both swelling and softening the bill.
Domaine de Châteauvieux Chemin de Châteauvieux, Peney-Dessus, CH-1242 Satigny-Geneva; tel +41 22 753 15 11
La Closerie Place du Manoir 14, CH-1223 Cologny-Geneva; tel +41 22 736 13 55