One of the main benefits of having the International Olympic Committee and numerous other sports and political associations based in Lausanne, is that there is an array of fabulous restaurants and innovative cafes to supplement the normal high standard offered in Swiss cities by more traditional brasseries and bars. That’s what I discovered on a weekend break to this wonderful little city.
Situated on the north shore of Lake Geneva, basking in the warm autumn sun at around 500 metres above sea level and with mountains and hills all around, Lausanne is blessed with a great climate and wonderful views. But more importantly where culinary interests are concerned, it offers a perfect climate for viniculture, the lake helping to provide a more moderate temperature and the hills the south facing slopes required for vines to flourish. Lausanne has also been an International crossroads for many years, exposed to fashions and trends from around the world, including those to do with cuisine.
This combination of plenty of visitors combined with International culture makes Lausanne a great destination for those interested in living well for a few days. In my case this meant a 3 day autumn break to enjoy the late summer sun and to have some down time to simply relax.
So first the bars. If the sun is shining then the city is likely to have moved down to Ouchy (pronounced ooo shi) which boards the lake and you can promenade along the front past the Olympic museum or simply sit in one of the excellent little bars set back from the road.
There are 5 or 6 restaurant bars overlooking the lake just round from the Marina and behind the Chateau de Ouchy where you can sit and soak up the sun over a drink or an ice cream sundae.
If you fancy something to more substantial to eat then the Le Pirate, situated just by the Ouchy metro station near the port, is a great little spot simple lunch menus, fresh fish and mussels, as well as sandwiches and typical bar food. They also serve the fabulous local wines by the carafe and is more reasonably priced than the promenade bars.
Vaud, the canton in which Lausanne is situated, is the Switzerland’s second-largest wine region so there are numerous wine cellars around town and everywhere serves lovely fresh local wine. The region is known for its lovely crisp, white Chasselas wines, with Delazey and Calamin being the two Premier Cru vintages. The famous Lavaux vineyard terraces where this is produced spread along the coast around Lausanne, all the way East towards Montreux. These include the little lakeside port town of Cully where wine tours can be taken. Well worth the trip.
Up in the centre of the old town, reached in 10 minutes from Ouchy by metro, are many traditional brasseries and bars. On Saturday when the food market is on, Rue Mercerie in the centre of town is where everyone congregates and is the place to be. The townsfolk come to meet, to chat and to hear about what local politicians have to say and it’s a great place to enjoy a coffee or glass of wine as well as the atmosphere.
Just near to the centre, set slightly back from Rue Centrale, the road that follows the river Flom down the valley, is the lovely Cafe des Artisans. Although not right in the centre of the old town, or perhaps because of this, the Café offers a more modern and youthful fare. It is friendly and intimate rather than formal and has a somewhat innovative menu including takes on traditional dishes such as Goat’s Cheese Salad (Salade de Cabriole) as well as intriguing and delicious novelties like Cold pea soup with curry foam (Soupe Froide de Petits Pois avec Espuma de Curry). Had to try that! In the evening it becomes a cool cocktail bar and I wish I had been able to go back to experience that as well as the lunch.
And so to dinner. We stayed at the Carton Hotel and whilst it’s not the Ritz Carlton, enjoyed a very good meal there in our first night. The L’Ardoise restaurant which reopened in 2015 is tucked away under the hotel, so it is a destination for local visitors as well as convenient for hotel guests. It declares itself a paradise of flavours and so it was.
Although the lighting is a little bright for a romantic meal for two, the meal experience was memorable. Everything is first class. Attentive staff make the evening feel special and of note is a knowledgable young sommelier who, like so many of the people working in the restaurants, was born in the region and is passionate about the wines on offer. Having enjoyed the local Chasselas at lunch we tried two more wines. Both the Bayel – Fechy La Cote AOC, Raymond Paccot, Domaine de la Colombe and the equally lovely but more fragrant Dame Claire, Vincent et Henry Chollet, Domaine Mermetus were a good recommendation.
To accompany this we had what I have to say was the best Tricolore I have ever had. It’s hard to get excited about this dish fond on many a menu, but with the freshest mozzarella and three or four colours of tomatoes, the ‘Tomato rainbow, marinated with balsamic vinegar and Burrata de Cuarrens’ was just perfect.
More complex was the ‘Crab mille-feuille with avocado marinated with lemon and red basil’ starter, but equally beautifully presented. The main courses stood no chance after that entrée, but were still very good, however the cheese board and that wonderful wine list helped to lift the experience again as we completed a lovely evening.
It was hard to imagine then that the next evening could better this, but I am pleased to say our visit to the Brasserie de Montbenon, situated in the impressive turn-of-century casino and with wonderful views over the lake, did manage to top this.
The restaurant sets out to celebrate the diverse culinary highlights of the Canton de Vaud and what a celebration it is. Overlooking the kitchen we watched as plate after plate of stunning food emerged. There really were any number of dishes on the menu to tempt.
The starter of blue cheese, pear and grainy mustard potato salad (Salade de pomme de terre nouvelles et bleu de Fribourg) was not only well presented by tasted sublime. A dish to try and replicate at home. Similarly the salmon tartar with salad of ginger, basil and coriander (Tartare de saumon d’Ecosse au gingembre, coriandre, basilic et citron vert) as fragrant and fresh.
For a main course ‘Les Classiques’ included a wonderful local steak with market vegetables (Filet de Beouf au poivre Voatsiperifery et sauce Bearnaise) and locally caught Fera fish cooked with chanterelles, dried tomatoes and basil (Fera du Leman aux chaneterelles, tomatesseches et basilic avec risotto Carnaroli). Two classics well executed.
So many great places to eat in a brilliant but short weekend. I cannot wait to go back. Lausanne must be a wonderful place to live but a weekend certainly gives one a good taste of what it like to live there.