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Cheval Blanc in Basel, Switzerland - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 95.
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Switzerland's newest three-star restaurant Cheval Blanc is housed in the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, located on the banks of the river Rhine in Basel. Les Trois Rois has a long and rich history. The first documented record of the hotel, then an inn, dates back to 1681 and their most illustrious guest probably was Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. Over the centuries, the hotel has had many owners. In 1841 the hotel was bought by Johann Jakob Senn. A year later the new owner tore down the old building and rebuilt a much larger hotel, which opened its doors in 1844. More recently in the 20th century, the southern parts of the building were used by the Swiss Kantonalbank and later on by the Basel tourist office.

Luckily the current owner of the hotel, Thomas Straumann, who bought the hotel in 2004, has completely renovated the hotel back to its former (1844) glory, including the glorious riverside dining room of the hotel's fine dining restaurant Cheval Blanc. Les Trois Rois reopened in 2006 and the following year chef Peter Knogl took the helm of the kitchen at Chevel Blanc. Bavaria-born Peter Knogl (b.1968) trained at Heinz Winkler, both at Tantris in Munich (in 1988) and at Residenz Heinz Winkler in Aschau (in 2004), but also worked at a number of other Michelin starred restaurants in Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. Michelin likes a chef with a good pedigree, and at the end of 2007 (2008 guide) Cheval Blanc was awarded its first Michelin star; the second star followed the next year (2009 guide). The third Michelin star was awarded last October, in the 2016 edition of the Switzerland guide.

(courtesy of Cheval Blanc)

Cheval Blanc is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant offers an a la carte menu (starters €45 - €60, mains €71 - €90, desserts €25) and there's a multi-course tasting menu for €202 (6 courses, including cheese and dessert). I had lunch with my husband at Cheval Blanc on Saturday 5 March 2016 and we both ordered the tasting menu.

Lunch started with five amuse bouches. First to arrive was a beautifully flavoured Jalapeno espuma, served on top of a carabinero prawn tartare and a light tomato mousse. Next was a Simmental beef roll with finely chopped gherkin inside, served on a tapioca cracker with some Indonesian spiced Bali créme.

This was followed by a juicy oyster in ponzu jelly, accompanied by a nice and sharp green apple foam. A wonderful combination of flavours, the sweet, citrussy notes from the jelly complementing the briny oyster perfectly. Even better was a thin crisp mushroom tuile, topped with an intensely flavoured mushroom créme, marinated baby mushrooms and some Pata Negra crunch. Finally there was an extremely delicate garam masala macaron with foie gras créme and orange puree. Five fantastic amuse bouches executed with great precision and finesse.

The first course of the tasting menu was yellowtail, cut into slices, each slice topped with a dressing of very finely chopped crunchy radish, miso and rice vinegar, and garnished with a rice crisp. Also on the plate was an avocado roll filled with a soy-flavoured créme, thinly sliced radish, and a few dots of avocado and soy-flavoured créme. A superb dish with carefully balanced crisp and vibrant flavours, an elegant level of saltiness, and the freshness of the yellowtail came through beautifully. 

Succulent and sweet Brittany lobster followed, excellently paired with a creamy and frothy beurre blanc sauce that had the mildest hit of bergamot, and garnished with some celery and carrot for extra crunch. Exquisite, almost translucent lobster, and the sauce had a great depth of flavour, although the bergamot element could have been a bit stronger.

The third course was exceptionally thick and meaty sole (also from Brittany), garnished with sliced and grated Perigord truffle, and buttery bread crumbs. The sole was complemented by light artichoke foam and a voluptuous cream sauce, elegantly flavoured with truffle and Madeira. A very satisfying combination of flavours. The quality of the sole was absolutely stunning, and adding truffle provided a certain finesse and an extra flavour dimension.

Main course was Japanese Wagyu beef (sirloin) with a palate-coating richness, and accompanied by a ponzu and soy sauce reduction, yoghurt créme, roasted onion, baby pak choi, mushrooms, and with some crisp allumette potatoes served on the side. A perfectly executed dish, the ponzu-soy reduction delivering punch and balance.

Lunch continued with a cheese course. Cheval Blanc has an excellent selection of soft and hard cheeses from Maître Antony in Alsace (some 30 kilometers from the restaurant). Next up was a refreshing pre-dessert of pina colada slush served with a lychee foam and mango compote.

Dessert proper was a beautifully made praline parfait cylinder with a lemon puree centre, served on a thin biscuit, and garnished with sugary, caramelised hazelnuts, thin chocolate discs, citrus gel, and a decorative caramel-dipped hazelnut. A technically faultless dessert, the praline parfait being smooth and creamy, with a welcoming coolness and a pleasant level of sweetness.

If I were asked to give three keywords to describe this lunch at Cheval Blanc, I would say: craftmanship, majestic ingredients and finesse. Technically that would be four words, but you know what I mean. Craftsmanship would apply to the professional front of house staff, the restaurant's baker (from Alsace), who, on a daily basis, bakes ridiculously good bread, but above all the fine craftmanship of chef Peter Knogl himself. Today's experience was not about novelty or the latest trends, but about skill, subtlety, and the finest ingredients shown at their best. Food that doesn't necessarily knock your socks off, but impresses with elegance and technical finesse. But hey, what is it they say about the Swiss and precision .......

Posted 24-03-2016


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