A gastronomic guide to gourmet Zürich

Zurich river view

The Swiss city of Zürich – one of the chocolate capitals of the world – has always been famous for its sweet treats, but in recent years it has been emerging as a gourmet destination for discerning foodies. With already over 40 restaurants boasting Gault Millau points and great new restaurants popping up on every corner, the city is reinforcing its growing reputation as a culinary hotspot. And where better to enjoy haute cuisine, whilst gazing across the glistening lake Zürich to the snow-capped Alps beyond?

I dined my way around the city to find the cream of the crop of scrumptious dishes, from the cobbled streets of the chocolate-box-pretty old town to the chic and modern Zürich West.

Zurich street view

Tasty traditions…
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of cuisine in Switzerland is fondue – the cheesy classic that has warmed many a holidaymaker’s stomach on an icy evening on the slopes. But, don’t be fooled. Zürich’s culinary traditions actually align more with the Germans: hearty bratwursts and meaty dishes.

The picturesque old town is where the traditional gastronomy of Zürich thrives. Many of the trade guild houses from the 14th to the 18th century have now been converted to restaurants and have been made famous for their classic Zürich specialities.

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I had my first taste of the traditional Zürcher Geschnetzeltes – sliced veal in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with a crispy butter roesti – at one of the number of these historic guild houses, Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten (what a tongue-twister!). Hearty and wonderfully tasty, I cleaned my plate of Zürcher Geschnetzeltes only to find waiters attempting to serve me more; I realised that what I had eaten was only half of what they were expecting me to eat (it was a giant portion). I started to regret all the delicious tomato rolls with herb butter I had scoffed down with the starter of roasted scallops with beetroot (utterly divine).

Roasted scallops with beetroot and horseradish (photo: Sarah Gibbons)

Tucking into one of Zürich’s classic dishes whilst gazing out over the River Limmat and the old buildings beyond was a fantastic way to soak up Zürich’s historical heritage.

If you think that Zürich’s gastronomic traditions revolve around hearty meat dishes, then you’re probably right, but you’ll be surprised to know that Zürich boasts the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe – Hiltl.

Founded in 1898 by the Bavarian Ambrosius Hiltl, the restaurant was at first seen as rather bizarre, not surprising considering vegetarianism was far from normal at the time. Over the generations, however, the restaurant built up a following of enthusiasts who flocked to the Hiltl for the unusual, flavoursome dishes.

When visiting the premises, I was impressed by the vibrancy, modernity and atmosphere of Hiltl. Considering it was a giant building, by lunch the whole place was packed and the atmosphere was buzzing with chatter and live music. Now, not just a restaurant, Hiltl also transforms into a club on weekend nights and also boasts a cookery school, which I spent a few fun-filled hours experiencing.

 Karhai Paneer (photo: Sarah Gibbons)

We attempted (surprisingly successfully!) samosas with ginger raita followed by Karhai Paneer – a creamy tomato and Indian cream cheese curry – with dainty chapattis. It was all absolutely delicious; if I hadn’t have been so full I would have polished off the whole table’s worth!

Sweet temptations…
Zürich is known to produce some of the best chocolate in the worId, and having a sweet tooth, I felt myself succumbing to temptation at every glance when perusing the plethora of inviting cafés and chocolate shops in the old town.

Zurich cakes

Charming cafés adorn every corner, my personal favourite being Péclard, the oldest coffee shop in Zürich. Bursting with character and beautifully decorated, it was positively heaving with exquisitely-presented tarts and treats. But this is one of a number of boutique-style cafés and it’s clear that Zürich does café culture to perfection. There’s even a chocolate shop which caters for the diabetic – teuscher!

Péclard (photo: Péclard)

The most famous café is undoubtedly the Zürich institution that is Sprüngli; now celebrating its 175th birthday. Confectioner David Sprüngli-Schwarz and his 29 year-old son Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann were the pioneers of the chocolate industry and their business evolved into the chocolate industry giant we know today: Lindt. The historic premises in Zürich, however, retained the original name.

Luxemburgerli – miniature macaroons which melt-in-the-mouth – are its speciality and they have even become an emblem of Zürich itself. It was of course necessary to sample such a historic delight. I admit, perhaps I gorged a little…

 Sprüngli (photo: Sarah Gibbons)

Contemporary cuisine…
Many high-end hotels in Zürich boast gourmet cuisine, including the hotel I stayed at – Hotel Opera. I dined on trout from Lake Zürich itself, salmon with beetroot tagliatelle followed by a heavenly chocolate mousse. It was all accompanied by white wine produced in Zürich, which was fantastic in itself; who’d have known Switzerland’s largest city could produce such pleasant wine?

One area of Zürich which has really taken off and taken Zürich in new directions – much like the Meat Packing District in New York – is Zürich West, the old factory area of the city. Many of the industrial buildings have been converted into chic, trendy offices, restaurants and apartments and the vibe could not be more different to the quaint old town.

The spacious and glass-walled La Salle Restaurant & Bar is a great venue, housed in an expansive warehouse which also hosts theatrical performances and jazz nights. Gnüsserei in the Giessereistrasse is another interesting spot, where you can dine amongst old pieces of machinery – giving the restaurant plenty of character.

Gnüsserei restaurant (photo: Sarah Gibbons)

One ‘must-do’ is dine at Restaurant Uto Kulm, high atop the Uetilberg – if just for the views alone. Enjoy traditional, rustic dishes in the glass-walled restaurant and watch the sun set and the city come alive with twinking lights. It was one of the most memorable moments from my trip.

I returned from Zürich with a box of Luxemburgerli and a feeling of satisfaction from my indulgent gastronomic trip to Zürich (albeit a few pounds heavier!).

Originally published on Travelbite.co.uk. Trip was at the invitation of Switzerland Tourism.

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