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Jan 20, 2011 04:26 PM

Opinion on Specific Restaurants in Basel, Switzerland

There isn't much on this board about Basel. If anyone has comments on the food at any of the following and/or restaurant and grocery recommendations near the university, I'd be most appreciative!

Restaurant Kunsthalle
Café Spitz
Chez Donati
Restaurant Stucki Bruderholz
Grand Café Huguenin
Zum Isaak
Café zum Roten Engel

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  1. There's not much info, it seems, about Basel and Basel area restaurants on this board or other restaurant discussion boards, so I'll throw some out there.

    By reputation, Chez Donati is no longer good. There was a change in ownership a few years ago. Friends in Basel consider it to be just so-so.

    Il Violon is a decent French restaurant with a few blips. I'll try to write a real review on it when I have a moment. Conceptually a dish of deer saddle meat was good, but the meat itself was overcooked. Shortribs were dry and tough.

    By far the best restaurant I tried in the Basel area was actually in Sulzburg, Germany, about 45 minutes away by car. There, the one-Michelin starred Restaurant Hirschen was truly excellent and nearly flawless in food and service. I thought it deserved more than one star.

    I've excerpted the following from the full review of the five-course tasting menu, with pictures, at

    Unfortunately, the delicious-sounding listed first course of Rosa gebratene Taubenbrust und Gänseleberröllchen mit Granatapfel, drei Pfeffer (pink roasted pigeon breast and with garnet apple, three peppers) was not available. However, much to our delight, the kitchen replaced it with the Unsere Gänselebervariation mit Sauternesgelée und hausgebackener Brioche, an assortment of foie gras preparations with Sauternes gelee and house-baked brioche that completely floored us. From 12 o'clock, the assortment included: the "regular" (unadorned) foie gras; foie gras with black truffle and celery root; foie gras with pear; foie gras with artichoke; foie gras with orange; and foie gras with balsamic and pear sorbet. The piece in the center was prepared like a truffle, coated with cocoa. The diamond-shaped little yellow jellies between foie gras variations were pieces of Sauternes-infused aspic. Each one of these flavor combinations was surprisingly apt, though none was as perfect as the cocoa-covered foie gras presentation. It was a helluva lot of foie gras and I don't think I would've been able to power through the entire meal if I hadn't had help with this plate. Probably not many human beings can eat that much foie gras and live to tell the tale.

    The next course, Skreikabeljau pochiert, mit einer Sellerieremoulade, Sellerieschaum und Kresse (poached cod with a celery remoulade, celery foam and watercress), appeared to be a roulade of cod filled with more cod mixed with chopped herbs -- parsley, I think, or possibly celery leaves. The fish was fresh and good on its own. But the celery foam -- I think made of mild celery root since it had none of sharp astringency of celery -- brought a simultaneous depth of flavor and lightness to the dish that was absolutely artful. This is not your grandmother's poached cod. Nor is this your usual molecular gastronome's frou-frou, insubstantial foam.

    Our final savory course was the US –Rinderfilet und Ochsenschwanzpraline mit Schalottensauce, Spinatpüree (U.S. beef fillet with "oxtail chocolate", shallot sauce and pureed spinach). I was fairly flabbergasted that a region with such incredibly high-quality, well-produced meat would choose to import American beef of any sort. But this was quite good. The most delicious component was the wonderful oxtail terrine-like concoction, rolled into a ball, spiked with cocoa, and perched on top of the steak. The cocoa notes are so subtle, you hardly notice them, but they add an extra dimension of richness that really fills out the flavor. This savory confection contrasted with the tender, refreshing lightness of sliced green beans, a thick and oddly decadent spinach puree, tender beef (notably fresh despite having been imported from the U.S.) and an incredibly intensely flavored sauce, which tasted like barely diluted bouillon. My dish's only flaw was that the beef was slightly more well done than I prefer it (medium rather than medium rare or rare); Justin's came rare without him having to ask for it that way.

    Friandises were varied and incredible. The cakes and pastries plate included everything from miniature apple and cherry tarts to multilayered cakes flavored with various fruits and tiny wedges of cheesecake. The truffle plate included mint, dark chocolate, lemon and praline truffles, each more delicious than the last. Literally. I did try them in this order.

