Restaurant Review: Cheval Blanc at The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland
Sometimes in life you receive an opportunity to live out your passion, an event that will stay with you for years and enrich your life.
It may be driving the supercar of your dreams, watching your favourite, elusive band perform live before your very eyes, or for someone like me whose very first thought every morning is “what do I have for lunch?” It would have to be dining in a three Michelin star awarded restaurant.
The crème de la crème of fine dining, the best it can get, worth crossing borders for- this is what three stars promises, so when the opportunity came my way, with mouth agape and eyes wide, I formed a sentence that included the word ‘yes’ and eagerly awaited the day that came in late June.
The host for this wonderful experience was Cheval Blanc in the Swiss city of Basel. Situated in the glorious five-star hotel, The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, on the banks of the Rhine and in the centre of the city, the restaurant reflects its grand surroundings with beautiful classic décor including sparkling chandeliers, ornate furniture, high ceilings and muted lighting.
Headed up by the affable Peter Knogl, who joined the restaurant in 2007, was awarded one star a year later, two stars the year after that and three stars in 2016, the restaurant promises ‘a symphony of aromas, colours and harmonious tastes’ where ‘French haute cuisine is enriched with Mediterranean and Asian influence.’
Once my footwear was changed (I foolishly tried to get in wearing flip flops – silly me! Smartly dressed otherwise I might add in case you think I go into every restaurant in my finest beach wear – I do not!) we were shown to our table on the covered terrace and offered a glass of Champagne.
With a glass of Ruinhart in hand – rosé for me – and my handbag safely resting on its own stool, I sat back and took in the view of the beautiful summer’s day in Basel.
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a meal in a better spot – I was facing an arched bridge looking up the river towards the mountains. With the water trickling past, the sun blazing and a gentle breeze to take the edge off, the terrace offered the ideal spot to relax and enjoy the experience.
I met various members of the restaurant team and was offered the tasting menu (235CHF) with the wine pairing which I gladly accepted. A little research before my trip told me that I was to expect a spoon with most courses. Dubbed as the ‘king of sauces’ Peter Knogl feels strongly about serving as many of his dishes with a sauce as possible, he later informed me that this is where the flavour really stands out within a dish.
I began with some delicate canapés of a beetroot cracker with smoked eel and caviar and a clam with lemon foam and I thoroughly enjoyed these flavoursome treats. A glass of Spanish white wine was poured (Albariño o casal non multa, sed multum, vendimia seleccionada) to be enjoyed with the next course of cucumber and yogurt.
A bright green bowl of bubbled foam with a big blob of yogurt in it appeared and despite my less than glamorous description, it was delicious! It was cool, light and summery and proved that cucumber is one of the best summer ingredients.
Next up was a macaron with foie gras, orange and garam masala – I was told to pick it up from underneath and eat it in one – the oh-so delicate mouthful dissipated as soon as it was in my mouth with the paper thin outer giving way to an array of flavours in one burst. With a smooth, rich filling and a dot of orange purée, this was a stunning mouthful of food. The wine chosen for these two dishes was well selected with the flavours on the dishes being very well completed by the refreshing, green apple flavoured, slightly acidic drink.
Crab, tomatoes and jalapeño aren’t my favourite ingredients but this was what my next course consisted of and I was interested in what format this would be served.
I was greeted with the prettiest plate of food- quenelles of crab, tomato hearts, cucumber foam, rolled jalapeño slices, leafy herbs and a little flower or two were artfully laid out atop a gelatinous sauce showing a lot of effort with presentation. The flavours were up to scratch too with uplifting herbs, cooling cucumber and sweet and juicy tomatoes matching the flavoursome wine. (Sancerre, Les Fines Bouches, France, 2016).
Langoustine, madras and green apple were up next and I was rather excited being a fan of the shellfish as well as a curry or two. The only course to be served in a black dish (every other plate or bowl was white), this was my favourite of the meal and arguably one of the finest dishes I have ever eaten.
When chatting with Peter Knogl later he said that this was one of his favourite dishes to prepare and I can see why. A feast for the eyes, and my tastebuds, this had it all for me; a gentle warmth from the madras sauce/foam to complement the sweetness of the langoustine and apple matchsticks to uplift the curry. Packed with flavour, gorgeous textures and lovely to look at, this was it and the cherry on top was the wine (Tenimento dell’Or Viognier, Ticino, Switzerland, 2016).
My seafood sampling was not over yet, up next I was served Atlantic turbot, carrot and tarragon with a glass of white wine from the south of France (Domaine de l’horizon, Blanc, vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes, 2014). I’m a big lover of turbot (and carrots for that matter) and I find it hard to describe this, it was so good.
I was blindly making my way through this meal trying to find ways to describe the deliciousness I kept encountering. The chunky yet delicate fish, which was generous in size, was served with a gently flavoured sauce – a well balanced, light dish, which was again elevated by its gorgeous wine pairing.
I was truly treated with the next course – the best of the best in beef, Japanese Wagyu, was served with a vinaigrette of shallots and okras and a sumptuous glass of Roc D’Anglade, Vin de Pays du Gard, France, 2015.
This was different to previous courses in that it had sharper, punchier flavours, proving just how well crafted the summer tasting menu was. The beef melted in my mouth, it was so delicate and all the little elements (crispy okra tempura, syrupy shallots and tiny little crispy pieces of shallot, I believe) came together to create a beautiful plate of food.
I was still going and never say no to cheese so, after a wonderfully thorough presentation of the French, Swiss and Alsace offerings, I tucked into a varied plate of soft and hard cheeses served simply with bread and a glass of Bordeaux for me.
To freshen up the palate this was followed with a gloriously refreshing and tangy frozen mojito sorbet to make way for a dessert of apricot, verbena and pistachio with yogurt.
This was a light, delicate, refreshing, fruity and colourful dessert with a little crunch and I thought the herbs and sour flavours on the plate balanced each other out nicely.
This didn’t mean the meal had ended, I carried on happily tucking into sweet treats of mango, passion fruit and lemongrass and a chocolate and cherry bite both served on spoons, before sipping a cappuccino and a selection of four petit fours. Three hours later, Lord knows how many different ingredients I had consumed and a few tasty glasses of wine too and I was complete.
In a nutshell
Being one of the two finest meals I’ve ever eaten, this was a showcase of how a group of people can work together to create a positive and memorable experience for its diners.
The service could not be faulted; every spoon was in place, the wine poured just before the food was served, friendly faces popping up regularly to check in and everything was thought of – remember my handbag stool?
As for the food – it was elegant, full of flavour, varied, fastidiously presented and reflected the season perfectly. Every item on every dish was there for reason, each wine had been chosen to add yet another dimension to the food and all in all it was a joyous experience that will stay with me for a long time.
Address: The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, Blumenrain 8, 4001 Basel, Switzerland
Phone: +41 61 260 50 07