    Next, we were faced with a daunting Rohmilchkäse vom Wagen, Affineur Bouton d ́Or (cheese cart from the Bouton d'Or affineur), which included a selection of about 25 cheeses, served with a slice of fig pressed cake, grapes and bread. I actually have very little idea of what cheeses we picked, since Justin and I just pointed at whatever we thought looked interesting. I really enjoyed a very young chevre presented as a tall, truncated cone on a stick and what I think was a Pave Sauvage.

    And finally, as if we weren't stuffed enough and feeling piggy enough to be served for dinner, ourselves, we had the Ein erfrischendes Dessert von der Mandarine (a "refreshing tangerine dessert"). This confection was actually quite true to its name. The combination of what I think was mandarin orange pudding with mandarin orange sorbet and mandarin orange sauce, served with a small pastry that smelled like a buttery, orange-infused madeleine, was not entirely light. But the slight bitterness of orange peel and the acid really were very refreshing after the heavy cheese.

    1. Sorry, I misspoke in the earlier post. It's Au Violon, not Il Violon. Below is an excerpt from this post:

      We'd ruined our appetites a bit after scarfing down a lovely caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella and thick, aged balsamic vinegar, purchased earlier in the day at an Italian specialty store in Weil am Rhein. So we cut straight to the chase and ordered main courses. I had the tournedos de biche, purée de betterave rouge aux pommes, gratin de potiron (tournedos of female deer with a purée of beetroot and pumpkin gratin; pictured at the top of this post). A dining partner had the travers de porc braisé au miel, missalas sautées (braised pork’s spare ribs marinated with honey with seared potatoes).

      The venison, served over a fantastic puree of beets and, I believe, apples and potatoes and a gratin on the side, was fine, but nowhere near as good as a friend's homemade version made earlier in the week. The waitress did not ask how I wanted my meat prepared (a common practice in the U.S., but perhaps not in Switzerland), and it came well done, unfortunately. The meat was far too tough, as a result.

      Still, the beetroot puree was delicious and the plate came studded with other vegetables, including cauliflower, a single snowpea, a spear of asparagus, a young carrot and a small, lightly roasted tomato. The vegetable components were more delicious than the meat.

      The gratin, which came on the side, was not good, however. It'd been made in advance and covered, so there was a strange, foul odor in the dish that sometimes results when bacteria on unclean dishes has time to multiply in warm, moist environments. The gratin included primarily potato, with just a little bit of pumpkin. The cheese components were mild and some had separated out a bit.

      Shortribs were also on the tough side, either they hadn't been braised long enough or because they'd lost too much moisture through reheating. Either way, they were not to my taste and overshadowed by the thickly cut panfried potatoes that came with the dish.

      We had a bottle of Alsatian red wine with our food, a Paul Ginglinger Pinot Noir Tradition (2009) that was easy drinking, fruity and reasonably good.

      One dining companion ordered an apple tart with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The vanilla ice cream was very intensely flavored, conspicuously flavored with vanilla beans, and delicious. I didn’t try the tart, but the person who ordered it called it "very good".

      1. One last post on this subject before I stop talking to myself: Half an hour north of Basel in the tiny Alsatian town of Vieux-Ferrette, there's an world-renowned affineur named Bernard Antony, who has a fromagerie called Antony: Eleveur de Fromages. Sounds a bit snooty, perhaps, but it's no joke: These cheeses are legitimately incredible. There's a tasting room where evidently you can sign up for "cheese ceremonies", six course tastings, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. We purchased ours to take home. Full writeup with pictures here:

        I would try to go early. We went around 12:30 p.m. and found that a great many of the cheeses we wanted to purchase were sold out.

        1. hi michelle - bit confused about this one, as you seem to have answered most of your questions yourself! Anyway, if you (or anyone else out there) is still interested, here are my thoughts:

          Kunsthalle is THE place to be at ART-Basel, except you can't get near it. Try and get a table out on the terrace. It's pricey (and, amazingly, they don't take credit cards) but they do a classic risotto and there's a terrific buzz

          Cafe Spitz used to be good, esp. for fish, but has gone downhill. Better to try nextdoor at the Hotel Krafft - interesting, locally sourced stuff , quirky wine list and great views of the Rhine sliding by out the window

          Chez Donati is another arty place, very expensive, wouldn't go there

          Stucki Bruderholz - chef is young Tanja Grandits who does Asian-inspired cooking. They've changed the place radically decorwise - it used to be incredibly frumpy, now it's cool, elegant, dove grey, space nicely divided up. Go for the lunch menu - served out on the terrace on fine days. Pricey wine list - you can easily double the cost of lunch (ca. CHF60) by adding in a couple of glasses of wine

          have only had coffee at Gr Cafe Huguenin so can't comment

          Zum Isaak on the Munsterplatz has some nice, original, modern dishes - good place for brunch too, and a pretty terrace out back

          Dunno anything about the Roten Engel

          And a final thought on a little place near the university, Pinar on Herbergsgasse is an Anatolian resto serving tasty Turkish/Anatolian food and the most moreish turkish bread ever - always full of students, medics from the Uni hospital just opposite, and punters like me

          And yes, heartily concur that some of the best eating is to be found a) in Baden Germany or b) in Alsace, both of them just a short hop across the border(s)

          Hope this helps!

          7 Replies
          1. re: Sue Style

            Thanks, Sue Style! This will certainly help for future trips and others in the area. I didn't get a single response to my original post, so I wrote a few reviews on places I did try in case anyone else had the same questions. (Too bad future Michelle was unable to share with past Michelle. :) Yours opinion is obviously a lot better researched than mine though, since you seem to eat in the area often and have a sense for what is good for the area and what is not.

            I've heard wonderful things about Bruderholz. It's one of the places we wanted to try, but couldn't on short notice.

            Thanks, again! I'm bookmarking this for future use.

            1. re: michelleats

              pleasure, Michelle - let me know when you're next in the area and need more recs

              1. re: Sue Style

                Hi Sue and Michelle

                We are in Basel (Hotel Basel) for the long weekend (5 days) at the end of August.

                Are there any other restaurants in the old town centre you would recommend me to reserve (as well as any of the above?).

                Thank you for your help.

                1. re: worldtraveller99

                  the great thing about Basel is that it's very small and accessible, either on foot or by tram. At the Hotel Basel you're in the heart of the old town - stroll across Marktplatz to the Schlüsselzunft on Freie Strasse. One of the old guild houses, it's a nice mix of ancient (tiled stoves, wood panelling, coats of arms of Basel families) and modern (sleek bar, pared down tables/decor) - food's a mix of Swiss classics and more modern stuff. Heard good things about the Rollerhof on the Münsterplatz, new chef, not been there yet. The best pizza in town is at Va Piano around the corner from Henric-Petri strasse (can't remember the street name but google it) and my husband recently enjoyed Rubino on Luftgässlein - modern food, excellent wine list, welcoming (not always the case in CH). If it's hot, go to Veronica on St Alban Rheinweg, set on a platform out on the Rhine, and watch the Rhine swimmers float by beneath you as you tuck into food - also friendly people.

                  1. re: Sue Style

                    Thank you Sue

                    I think the Rollerhof may be too expensive for us.

                    We were recommended (we are trying to keep the cost down as the exchange rate is so bad for us) : Zur Harmonie, Hasenburg, Schnabel and Da Gianni.

                    Should I swap one for those with Schlüsselzunft instead?

                    1. re: worldtraveller99

                      Harmonie is nice, my husband uses it a lot; Hasenburg v. atmospheric, quite trad., good place for typically Swiss dishes; don't know Schnabel or Da Gianni. These would all be in much the same price bracket as Rubino and Veronica. Have a look on the Schlusselzunft website to check on prices there. Another idea: jump on the No. 10 tram in Marktplatz and go right out almost to the end of the line (make sure you're on a tram that's marked Rodersdorf, not Flüh) get out in Leymen (France), totter down the hill and go to the Couronne d'Or. It's good fun, original/lively food, good value.

                      1. re: Sue Style

                        Thank you Sue - we shall see which are easiest to get reservations.

                        I shall report back in September when we return!

          2. Hi all - appreciated this thread! I will be in the city soon and looking for good eats. Someone told me there's a restaurant in Basel is known for making great Feuerkuchen/flatbreads? But she couldn't remember the name. Googling suggests it might be a place called Kohlmanns. Has anyone been? Is it worth it or is time/money better spent at one of your other recommendations? Thanks!